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9 small moves that have paid off in a big way

MLB.com @RichardJustice

These are acquisitions that arrive without fanfare. For instance: The Braves announced they've signed right-hander Anibal Sanchez to a Minor League contract …

That's pretty much it. Atlanta did it because some of its scouts remembered how good Sanchez once was and believed that at 34, he was still capable of pitching quality innings.

These are acquisitions that arrive without fanfare. For instance: The Braves announced they've signed right-hander Anibal Sanchez to a Minor League contract …

That's pretty much it. Atlanta did it because some of its scouts remembered how good Sanchez once was and believed that at 34, he was still capable of pitching quality innings.

Beyond that, the Braves had heard the stories of how relentlessly Sanchez had worked to get his career back on track. If nothing else, he was worth a chance, and even if he didn't make it back to the Major Leagues, he's the type player who is a great influence on younger players.

The signing happened on March 16, after Sanchez had been released by the Twins in the wake of the Lance Lynn arrival. Was this the move that would get Atlanta back in the mix in the National League East?

Of course not. As good as Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos is at his job -- and there aren't many better -- he was hoping for quality depth for his young rotation.

Six months later, Sanchez has proven to be one of the smartest signings of the year. In three previous seasons, all with the Tigers, Sanchez had a 5.67 ERA.

This season, armed with a new cutter, Sanchez has a 3.01 ERA and a dazzling 1.098 WHIP. His 6-6 record doesn't begin to reflect his value to a team on the verge of winning the division for the first time since 2013.

As Atlanta works through its options for a postseason rotation, Sanchez seems certain to be in the mix. On a team of feel-good stories, none is sweeter than Sanchez's career rebirth.

Every team scours the market for under-the-radar acquisitions, and in this final sprint for postseason berths, they're scattered up and down rosters.

Let's check out nine small moves that have paid big dividends:

1. Anibal Sanchez, RHP, Braves (6-6, 3.01 ERA, 22 starts)
Sanchez has made perhaps the toughest transition a pitcher can make, going from a power thrower to one who succeeds on location and movement. But he has done it beautifully.

"I've said it before, he's a magician with the ball," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman told reporters in July. "What he can do with it is pretty remarkable. I mean, he can go from 68 to 93 [mph]. It's pretty special what he's doing."

2. Max Muncy, 1B/2B/3B/OF, Dodgers (33 HR, .960 OPS)
Muncy faced a crossroads of sorts when he was released by the A's 18 months ago and spent an entire season on the Dodgers Triple-A team. He used that time to remake his swing mechanics and mental approach. Muncy homered in his second game after being summoned from the Minor Leagues in mid-April, and he has been extremely invaluable with his power and ability to play any position.

Video: COL@LAD: Muncy unloads a no-doubt 3-run homer

3. Wade Miley, LHP, Brewers (5-2, 2.08 ERA, 14 starts)
Miley was signed early in Spring Training as rotation insurance. Smart move. Like Sanchez, he has ridden a new cutter to his best season. Since returning from the disabled list in July, Miley has allowed more than two earned runs just once in 12 starts and helped get Milwaukee to the cusp of its first postseason appearance in seven years.

Video: CIN@MIL: Miley tosses 5 scoreless to earn the win

4. Edwin Jackson, RHP, Athletics (5-3, 3.17 ERA, 15 starts)
We could have made an entire list of players who've jump-started their careers with the A's this season, from Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill to Blake Treinen. But Jackson is our favorite, signing with Oakland in June after opting out of his Minor League deal with the Nationals. The A's are 12-3 in his 15 starts, and Jackson's ERA has made him a key part of Oakland's magical ride.

Video: SEA@OAK: Jackson goes 6 innings to earn 5th win

5. Ji-Man Choi, DH/1B/LF, Rays (.866 OPS, 10 HR)
Choi's walk-off home run against the Indians last week may end up being the most dramatic moment in a season with plenty of them. He was acquired for infielder Brad Miller from the Brewers in mid-June and has been invaluable in an assortment of roles for manager Kevin Cash.

Video: CLE@TB: Choi crushes a 2-run walk-off homer in 9th

6. Bud Norris, RHP, Cardinals (62 games, 28 saves, 3.49 ERA)
Never mind that Norris transitioned from the closer's role after a couple of tough appearances earlier this month. After being signed for $3 million on the first day of Spring Training, he helped keep the back of the Cardinals' bullpen intact in the first five months of the season.

Video: PIT@STL: Norris induces double play to notch the save

7. Randy Rosario, LHP, Cubs (39 appearances, 3.18 ERA)
The 24-year-old lefty arrived via waiver claim from the Twins in the offseason and could be a significant postseason factor on a team searching for late-inning options. Rosario has a solid power fastball/slider combination and picked up his first career save last week.

Video: CHC@WSH: Rosario fans Zimmerman, completes 1-2-3 10th

8. Melky Cabrera, RF, Indians (.756 OPS, 14 2B, 6 HR, 214 AB)
Cabrera joined the Indians on a Minor League deal in late April and was summoned to the Major Leagues in late May when injuries hit the outfield. He has a .956 OPS against left-handed pitching.

Video: TB@CLE: Statcast™ tracks Melky's throwout of Cron

9. Carlos Gonzalez, RF, Rockies (.785 OPS, 28 2B, 15 HR)
Would Gonzalez look right in any other uniform? The Rockies re-signed one of their franchise mainstays in March when he was still on the market, and at 32, he has proven that he's still got all kinds of game left.

Video: SF@COL: Gonzalez ropes a go-ahead 3-run triple in 7th

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

1 rookie from each team who has emerged

MLB.com

Each year, a new group of rookies sets out to make a mark in the Major Leagues, and in 2018, many of these young players have made history with their performances. They're fueling clubs during postseason races, as well as giving fans a glimpse of what's to come in the years ahead.

With the aid of all 30 MLB.com beat writers, here's a look at each team's best rookie this season:

Each year, a new group of rookies sets out to make a mark in the Major Leagues, and in 2018, many of these young players have made history with their performances. They're fueling clubs during postseason races, as well as giving fans a glimpse of what's to come in the years ahead.

With the aid of all 30 MLB.com beat writers, here's a look at each team's best rookie this season:

Video: Callis looks at rookies' long-term futures

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays: Ryan Borucki
Borucki has opened his Major League career with quality starts in 10 of his first 15 outings. Even though Borucki did not make his debut until the end of June, he has the third-most starts of at least six innings and two runs or fewer among Major League rookies. Only San Francisco's Dereck Rodriguez has registered more of those starts this season. Borucki appears to be a future cornerstone of the Blue Jays' rotation and his rookie campaign has been an overwhelming success with a 3.86 ERA.

Orioles: Cedric Mullins
It's been a tough year for Baltimore, but Mullins has given O's fans a glimmer of hope in the past two months. Since becoming the first Oriole to record three hits in his debut, the center fielder -- who moved Adam Jones over to right -- has showcased his range and speed and has become a table-setter for a lineup that sorely needs more dynamic players.

Rays: Joey Wendle
Tampa Bay acquired Wendle from Oakland during the Winter Meetings -- the same day the Yankees finalized their acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton. Many found humor in how the Rays "answered" their division foe's acquisition. Wendle has hardly been a joke, though. He's played second base, third base, shortstop, right field and left field. While Wendle's glove has been dazzling as billed, particularly at second, his bat has been equally so. He always seems to be in the middle of rallies. Wendle has above-average speed and runs out every ball, and he's shown decent power. He has been a big reason for Tampa Bay's marked improvement this season.

Red Sox: Brian Johnson
Out of options, Johnson had no option but to become a dependable contributor for the Red Sox this season, and that's exactly what he has done. Though he has unspectacular numbers (4-4, 4.24 ERA), Johnson has been one of the most important members of the pitching staff for manager Alex Cora because of his ability to move seamlessly between the bullpen and starting rotation, and often doing both roles within days of each other. In 12 starts, Johnson is 4-2 with a 4.06 ERA. He could have a few more wins, but he was taken out just shy of five innings numerous times.

Yankees: Miguel Andujar
Nothing was handed to Andujar, who made the most of an early-season opportunity when Brandon Drury landed on the disabled list to grab hold of the third-base job. Andujar's calling card is his bat, and he quickly cemented a reputation as an extra-base hit machine, tallying the third-most extra-base hits by a rookie in Yankees history behind Joe DiMaggio (88) and Aaron Judge (79). The AL Rookie of the Month in June and August, Andujar has worked to polish his defense. With Gleyber Torres also enjoying a strong season, the Yanks have two legitimate choices to follow Judge as the AL Rookie of the Year Award winner.

Video: BOS@NYY: Andujar opens scoring with a solo HR in 2nd

AL CENTRAL

Indians: Shane Bieber
Indians manager Terry Francona jokes that Chris Antonetti, the team's president of baseball operations, did not bring Bieber to MLB camp in the spring because the manager would not have let the pitcher return to the Minors. Bieber, 23, cruised through Double-A and Triple-A, posting a 1.47 ERA with 77 strikeouts vs. seven walks in 79 2/3 innings. When the back of Cleveland's rotation ran into some issues, Bieber rose to the big leagues. He debuted in late May and returned for good in June. The rookie has enjoyed a promising campaign and figures to be a part of the Tribe's postseason pitching staff.

Royals: Brad Keller
Keller, a right-hander, was an absolute steal in the Rule 5 Draft. He started the season in the bullpen and eventually graduated to the rotation, where he has been arguably the Royals' best starter and certainly a top-of-the-rotation guy moving forward. Opposing hitters throughout the season have called facing Keller an "uncomfortable at-bat." His four-seam fastball, which hovers around 93-95 mph, moves like a cutter, and he has worked to develop an effective slider and changeup. During a recent six-game stretch, Keller went 4-1 with a 1.85 ERA, permitting just a .645 OPS. While Keller, 23, likely won't win the AL Rookie of the Year Award -- especially with Shohei Ohtani, Torres and Andujar in the running -- he at least deserves some consideration. Keller is a lock for the rotation in 2019.

Tigers: Niko Goodrum
The Tigers took a chance on the former Twins second-round pick, extending a Spring Training invite in the hopes that his versatility and athleticism would help him stick while learning on the job in the big leagues. Much to their surprise, Goodrum has become essentially an everyday player and a cog in Detroit's lineup, with a .741 OPS that ranks second on the team to Nicholas Castellanos. He has made a start at every defensive position except center field, catcher and pitcher.

Twins: Jake Cave
The Twins took a chance on Cave in March, acquiring him from the Yankees for Minor League right-hander Luis Gil, and Cave has responded with a strong rookie season. The 25-year-old wasn't expected to play much this season, but with center fielder Byron Buxton out most of the year because of injuries and offensive inconsistency, the left-handed-hitting Cave has filled in nicely. He's capable of playing all three outfield positions and has shown some power offensively, hitting .257/.300/.458 with 11 homers and 13 doubles through his first 82 career games.

White Sox: Daniel Palka
The White Sox picked up the left-handed slugger off waivers from the Twins on Nov. 3, 2017. While he didn't break camp with the team, Palka not only leads the White Sox in home runs, but also set a single-season franchise record for most homers from a left-handed-hitting rookie. Palka has a knack for the big hit, having knocked out six home runs in the ninth inning. Left-handed reliever Jace Fry made a solid late-inning rookie impression, but Palka provided the biggest power boost.

Video: CWS@CLE: Palka breaks scoreless tie with HR to center

AL WEST

Angels: Shohei Ohtani
A rocky Spring Training created some questions about how Ohtani's talent would translate to the Majors, but he quickly erased those doubts once the regular season began. For two months, he dazzled as a two-way phenom for the Angels, emerging as a dominant right-handed pitcher with a triple-digit fastball and devastating splitter and an impact left-handed bat with impressive raw power. An elbow injury derailed his magical season and led to a Tommy John surgery recommendation earlier this month, but it hasn't prevented Ohtani from continuing to hit. He is the first player to log 10 pitching appearances and hit 20 home runs in a season since Babe Ruth in 1919, making him a front-runner for the AL Rookie of the Year Award.

Video: SEA@LAA: Ohtani goes back-to-back with Trout for 20th

Astros: Max Stassi
Stassi made his Major League debut during the Astros' 111-loss season of 2013, and he has bounced between the big leagues and Triple-A each season since while maintaining his rookie status. He's spent most of this year as Houston's backup catcher to Brian McCann, and he is hitting .233 with eight homers and 27 RBIs through 85 games. Stassi was on pace to catch more games than McCann, who missed a chunk of time with knee surgery, and Martin Maldonado, who was acquired in a July trade and cost Stassi significant playing time down the stretch.

Athletics: Lou Trivino
Trivino has been an absolute godsend for what's become a deep and dangerous Oakland bullpen, arriving in late April and quickly taking over setup duties behind All-Star closer Blake Treinen with a high-90s fastball and a mid-90s cutter -- a devastating duo. The flamethrowing right-hander singlehandedly bridged the gap for much of the first half before the midseason arrivals of Jeurys Familia, Shawn Kelley and Fernando Rodney, working multiple innings more times than not. Center fielder Ramon Laureano, who has been superb on both sides of the ball since his August promotion, also deserves consideration.

Mariners: Daniel Vogelbach
The 25-year-old first baseman made the Opening Day roster after a huge spring, then was sent down when he struggled at the plate in April. But after putting up good numbers again in Triple-A, Vogelbach has flashed his power potential with a couple of big home runs this week as a September callup, including a game-winning pinch-hit grand slam to beat the Astros on Monday.

Rangers: Ronald Guzman
This is a tossup between Guzman and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who did a terrific job in a utility role that included time at catcher. But Guzman has emerged as the Rangers' first baseman of the future by showing power, run production and superb defensive ability. There is still more improvement and development needed, but Guzman is among the AL rookie leaders in home runs and RBIs. His emergence also allowed Joey Gallo to take over in left field, which had been a troubled spot for Texas.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Video: STL@ATL: Acuna Jr. belts a solo smash for his 26th HR

Braves: Ronald Acuna Jr.
Acuna has lived up to his top prospect status, as he spent the season's second half producing numbers baseball has seldom seen from a player who has not yet turned 21 years old. He introduced himself to the Majors in April and then suffered a late-May knee injury that sidelined him for a month. But when Acuna was moved to the top of Atlanta's lineup immediately after the All-Star break, the 20-year-old outfielder suddenly became one of the game's top catalysts and power threats. He became a strong NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate and likely earned some down-ballot NL MVP Award consideration.

Marlins: Brian Anderson
Not only has Anderson been the Marlins' top rookie in 2018, he has established himself as one of the young faces of the franchise. He's also built a case to be a top-five finisher in the NL Rookie of the Year Award balloting. On the big league roster from wire to wire, Anderson has played third base and right field. He will lead all NL rookies in games played and hits.

Mets: Jeff McNeil
McNeil was never a top prospect, and when he arrived in the big leagues, he first drew attention for his unusual knobless bat. But since he took over at second base following the Asdrubal Cabrera trade, he's been a revelation at the plate, commanding attention for his outstanding contact ability and all-around hitting prowess. McNeil hasn't slowed down, either -- he leads all rookies in hitting since his July 24 debut, including 17 multihit games in 54 contests, and is second among all players in triples in that span, with five.

Nationals: Juan Soto
Soto wasn't even the Nats' most heralded prospect coming into the year -- that was Victor Robles. But he's hit at an almost unprecedented level for his age, putting himself on lists alongside names like Griffey and Harper. Soto's combination of plate discipline and power marks him as a future star. He's not only a top NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate; he might even get some down-ballot consideration in the crowded NL MVP Award field.

Video: Must C Classic: Soto youngest to swipe 3 bags in game

Phillies: Seranthony Dominguez
One of the reasons the Phillies held first place in the NL East as late as Aug. 12 is Dominguez, who joined Philadelphia's bullpen in May. He posted a 1.85 ERA in 34 appearances through Aug. 3, striking out 49 and walking 13 in 39 innings, becoming manager Gabe Kapler's most trusted weapon with the game on the line. Dominguez struggled down the stretch as the former starter adjusted to a new role, but there is no question NL East batters are not looking forward to facing him in the future.

NL CENTRAL

Brewers: Freddy Peralta
Taylor Williams pitched in more games and Corbin Burnes is playing the most significant role among Brewers rookies down the stretch, but in terms of aggregate value this season, Peralta gets the nod. By making 14 starts, including a history-making 13-strikeout Major League debut on Mother's Day, Peralta helped hold together a starting rotation that was a quiet strength for much of the year despite Jimmy Nelson's year-long absence and significant disabled list time for Zach Davies, Wade Miley and others. Among Major League starters who pitched at least 70 innings, only Chris Sale had a lower opponents' average than Peralta.

Cardinals: Jack Flaherty
With respect to Harrison Bader (3.5 fWAR), Jordan Hicks (105 mph fastball) and Yairo Munoz (.275 average), it's Flaherty who has emerged as the star of St. Louis' loaded rookie crop -- and the Cardinals' new ace. Premature? Not if you consider how the on-the-playoff-bubble Cards manipulated their rotation so Flaherty will be on turn to start their most important game of the year, whether that's the NL Wild Card Game or a must-win during the season's final series. The 22-year-old has earned the responsibility: He ranks among the NL rookie starter leaders in strikeouts (first), starts (second), innings (second), ERA (fourth), wins (first), fWAR (second) and WHIP (third).

Cubs: David Bote
An 18th-round Draft pick in 2012, Bote was pressed into duty when Kris Bryant was injured and has delivered in the clutch. On July 26 against the D-backs, he smacked a game-tying two-run homer with one out in the ninth. On Aug. 12 against the Nationals, Bote delivered a pinch-hit walk-off grand slam in the ninth. That blast helped teach people how to pronounce his last name (it's bow-tee). He hit another walk-off homer on Aug. 24 against the Reds and is the first Cub since Bryant in 2015 with two walk-off homers in one season. Bote has helped support the Cubs' motto to be versatile, starting at second, third, shortstop and in the outfield.

Video: David Bote's heroics vs. the Nationals this season

Pirates: Richard Rodriguez
Far from a household name, the 28-year-old rookie has become a vital part of Pittsburgh's bullpen in his first extended Major League opportunity. Signed as a Minor League free agent, Rodriguez entered the week with a 2.57 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 79 strikeouts in 63 innings over 56 appearances. Rodriguez doesn't possess overwhelming stuff, but he's getting the job done with a 92.9-mph four-seam fastball he throws about 75 percent of the time plus a swing-and-miss slider.

Reds: Jesse Winker
Winker gets the nod despite having his season cut in half by injury. After a slow start, he found his stroke and some power. Overall, Winker batted .299/.405/.431 in 89 games but was slashing .362/.465/.554 in June and July before his year was halted by right shoulder surgery in his non-throwing arm to repair an injury that nagged him even in the Minors. Expected to be fully recovered by Spring Training, the 25-year-old with great plate discipline could be an even bigger offensive threat when fully healthy.

NL WEST

D-backs: Yoshihisa Hirano
While Hirano is technically a rookie as far as Major League Baseball is concerned, he certainly was not inexperienced coming into this season after spending 11 seasons pitching in Japan. The D-backs signed him to a two-year contract during the offseason, and he has more than met their expectations. Used primarily in a setup role through the first five months of the season, Hirano's effectiveness -- along with his unflappable makeup -- eventually got him moved into the de facto closer's role in September.

Dodgers: Walker Buehler
In any year not involving Acuna or Soto, the Dodgers' 24-year-old sensation would likely have been a favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year Award. Since his April recall from the Minor Leagues, Buehler was a steady presence through Clayton Kershaw's extended absence and has since cemented himself beside Los Angeles' ace at the top of the rotation, allowing two or fewer runs in 17 of his 21 starts. With the Dodgers embroiled in a tight divisional race, he has a 1.62 ERA since the start of August, and with his season mark at 2.74, he could become Los Angeles' first rookie starter to post an ERA under 3.00 with at least 20 starts since Hideo Nomo in 1995.

Video: COL@LAD: Buehler K's career-high 12 over 6 frames

Giants: Dereck Rodriguez
The son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez is steadily establishing his own identity as a ballplayer as well as his candidacy for a respectable finish in the NL Rookie of the Year Award balloting. The 26-year-old, who converted to pitching from playing the outfield, demonstrated his consistency by pitching at least six innings and allowing two or fewer runs in nine consecutive starts. Despite their losing record overall, the Giants are 9-8 when Rodriguez starts. What makes Rodriguez's story even more remarkable is that he did not pitch above Double-A in Minnesota's farm system last year. San Francisco signed him as a Minor League free agent last November.

Padres: Franmil Reyes
Reyes was left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft last December after leading all Padres Minor Leaguers in home runs in 2017. Thankfully for San Diego, he went unselected. Reyes' power is otherworldly, and he's made huge strides with his approach at the plate. The hulking 6-foot-5, 275-pounder is still a liability defensively. But he's grown into a legit middle-of-the-order game-changer.

Rockies: Ryan McMahon
Drafted as a third baseman but blocked at the hot corner by one Nolan Arenado, the 23-year-old McMahon made the Opening Day roster with eyes on the starting first-base job, but he was beat out by veteran Ian Desmond. After struggles at the plate and two extended Minor League stints, McMahon's .330 on-base percentage since his July 29 recall is fourth among Rockies. He has also shown a penchant for clutch homers -- four of his five 2018 long balls have come late in close games with Colorado trailing, including a memorable three-run walk-off shot against the Dodgers on Aug. 11.

Forget the moon walk, check out this moon flip

No one has ever accused Yasiel Puig of being a dull character on the field. When he does something special with the bat, the glove or his arm -- which is pretty often -- he'll be the first to let the viewer and his coaches know about it. 

So, when Puig crushed a pinch-hit three-run home run in the seventh inning Wednesday night to put the Dodgers up, 5-2, it didn't surprise anyone that he punctuated it with a bat flip fit for the occasion. That didn't make it any less spectacular.

10 notable streaks that could end this year

MLB.com @williamfleitch

The most amazing current streak in baseball, I think, is that the New York Yankees have had a winning season every single year since 1992. That's 26 consecutive years above .500, the second-longest run in baseball history, behind the Yankees' 39-season stretch from 1926-64, an era of competitive disparity so far removed from our current one it might as well be a different sport entirely. That is 26 consecutive seasons in which Yankees fans were happy when they went to bed rather than sad. The second-longest current streak is the Cardinals with 11; third is the Dodgers with eight. No one else is even close.

That streak, obviously, is continuing this year, and looks likely to keep going: Maybe they can hit 39 in 13 years. But there are plenty of streaks -- not as impressive as that one, but still substantial -- that are likely to end in 2018.

The most amazing current streak in baseball, I think, is that the New York Yankees have had a winning season every single year since 1992. That's 26 consecutive years above .500, the second-longest run in baseball history, behind the Yankees' 39-season stretch from 1926-64, an era of competitive disparity so far removed from our current one it might as well be a different sport entirely. That is 26 consecutive seasons in which Yankees fans were happy when they went to bed rather than sad. The second-longest current streak is the Cardinals with 11; third is the Dodgers with eight. No one else is even close.

That streak, obviously, is continuing this year, and looks likely to keep going: Maybe they can hit 39 in 13 years. But there are plenty of streaks -- not as impressive as that one, but still substantial -- that are likely to end in 2018.

1. The Brewers making the postseason again
The Brewers haven't made the playoffs since losing the 2011 National League Championship Series against the Cardinals, the fifth-longest drought in all of baseball. (Only the Mariners, the Marlins, the Padres and the White Sox have waited longer.) The Brewers, according to Fangraphs, have a 99.3 percent chance of making the postseason. Of the players on that 2011 team, only Ryan Braun is still around.

Video: STL@ARI: Jordan Hicks throws a 104.4 mph strike

2. Aroldis Chapman throwing the hardest pitch of the year
Since Chapman entered MLB in 2010, he has thrown the fastest pitch in every season except for 2012, when Kelvin Herrera topped him, 103.5 mph to 103.4. That said, Chapman has still thrown the fastest pitch in each of the last five seasons. But not this year. Meet Jordan Hicks, who has the two fastest pitches of 2018, and seven of the top 10. (Chapman has the other three.) Chapman still has a week or so to pass Hicks' 105.1, but otherwise, the king has finally been dethroned.

3. Edwin Encarnacion not finishing among the top 10 home run hitters in the game
Can you guess the last time E5 didn't make the home run top 10 leaderboard? Would you believe … 2011? That's right! Here is where Edwin has finished every year since then:

2017: 38 (eighth)
2016: 42 (fourth)
2015: 38 (10th)
2014: 34 (eighth)
2013: 35 (third)
2012: 42 (fourth)

He has 31 this year, three behind Nolan Arenado, Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper, who are tied for 10th on the leaderboard with 34 dingers apiece. Encarnacion needs to get hot the final week.

4. The NL finally winning Interleague Play
The NL hasn't beaten the American League head-to-head in Interleague Play since 2003, but even back in May, it looked like this was finally the year. And it is: The NL is up 153-139, with only nine games to go. It's clinched! All it required was the AL having two 100-loss teams and three more 90-loss ones. That helped.

5. Collectively, more strikeouts than hits
Baseball writer Joe Sheehan has been on this hobbyhorse for a while, but this was the year everybody noticed. For the first time in baseball history, there will be more strikeouts than hits. The difference isn't quite as stark as it was back in May, but nevertheless: There have been 38,353 hits this year … and 38,549 strikeouts. We did it, everybody?

Video: WSH@MIA: Turner swipes his 40th base of the season

6. Players with at least 48 steals
That's sort of an arbitrary number, I grant, but Juan Pierre's 48 steals in 2002 led all of baseball -- the lowest leading tally since 1963. No one's going to come close to 48 this year: Trea Turner has the most in the Majors, with 40. Soon, we're going to have no one with 40 at all.

7. The Phillies' streak of non-winning seasons
When Ryan Howard collapsed after grounding to second the finish off that epic 2011 NLDS Game 5 against the Cardinals, it was the end of one of the greatest eras in recent baseball memory. The Phillies had won the NL East five straight years, and that 102-win team in '11 was their best one. But they finished 81-81 in '12 and have been rebuilding since. The process is not done entirely, but unless the Phils go 3-8 in their final 11 games, they'll have gotten over the .500 hump.

8. Having the ERA leaders in each league be under 2.00
Right now, Blake Snell is at 1.97 and Jacob deGrom is at 1.78. Want to know the last time both the AL and the NL ERA leaders were under 2.00 for the year? Back in 1972, when Steve Carlton put a 1.97 and Luis Tiant notched a 1.91. Snell likely has two starts left to stay under the mark.

9. The Red Sox's streak of not winning 100 games
There have been some truly terrific Red Sox teams in the last 72 years, from the 1978 team (99 wins) to the 2013 team (97 wins and a title) and the '04 team (98 wins, a title you might remember a bit). But not since 1946 had they won 100 games … until this year. (The Yankees have done it 11 times since then.) With two more wins, these Red Sox will have won more games than any other squad in franchise history.

10. Joey Votto's streak of seasons as the Reds' best hitter
Votto made his debut with the Reds in 2007, and in '08 was the team's second-best hitter, behind Adam Dunn. Since then, Votto has had the highest OPS for the Reds every season, even his injury-shorted season in '14. But not this year, as both Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett have been better than Votto.

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Postseason Picture: Where we are right now

A closer look at the divisions, Wild Cards and tiebreakers
MLB.com

The Dodgers tightened their grip on first place in the National League West on Wednesday by completing a big sweep of the Rockies to open up a 2 1/2-game lead with nine games to play, while the Brewers gained a game on the Cubs in the NL Central with a victory over the Reds and some help from the D-backs. In the NL East, the Braves won to maintain a 5 1/2-game advantage over the victorious Phillies, and with Atlanta's victory over St. Louis, the Cardinals remain 1 1/2 games ahead of the Colorado for the second NL Wild Card Spot.

Postseason bracket

The Dodgers tightened their grip on first place in the National League West on Wednesday by completing a big sweep of the Rockies to open up a 2 1/2-game lead with nine games to play, while the Brewers gained a game on the Cubs in the NL Central with a victory over the Reds and some help from the D-backs. In the NL East, the Braves won to maintain a 5 1/2-game advantage over the victorious Phillies, and with Atlanta's victory over St. Louis, the Cardinals remain 1 1/2 games ahead of the Colorado for the second NL Wild Card Spot.

Postseason bracket

In the American League, the Yankees held off an AL East title-clinching victory by the Red Sox for the second consecutive night, and the A's won to inch closer to the Astros in the AL West while keeping pace with New York in the AL Wild Card race.

Here is a division-by-division breakdown of the playoff picture, recapping Wednesday's action and taking a look at where each contender stands heading into today. Within each division, clubs are listed in order of current standing.

Explaining tiebreaker scenarios for '18 postseason

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

RED SOX (103-49, .678)

Status: Clinched postseason berth. Lead NYY by 9 1/2 games for division title; lead HOU by 8 games for best record in MLB.

Yesterday's result: Lost to NYY, 10-1. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: Boston currently sits in front of AL West-leading Houston, but in the event the Astros catch the Sox, the season series would determine home field in a potential postseason matchup. The Astros won the season series, 4-3.

Today's schedule: at NYY (7:05 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Thursday at NYY, Sept. 21-23 at CLE, Sept. 28-30 vs. NYY

Video: BOS@NYY: Travis races 85 feet for grab, hits the wall

YANKEES (93-58, .616)

Status: Trail BOS by 9 1/2 games in AL East; lead OAK by 2 1/2 games for first AL Wild Card.

Yesterday's result: Beat BOS, 10-1. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If the Yankees and A's tie for the two AL Wild Card spots, home field in the Wild Card Game would go to the winner of the season series, but with each club having won three games, the tiebreaker would go to the club with the better intradivision record. The Yankees (37-28 vs. AL East) hold a lead over the A's (34-35 vs. AL West) in that regard.

Today's schedule: vs. BOS (7:05 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Thursday vs. BOS, Sept. 28-30 at BOS

Video: Must C Combo: Voit gets jacked, then hits two jacks

RAYS (85-66, .563)

Status: Trail OAK by 5 1/2 games for second AL Wild Card.

Yesterday's result: Beat TEX, 9-3. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If the Rays were to tie the A's for the AL's second Wild Card spot, they would host a tiebreaker play-in game because they won the season series over the A's, 5-2.

Today's schedule: at TOR (7:07 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sept. 24-27 vs. NYY

Video: TB@TEX: Pham has first 2-HR game as a Ray

AL CENTRAL

INDIANS (85-66, .563)

Status: Clinched AL Central. Trail HOU by 9 1/2 games for No. 2 seed in AL.

Yesterday's result: Beat CWS, 4-1. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If Cleveland were to pull even with Houston, it still would not host Game 1 of the ALDS, since the Astros took the season series, 4-3.

Today's schedule: vs. CWS (7:10 p.m. ET) 

Key series remaining: Friday-Sunday vs. BOS

Video: Must C Clutch: Kipnis gets hit 1,000 on walk-off slam

AL WEST

ASTROS (95-57, .625)

Status: Lead OAK by 4 games in AL West; lead CLE by 9 1/2 games for home field in ALDS; trail BOS by 8 games for the AL's best record.

Yesterday's result: Lost to SEA, 9-0. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If Cleveland pulls even with Houston, the Astros still would host Game 1 of the ALDS, since they took the season series, 4-3. In the event of a tie with Oakland atop the AL West, the Astros would host a one-game tiebreaker by virtue of taking the season series, 12-7.

Today's schedule: Off

Video: SEA@HOU: Reddick sprints 83 ft. in 5 sec for catch

ATHLETICS (91-61, .599)

Status: Trail HOU by 4 games in AL West and NYY by 2 1/2 games for first AL Wild Card; lead TB by 5 1/2 games for second AL Wild Card.

Yesterday's result: Beat LAA, 10-0. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If the A's and Yankees tie for the two AL Wild Card spots, home field in the Wild Card Game would go to the winner of the season series, but with both teams having won three games, the tiebreaker would go to the club with the better intradivision record. The Yankees (37-28 vs. AL East) hold a lead over the A's (34-35 vs. AL West) in that regard. If the A's tie the Astros for the AL West crown, Houston would host a one-game tiebreaker by virtue of taking the season series, 12-7.

Today's schedule: vs. LAA (3:35 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Sept. 24-26 at SEA

Video: LAA@OAK: Lowrie, Piscotty each plate 2 in a 6-run 4th

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

BRAVES (84-68, .553)

Status: Lead PHI by 5 1/2 games in NL East; trail CHC by 5 games for No. 1 seed in NL; trail LAD by a half-game for No. 2 seed in NL.

Yesterday's result: Beat STL, 7-3. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: A tie for the division crown would necessitate a tiebreaker game, and the Braves currently have the edge on the Phillies for home field in such a game. Atlanta leads the season series, 7-5, but the clubs have seven games remaining against each other. In the event of a tie for the best record in the NL, the higher seed would be determined by intradivision record, since the Braves and Cubs each won three games apiece in the season series. Atlanta (43-23) currently leads Chicago (37-32) in that department.

Today's schedule: vs. PHI (7:35 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Thursday-Sunday vs. PHI, Sept. 28-30 at PHI

Video: STL@ATL: Freeman cranks a 2-run homer, fan makes grab

PHILLIES (78-73, .517)

Status: Trail ATL by 5 1/2 games in NL East; 5 games out of the second NL Wild Card berth behind STL.

Yesterday's result: Beat NYM, 4-0. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: A tie for the division crown would necessitate a tiebreaker game, and the Braves currently have the edge on the Phillies for home field in such a game. Philadelphia trails the season series, 7-5, but the clubs have seven games remaining against each other.

Today's schedule: at ATL (7:35 p.m. ET)

Key series remaining: Thursday-Sunday at ATL, Sept. 24-27 at COL, Sept. 28-30 vs. ATL

Video: NYM@PHI: Eflin K's 9 over 5 scoreless frames vs. Mets

NL CENTRAL

CUBS (89-63, .586)

Status: Lead MIL by 2 1/2 games and STL by 5 1/2 games in NL Central; lead LAD by 4 1/2 games for No. 1 seed in NL.

Yesterday's result: Lost to ARI, 9-0. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: In the event of a tiebreaker game for the division title, the Cubs would have home-field advantage over the Brewers, by virtue of their 11-8 record vs. Milwaukee in the season series. In the event of a tie for the best record in the NL, the higher seed would be determined by intradivision record, since the Cubs and Braves each won three games apiece in the season series. Atlanta (43-23) currently leads Chicago (37-32) in that department.

Today's schedule: Off

Key series remaining: Sept. 28-30 vs. STL

Video: CHC@ARI: Russell, Baez combine for smooth double play

BREWERS (87-66, .569)

Status: Trail CHC by 2 1/2 games in NL Central; lead STL by 3 games for first NL Wild Card.

Yesterday's result: Beat CIN, 7-0. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: The Brewers' final three-game series against the Cardinals on Sept. 24-26 will determine the winner of the season series -- currently tied at 8-8 -- and who would have home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game if the two clubs finished tied for both Wild Card spots.

Today's schedule: Off

Key series remaining: Sept. 24-26 at STL

Video: CIN@MIL: Aguilar crushes a 3-run homer in the 3rd

CARDINALS (84-69, .549)

Status: Trail CHC by 5 1/2 games in NL Central; lead COL by 1 1/2 games for second NL Wild Card spot, trail MIL by 3 games for top NL Wild Card spot.

Yesterday's result: Lost to ATL, 7-3. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: The Cardinals' final three-game series against the Brewers on Sept. 24-26 will determine the winner of the season series -- currently tied at 8-8 -- and thereby who would have home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card Game if the two clubs finished tied for both Wild Card spots. Should St. Louis finish tied with Colorado for the second NL Wild Card spot, the Cardinals would host a tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series, 5-2.

Today's schedule: Off

Key series remaining: Sept. 24-26 vs. MIL, Sept. 28-30 at CHC

Video: STL@ATL: Bader belts a towering solo shot to left

NL WEST

DODGERS (85-68, .556)

Status: Lead COL by 2 1/2 games in NL West; lead ATL by a half-game for No. 2 seed in NL.

Yesterday's result: Beat COL, 5-2. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: Should there be a tiebreaker game for the division title or the final NL Wild Card berth, Los Angeles is currently in position to host the Rockies (won the season series, 12-7) or play at Arizona (9-7 deficit), with more games left against Arizona. The Dodgers lost the season series to the Cardinals, 4-3, so in the event of a tie for a Wild Card spot, Los Angeles would play at St. Louis. 

Today's schedule: Off

Key series remaining: Sept. 24-26 at ARI

Video: Must C Clutch: Puig belts pinch-hit, go-ahead homer

ROCKIES (82-70, .539)

Status: Trail LAD by 2 1/2 in NL West; trail STL by 1 1/2 games for second NL Wild Card spot. 

Yesterday's result: Lost to LAD, 5-2. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: In the event of a tie for first place in the division, there would be a tiebreaker game to determine the NL West champion. As things stand now, the Rockies would be on the road for such a game against the Dodgers due to the results of their season series against Los Angeles (7-12), while Colorado's season series with the D-backs is currently even at 8-8 as the Rockies head to Arizona for a weekend series beginning Friday.

Today's schedule: Off

Key series remaining: Friday-Sunday at ARI

Video: COL@LAD: Anderson K's 4 over 6 innings vs. Dodgers

D-BACKS (79-74, .516)

Status: Trail LAD by 6 games in NL West; trail STL by 6 games for second NL Wild Card. 

Yesterday's result:  Beat CHC, 9-0. Recap >

Key tiebreaker: If the D-backs finish tied for the division title or final NL Wild Card berth, season series would determine home-field advantage in an extra game for the right to advance to the NL Wild Card Game. Arizona leads its season series against Los Angeles (9-7) and is tied with Colorado (8-8) and St. Louis (3-3). The D-backs and Rockies meet for a final regular season series starting Friday at Chase Field. Home field between Arizona and St. Louis would come down to intradivision record, with the Cardinals (40-30) currently leading the D-backs (36-31) in that race.

Today's schedule: Off

Key series remaining: Friday-Sunday vs. COL, Sept. 24-26 vs. LAD

Video: CHC@ARI: Walker crushes 445-ft. home run to center

POSTSEASON PICTURE

If the playoffs began today, here's how they would look:

Postseason schedule

NL Wild Card Game (Tues., Oct. 2)
Cardinals at Brewers

AL Wild Card Game (Wed., Oct. 3)
Athletics at Yankees

NL Division Series (begins Thurs., Oct. 4)
NL Wild Card Game winner at Cubs
Braves at Dodgers

AL Division Series (begins Fri., Oct. 5)
AL Wild Card Game winner at Red Sox
Indians at Astros

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Do-Hyoung Park is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros

Snell's case for AL Cy Young is very strong

Rays' ace poised to join elite company with Gooden, Blue, McLain
MLB.com @MikeLupica

Jacob deGrom has set a record by going 27 starts without giving up more than three runs, even though the Mets hardly ever earn enough runs for him to win. On top of that, deGrom has a 1.78 ERA and 251 strikeouts across 202 innings, and he ought to win the National League Cy Young Award. That takes care of his league. In the American League, the award should go to Tampa Bay's Blake Snell, who might not just be the best pitcher in the AL, but the whole sport, this season. 

deGrom has a .095 WHIP and an 8.5 bWAR. Snell has a 0.97 WHIP and a 6.6 bWAR to go with a 1.97 ERA, a 20-5 record and 200 strikeouts in 169 innings. Snell also happens to pitch like that in the AL, and a meat-grinder division known as the AL East. Are you kidding? You know what it feels like when starting pitchers go from the AL to NL, even in a world of Interleague Play? It feels like Club Med.

Jacob deGrom has set a record by going 27 starts without giving up more than three runs, even though the Mets hardly ever earn enough runs for him to win. On top of that, deGrom has a 1.78 ERA and 251 strikeouts across 202 innings, and he ought to win the National League Cy Young Award. That takes care of his league. In the American League, the award should go to Tampa Bay's Blake Snell, who might not just be the best pitcher in the AL, but the whole sport, this season. 

deGrom has a .095 WHIP and an 8.5 bWAR. Snell has a 0.97 WHIP and a 6.6 bWAR to go with a 1.97 ERA, a 20-5 record and 200 strikeouts in 169 innings. Snell also happens to pitch like that in the AL, and a meat-grinder division known as the AL East. Are you kidding? You know what it feels like when starting pitchers go from the AL to NL, even in a world of Interleague Play? It feels like Club Med.

Twelve of Snell's starts have come against the five highest-scoring teams in baseball: the Red Sox (four), Yankees (three), Indians (two), Astros (two) and A's (one). Snell's record in those starts is 9-2, with a 2.00 ERA. As the Rays' PR office pointed out on Wednesday, Snell has the chance to do something that only six pitchers have done since 1920: Win 20 games, have an ERA lower than 2.00 and do that at 25 years old or younger. The others? Dwight Gooden (1985), Vida Blue ('71), Denny McLain ('68), Dave McNally ('68), Dean Chance ('64) and Hal Newhouser ('45). 

Video: Snell credits teammates for reaching 20 wins

Chris Sale might still win the AL Cy Young Award despite his two stints on the disabled list. Sale has absolutely been a force of nature when healthy. But Snell should absolutely win the honor. No one has pitched better than he has this season -- not deGrom, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw. Every one of those guys has more innings than Snell does, with the exception of Kershaw, who's also been hurt (lower back discomfort and left bicep tendinitis). It doesn't change what Snell has done for the Rays, and it certainly doesn't change the way he's pitched lately.

The Rays have been one of the hottest teams in baseball. And the kid Snell just keeps delivering, in a year in which all the other pitching news made by Tampa Bay involved the club using an "opener." The Rays aren't hiding in plain sight any longer and -- man, oh man -- neither is their ace. Even in the four no-decisions he's had, Snell has a 1.21 ERA. 

There are other teams allowed to think they have the best starter in baseball. The Rays think they have the best, and it's no easy thing to out-debate them on this. There has been so much love for what deGrom has done, and he sure has earned all of it. Snell deserves just as much. 

Video: Is Blake Snell the American League Cy Young favorite?

It's probably too late for the Rays to catch and pass the A's for the second AL Wild Card spot. So the A's are lucky that the regular season is going to end when it is. You know who else is lucky? The Yankees. Because barring a total collapse by Oakland over the next 11 days, they won't have to face Snell in the AL Wild Card Game. 

The Yankees still have four games left with the Rays next week in St. Petersburg. But nobody wants to play Tampa Bay right now, the way nobody wants to face Snell. Seven years after the Rays took him in the first round of the 2011 Draft, he has become everything they always thought he could and would be. 

Manager Kevin Cash asserted as much on Wednesday before the Rays played the Rangers, and after he'd taken Snell out after 92 pitches and five innings of one-hit ball against Texas the night before. 

"He's continued to get better throughout the year," Cash said. "He's really gotten hot after the break, and he's provided us a huge boost. The guy is dominating. The numbers speak for themselves. Blake's as big a reason as us being kind of unique with our pitching staff; allowing us to do some different things with the opener and the guys that come in and finish because of the length and consistency that he's provided. To go and get the wins that he has against some really, really strong teams and what he's done recently has to put himself in consideration [for the AL Cy Young Award]."

Video: TB@TEX: Snell collects 200th K in 20th win of season

Erik Neander, the Rays' bright young general manager, reasserted just as much. 

"What we've seen since Spring Training is a combination of determination and preparation after what was, for him, a challenging 2017 [when he was sent down to Triple-A Durham after his first eight starts]," Neander said. "Now he's seeing the rewards of all that. This is someone who is incredibly talented and incredibly driven to succeed. Ideally, this is just the beginning of a wonderful career, one on which no one is putting any limits."

Here's some more good stuff about Snell's great stuff: The last two AL pitchers to win 20 games and have an ERA lower than 2.00 were Roger Clemens in 1990 and Ron Guidry in '78. 

In addition to everything else, Snell has won each of his past eight starts. It's ironic, then: In a season when we really have spent as much time as we have talking about Tampa Bay's openers, a starter like Snell turns out to be this kind of closer.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.

Blake Snell

10 of the most athletic plays of 2018 season

It's almost unfair how athletic baseball players are. They can fool you for a minute, as they saunter to the plate the same way that you belly up to the buffet. But then, when you're on your couch watching them play, they explode into frenzied, beautiful action that makes you wonder if you're even in the same genus, much less species. 

So, let's look at 10 of the most athletic plays this season. 

Who are the top under-the-radar AFL prospects?

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

Memphis strafed Durham pitchers for 14 runs and 17 hits in Tuesday's Triple-A National Championship Game, but the Redbirds couldn't touch Bulls left-hander Colin Poche. He struck out three of the four batters he faced, capping a year in which he was the most dominant reliever in the Minors.

A 14th-round pick out of Dallas Baptist by the D-backs in 2016, Poche went to the Rays in May as a player to be named later in the three-team February trade that sent Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona. Between the two organizations and Double-A and Triple-A, he led all Minor Leaguers with as many as his 66 innings in ERA (0.82) and strikeout rate (15.0) per nine innings. Poche also ranked second in WHIP (0.79) and third in opponent average (.151).

Memphis strafed Durham pitchers for 14 runs and 17 hits in Tuesday's Triple-A National Championship Game, but the Redbirds couldn't touch Bulls left-hander Colin Poche. He struck out three of the four batters he faced, capping a year in which he was the most dominant reliever in the Minors.

A 14th-round pick out of Dallas Baptist by the D-backs in 2016, Poche went to the Rays in May as a player to be named later in the three-team February trade that sent Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona. Between the two organizations and Double-A and Triple-A, he led all Minor Leaguers with as many as his 66 innings in ERA (0.82) and strikeout rate (15.0) per nine innings. Poche also ranked second in WHIP (0.79) and third in opponent average (.151).

Poche's fastball sits around 91-92 mph, but hitters struggle to catch up to it because it has a high spin rate, he hides it well and he gets tremendous extension in his delivery. Add in an effective slider and a penchant for pounding the strike zone, and he could be a weapon for Tampa Bay's bullpen in 2019. 

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Tweet from @moose_tography: With all the big names coming to the Fall League....who are some under the radar guys to watch

The Arizona Fall League is my second-favorite baseball destination of the year -- the College World Series always will be No. 1 -- and the developmental circuit is loaded with its usual array of talent. Starting with the game's top prospect (Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) and its top pitching prospect (Astros right-hander Forrest Whitley), there will be scores of future big leaguers.

There also are several intriguing players who aren't on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. I'll choose one from each of the six AFL clubs, and expound on them in the video at the top of this column:

Glendale: Luis Alexander Basabe, OF, White Sox
Mesa: Bobby Dalbec, 3B, Red Sox
Peoria: Buddy Reed, OF, Padres
Salt River: Daulton Varsho, C, D-backs
Scottsdale: J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, Astros
Surprise: Khalil Lee, OF, Royals

Tweet from @WallsSean: Why are the Reds starting Nick Senzel at LF during instructs when CF is arguably their biggest need at the big league level? They���ve admitted they think he possesses the athleticism to play CF, why not try him there exclusively?

The Reds are just trying to figure out how to get one of the best pure hitters in the Minors and one of the best all-around prospects in baseball into their 2019 lineup. Senzel's best position is third base, he's capable of playing second base and perhaps shortstop, and he possibly could handle center field.

But Cincinnati has Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett, Jose Peraza and Billy Hamilton at those positions, so the easiest way to get him regular playing time next year may be on an outfield corner. Jesse Winker has to bounce back from shoulder surgery and Scott Schebler is having a nice season but lacks Senzel's upside. While Senzel could offer a lot more offense than Peraza at shortstop or Hamilton in center field, he'd be a downgrade defensively.

Tweet from @KavvyC: Who are the top 3 pitching farm systems?

The best farm system in terms of pitching prospects belongs to the Padres. Left-handers MacKenzie Gore (No. 11), Adrian Morejon (No. 49), Logan Allen (No. 85) and Ryan Weathers (No. 99) and right-handers Chris Paddack (No. 48) and Michel Baez (No. 60) all reside on our Top 100 Prospect list. Righties Cal Quantrill and Anderson Espinoza have made it in the past, righty Luis Patino could climb aboard the next time we update it, and San Diego has depth well beyond those arms as well.

The Braves are a close second, matching the Padres with six pitchers on the Top 100: right-handers Mike Soroka (No. 15), Kyle Wright (No. 24), Ian Anderson (No. 39) and Touki Toussaint (No. 74) plus left-handers Luiz Gohara (No. 59) and Kolby Allard (No. 88). Lefties Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller and righty Bryse Wilson also can make a case for making the Top 100, and Atlanta has several other interesting arms behind them.

Settling on the third-best pitching system is a tough call between the Astros, Rays, Tigers and Yankees. Houston and New York have the deepest crops of mound talent among that group, but I'm going to give a very slight edge to Tampa Bay. The Rays have four Top 100 arms in right-handers Brent Honeywell (No. 23) and Shane Baz (No. 93) and left-handers Brendan McKay (No. 29) and Matt Liberatore (No. 64), as well as several other quality lefties, including 2018 first-rounder Shane McClanahan and Poche.

When you ranked the top 30 rookies based on long-term value, how come there was no mention of Giants right-hander Dereck Rodriguez?
-- Tom B., Sun City West, Ariz.

In a disappointing season for the Giants, Rodriguez has been a pleasant surprise. The Twins drafted the son of Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez as an outfielder in the sixth round in 2011, moved him to the mound three years later and saw him sign with San Francisco as a Minor League free agent after last season. Since getting called to the Majors for the first time in late May, he has logged a 2.30 ERA in 109 1/3 innings.

While Rodriguez has been one of the top rookie performers this year, I left him off my long-term potential list because he's relatively old (age 26) and doesn't miss a lot of bats. He does a nice job of throwing strikes and keeping the ball down, but all of the pitchers on my long-term Top 30 are younger and have better stuff. I'll admit that I never envisioned Rodriguez having this much success, so perhaps I'm underestimating him again.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Aaron Judge expertly photobombed a pregame dugout report

Aaron Judge just returned from a stint on the disabled list and made his first start back in right field on Tuesday. And, while he has not yet launched his first post-injury home run into the stands, it hasn't taken him long to fully reacquaint himself with the gameday routine at Yankee Stadium.

While YES reporter Meredith Marakovits gave her pregame report from the dugout prior to Wednesday's 10-1 win over the Red Sox, Judge lingered in the background and let the camera know that he's watching.

Injury updates: Cain, Kopech, Abreu, Bauer

MLB.com

Here's a roundup of the latest injury news across the Majors.

Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun, Brewers
Cain would prefer to play through the pain in the tight rib cage that necessitated his removal from Tuesday's game, but after being advised to "be smart" about the injury, he will sit out Wednesday's game against the Reds and hopes to return to the lineup on Friday. Though he has been feeling discomfort since Friday or Saturday and the pain has neither worsened nor abated, he has not undergone an MRI and does not feel that one is necessary.

Here's a roundup of the latest injury news across the Majors.

Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun, Brewers
Cain would prefer to play through the pain in the tight rib cage that necessitated his removal from Tuesday's game, but after being advised to "be smart" about the injury, he will sit out Wednesday's game against the Reds and hopes to return to the lineup on Friday. Though he has been feeling discomfort since Friday or Saturday and the pain has neither worsened nor abated, he has not undergone an MRI and does not feel that one is necessary.

Braun was out of the starting lineup for the third straight game on Wednesday as a precautionary measure after experiencing a recurrence of discomfort in his surgically repaired back. More >

Michael Kopech and Jose Abreu, White Sox
The White Sox announced that Kopech, MLB Pipeline's No. 13 overall prospect, underwent a successful Tommy John surgery on Tuesday and is recovering at home. The hard-throwing righty is expected to make a full recovery in time to participate in Spring Training in 2020.

Video: LAA@CWS: White Sox booth, Kopech discuss TJ injury

One day after he was admitted to a Cleveland-area hospital to treat an infection in his right thigh, Abreu was discharged on Wednesday and is recovering at the team hotel while on a "heavy dose" of antibiotics. Manager Rick Renteria stressed that the White Sox, far out of contention, won't be looking to rush Abreu back onto the field and didn't rule out the idea that Abreu's season might be over. More >

Trevor Bauer, Indians
The Indians plan to activate Bauer from the disabled list on Friday as part of a three-start recovery plan that they hope will get Bauer fully ready for a role in their postseason starting rotation. The plan is for him to make an abbreviated start on Friday against the Red Sox, another start next Tuesday in Chicago and a final start on Sept. 30 in Kansas City.

Bauer threw roughly 60 pitches in a simulated game Tuesday, testing all of his offerings. He has been sidelined since mid-August with a stress fracture in his right fibula. More >

Pedro Strop, Cubs
Strop (right hamstring strain) is confident he'll be back in Chicago's bullpen by the end of the regular season. 

"Everything is pain-free. We're not trying to do too much," Strop said. "We're letting that thing heal. We're going to do whatever is possible to do."

With Brandon Morrow out for the season, manager Joe Maddon is currently trying to get Chicago through the regular season and into the postseason without a regular closer.

"I still believe it's Justin [Wilson]," Maddon said. "But look at the acquisitions, [Jesse] Chavez and [Jorge] De La Rosa, look what they've done for us down there." More >

Matt Bush and Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Rangers
Bush underwent surgery to repair a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow on Wednesday and is expected to miss the first half of the 2019 season. He has been on the disabled list since June with what was later discovered to be damage to his UCL and began a throwing program in August, but never felt well enough to pitch off a mound.

Bibens-Dirkx also underwent surgery on Wednesday to repair torn cartilege in his left knee. More >

Eddie Rosario and Mitch Garver, Twins
While Miguel Sano returned to the starting lineup Tuesday for the first time since exiting with a lower left leg injury on Sept. 4, the Twins might be without Rosario (right quad strain) for the rest of the year. Rosario was sent back to Minneapolis and will undergo an MRI on the quad on Thursday. He aggravated the quad while playing the field following his Sept. 7 return from the same injury.

Garver's return is also uncertain, though the catcher was feeling better Tuesday after his concussion-like symptoms worsened Monday. The backstop has been sidelined since taking a foul ball off the mask Wednesday and was sent home with Rosario. More >

Video: NYY@MIN: Garver exits after taking foul ball off mask

Trevor Cahill and Andrew Triggs, A's
Cahill, who missed two starts due to discomfort in the rhomboid muscle in his back, threw a 35-pitch bullpen session at the Oakland Coliseum prior to Wednesday's win over the Angels, and felt no pain. He could be back in Oakland's starting roation by this weekend. More >

Triggs is scheduled to undergo surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome on Sept. 26, the A's announced Tuesday. The right-hander has been sidelined since he went on the disabled list in mid-May with right arm nerve irritation. More >

Angels-A's exclusively on Facebook today

MLB.com @DKramer_

Facebook's digital-only live stream schedule continues this afternoon as the Angels and A's conclude their three-game series in Oakland. The American League West matchup is one of 25 streaming broadcasts that were scheduled for 2018 as part of MLB's partnership with Facebook. 

Fans can catch the 3:35 p.m. ET/12:35 p.m. PT contest at www.facebook.com/MLBLiveGames or by logging on to Facebook's MLB Live page from their phones, tablets, smart TVs or other streaming devices. MLB Network will produce the game, with play-by-play announcer Rich Waltz, along with analysts Mark Langston and former A's pitcher Dallas Braden and field reporter Kevin Frandsen on hand for the call. 

View Full Game Coverage

Facebook's digital-only live stream schedule continues this afternoon as the Angels and A's conclude their three-game series in Oakland. The American League West matchup is one of 25 streaming broadcasts that were scheduled for 2018 as part of MLB's partnership with Facebook. 

Fans can catch the 3:35 p.m. ET/12:35 p.m. PT contest at www.facebook.com/MLBLiveGames or by logging on to Facebook's MLB Live page from their phones, tablets, smart TVs or other streaming devices. MLB Network will produce the game, with play-by-play announcer Rich Waltz, along with analysts Mark Langston and former A's pitcher Dallas Braden and field reporter Kevin Frandsen on hand for the call. 

View Full Game Coverage

How to watch on mobile and desktop
Desktop
1. Search for "MLB Live" on Facebook
2. Follow the "MLB Live" show page

Mobile
1. Download the Facebook video app on your TV or streaming device and search for "MLB Live"
2. Or stream the game from your phone to a TV on the same WiFi network by tapping the TV icon.

What to know about the Angels-A's game
In what's been perhaps one of the best surprise stories of the summer, the A's will look to clinch a postseason spot as they enter the final days of the regular season. Despite a few hiccups dating back to last weekend, most notably in what's otherwise been a lights-out bullpen, the A's are on the cusp of their first postseason appearance since 2014. Their formula for success has been a slugging lineup, serviceable starting pitching, elite defense and an elite bullpen. 

Oakland's surge through the AL standings in the summer months was fueled in part from unexpected contributors, and no player has embodied that more than Thursday's starter, Edwin Jackson. The 35-year-old journeyman has led the A's to wins in 12 of his 15 starts since he joined them in late June, right around the time Oakland got hot. Jackson's 3.17 ERA would be his lowest since 2015, but back then, he was exclusively a reliever, meaning his season mark in '18 would be a career-best among seasons in which he's been a full-time starter. The A's are Jackson's 12th team in 15 big league seasons. 

Meanwhile, the Angels are on the last leg of a season that started promising -- with the emergence of two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani and what was shaping up to be a career year from superstar Mike Trout -- yet is on the way to ending a fourth straight season without a postseason appearance. As was the case with Ohtani (right elbow) and Trout (right wrist), injuries were the prevailing cause preventing the Halos from playing at their full potential.

Thursday's starter, right-hander Matt Shoemaker, was also a victim to the disabled list. He is making his fourth start since returning from a forearm injury on Sept. 3, and he has compiled a 3.68 ERA over 14 2/3 innings in that stretch. He was charged with a loss in his last start on Friday after giving up three runs over 4 2/3 innings against the Mariners. 

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels