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National League doing its pennant-race part

September 25, 2018

The American League playoff race has been mild and mostly uninteresting. Sure, Oakland has played out of its mind during the second half and its been worth following the Red Sox to see if they could make a run at 110 wins, but theres been nothing captivating about any of the races.

The Twins let everyone down by conceding the Central to Cleveland at midseason. Tampa Bay could win 90 games, but its the wrong year for that.

But, as we head into the final week of the regular season, all the intrigue is in the National League.

Atlanta, one of the surprise teams of the season, has clinched the East. Thats it. The other two divisions are wide open with only a few games remaining and that means somebody is going to be ticked off by this time next week that they blew it down the stretch.

The Central will be won by the Cubs, Brewers or, with long-shot odds, the Cardinals.

The West will be won by either the Dodgers or the surprising Rockies. Arizona, which traded for the Twins Eduardo Escobar in hopes of keeping its hopes afloat, has sunk.

Now, the Rockies are a half-game out of the second wild card spot and 1andthinsp;andfrac12; games out of the division lead. That means these standings are going to swing every night. And theres a chance that three teams from the N.L. Central could reach the postseason who saw that one coming?

And theres a mind-boggling scenario out there in which Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers and Rockies could finish in a four-way tie. That would disrupt the postseason schedule so two tiebreaker games could be played Monday, a consolation game Tuesday to determine a second wild card winner, then the actual wild card game Wednesday.

For the Rockies to play in October, third baseman Nolan Arenado has got to get going. Hes batting .171 over his past nine games, a slump that couldnt come at a worse time. Shortstop Trevor Story, in the middle of a breakout season with a .288 batting average, 33 homers and 102 RBI, returned to the lineup Monday after missing five games because of an elbow injury.

For true playoff anarchy to take place, the Rockies need to go 6-1 this week. The Cardinals and Dodgers would have to go 4-2 and the Brewers 2-4.

The Dodgers arent scoring a lot except when they play the Padres but the pitching staff has a 2.19 ERA over its past nine games entering Monday. Brian Dozier is batting .182 since being traded to L.A. by the Twins and is being platooned at second base.

The Cardinals fired Mike Matheny after 93 games. Mike Shildt is 40-23 in his place.

Christian Yelich has bashed his way into MVP consideration, keeping the Brewers in contention.

This long season is coming down to the end, and it looks as if the National League playoff race wont been settled until the final pitch.

Central Intelligence

Indians: Josh Donaldson is back on the field, and he has a Vikings doctor to thank for it. Donaldson, who was dealing with a nagging calf injury, flew to the Twin Cities in August to visit Dr. Josh Sandell, a sports medicine specialist for the Vikings. In two days, Donaldson was able to run again. Donaldson learned about Sandell from a good friend and Minneapolis native, Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

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Royals: Kansas City over the weekend lost its 100th game of the season, but the Royals have been able to learn a little bit about several of their young players. One in particular, infielder Adalberto Mondesi, could be a pain in the Twins sides for years. Mondesi can fly, is learning how to bunt and has 12 homers in 69 games. He has to work on his strike zone judgment, but his power and speed are real.

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Tigers: Victor Martinez played his final game Saturday, getting an infield single, before he was removed from the game against the Royals and cheered as he left the field. Martinez has announced his retirement, and was allowed to start at first base one last time Saturday. A .295 career hitter, Martinez hit .293 in 220 games against the Twins.

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White Sox: Daniel Palka blasted his 27th home run on Friday for Chicago, which a few Twins fans have pointed out. The White Sox claimed Palka off waivers from the Twins last November. He has big power and finally got a chance to show it off. However, hes not a good defensive player and strikes out 1.2 times a game. But it will be interesting to see how he evolves.

The 3-2 pitch

Three observations

Is Bryce Harper worth a $400 million contract? He was batting .213 as recently as July 11 before turning it on. His 34 homers are the second most in his career and his OPS is pushing .900. But he was at his worst when the Nationals needed him the most. How much will that factor during free agency?

Not saying he should win, but Oaklands Khris Davis should get MVP votes. Hes hit 40-plus homers and driven in 100-plus runs in three straight season, including a career high 45 homers and 119 RBI this season. He doesnt seem to get a lot of attention.

Hawk Harrelson?andthinsp;He gone. Good luck in retirement after an entertaining career. The nicknames Big Hurt, One Dawg, Black Jack, Little Hurt are too many to count.

and two predictions

Jacob deGrom of the Mets, who takes a 1.77 ERA into his final start Wednesday, will hold off Washingtons Max Scherzer and win the NL Cy Young Award, even if he only wins nine games.

Sundays game against the White Sox WILL be the final game of Joe Mauers career.

Baseball reporters La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller will alternate weeks lneal@startribune.com Twins blogs: startribune.com/twins

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