Category Archives: Minor Leagues

Yimi Garcia pitching well in AFL as 40-man roster deadline nears

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Spent a few minutes with Yimi Garcia before Friday night’s Arizona Fall League game at Scottsdale Stadium. The Dodgers right-hander is in his protection year, which means he will have to be added to the 40-man roster by Nov. 20 or he is exposed to the Rule 5 draft, and he almost certainly will be added because he is one of the organization’s top relief prospects. He says no one in the organization has given him any indication either way, but that’s standard practice — teams don’t like to tip their hands, even to the players involved.

Garcia, 23, was signed out of the Dominican Republic in January 2009. He didn’t give up a run in any of his first five appearances for the Glendale Desert Dogs in the AFL, a span of 6 2/3 innings (yes, relievers occasionally are allowed to go multiple innings in the AFL). Since then, he has been scored upon in three of four outings, but that probably can be chalked up to fatigue as he pitches deeper into the year.

In addition to likely being added to the 40-man, Garcia has an outside shot of reaching the majors sometime in 2014. He is coming off his first full season at Double-A Chattanooga, where he made 49 appearances and posted a 2.54 ERA and had a WHIP of 0.812. He also had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 6:1.

In 2009, Garcia debuted with the Dodgers by dominating in the Dominican Summer League. A year later, though, he had a rude awakening in the Arizona Rookie League, as his ERA blew up to 7.04.

“I didn’t know what had happened,” Garcia said. “I had always thrown my fastball down the middle, and in the Dominican, you could get guys out that way, just blowing it by them. But I came back that next year, 2011 (at Ogden in the Rookie-level Pioneer League), and I started using my slider and my changeup a lot more.”

By becoming more of a pitcher than just a thrower, Garcia posted a 3.10 ERA at Ogden in 2011, split 2012 between low Single-A Great Lakes and advanced Single-A Rancho Cucamonga and then spent all of 2013 at Chattanooga, gradually shaving down his ERA at each stop.

By the way, a few minutes after we spoke, Garcia was playing catch in the outfield while the Scottsdale Scorpions took batting practice, and he was grazed in the left (non-throwing) shoulder by a line drive that struck him on the fly. Apparently, Garcia was OK, as he went right back to throwing. He wasn’t scheduled to pitch that night, but he came back the following afternoon to give up a run on one hit over one inning.

Fall Stars game recap from Surprise Stadium

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A few observations from the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game, mostly about highly touted Dodgers shortstop prospect Corey Seager:

For all the question marks about Seager’s defensive ability — and the speculation of whether the Dodgers eventually will move him to third base — he played a flawless shortstop. He didn’t really have any tough chances, though. Had two ground balls hit directly at him in the second inning and fielded them both in textbook fashion. And then, to finish off the top of the third, he took a perfect throw from Padres catching prospect Austin Hedges and laid down a perfect tag of Cardinals outfield prospect James Ramsey as he slid into second on a stolen-base attempt. But Hedges’ throw was so perfect and Ramsey’s jump so poor that Seager basically was standing there waiting for Ramsey with the ball in his glove, so that wasn’t especially challenging either. Seager later caught a pop-up in shallow left.

At the plate, the struggling Seager had a good at-bat in the second, looking at three straight pitches off the outside corner — he checked his swing on two of them, and the umpire ruled he went around on the first one, although from where I was sitting, it didn’t appear that he did. Seager then flied to center on the fourth pitch, a well-struck ball that didn’t carry much.

In his second at-bat, Seager stepped in with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the third and again showed plate discipline, taking three consecutive balls from Giants prospect Kyle Crick. Seager then looked at two strikes before hitting a bouncer to second and running hard enough up the first-base line to just beat the relay throw by a half-step, keeping the inning alive and giving himself an RBI, putting the West up 2-0.

Seager struck out in the fifth against hard-throwing Toronto right-hander Marcus Stroman, leaving him 0-for-3 for the night before he was lifted in the top of the sixth.

The only other Dodgers prospect to be named to this game, reliever Yimi Garcia, pitched the top of the eighth inning and gave up a run on two hits. Highly rated Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant led off the inning with a single, and Detroit’s Devon Travis hit a one-out triple off the top of the wall in right-center to drive in Bryant. Garcia, who likely will be added to the 40-man roster later this month, had no walks and no strikeouts.

By the way, the West (that’s the team Seager and Garcia were on, as members of the Glendale Desert Dogs) crushed the East 9-2. With the Desert Dogs’ move this year from dilapidated Phoenix Municipal Stadium to Camelback Ranch, the delineation between East and West is much more extreme. The West consists of Glendale, Peoria and Surprise. If you know metro Phoenix geography at all, those are all West of 75th Avenue. The East is Mesa, Scottsdale and Salt River, with all three teams playing East of Scottsdale Road. That leaves about a 30-mile chasm in between, and all six teams play all six teams, so some of the daily bus rides are up to an hour each way.

By the way, in a moment that perfectly symbolized the culture of the West Valley, play was momentarily delayed at the beginning of the ninth inning because a golf cart someone had parked just behind a chainlink portion of the leftfield wall, right next to the foul pole on the fair side, still had its headlights turned on so they could be seen in the peripheral vision of a left-handed batter. Just a couple of miles from Surprise Stadium is Sun City, where the median age is approximately 112 and it’s perfectly legal to drive a golf cart on a public street.

On a separate note, you may have read that the Dodgers signed free-agent right-handed reliever Fabio Martinez to a minor league contract. This is not the Fabio with the long hair who frequently graces the cover of romance novels while not wearing a shirt and who used to do those margarine commercials. But he might have a brighter future if he were. This Fabio is — how shall I put this? — not very good. He originally signed with the Angels in 2007 out of the Dominican. A year ago, the Cleveland Indians claimed him on waivers. This year, at Double-A Akron and then at Single-A Carolina (that’s a demotion, in case you didn’t know), he posted a combined ERA of 10.48 and, get this, WALKED 35 BATTERS IN 28 1/3 INNINGS. His WHIP was a horrid 2.082, but even if you take the H out of WHIP and make it just WIP, it was still 1.24. Throughout every team’s minor league system, there are a handful of guys who aren’t really prospects, who are just there to fill roster spots. I’m going to guess this is one of those guys.

Scenes from the Arizona Fall League

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What you’re looking at here is the typical crowd for an Arizona Fall League game. Of the people who are here, a lot of them are scouts and front-office types from various clubs. The actual paid crowd is usually around a hundred or so. The atmosphere in the ballpark is pretty much non-existent, although they still play music over the sound system between innings and stuff like that. Occasionally, after a really nice play, you might hear a smattering of hand-clapping, but that’s about it.

Yesterday, when I sat down with Dodgers prospect Corey Seager for a 10-minute interview at the far corner of the dugout during batting practice, at one point one of his teammates with the Glendale Desert Dogs, Cincinnati Reds first-base prospect and former Boise State basketball player Travis Mattair, came off the field and stood in front of Seager for a minute with a big grin on his face, trying to get his attention — basically, giving him grief for being such a big deal that he is asked for interviews. They still do stuff like that in the AFL, where there is so little media around that when someone does an interview, someone else makes a joke out of it. In big league clubhouses during the regular season, if a player sees another player giving an interview, usually that player is just happy it wasn’t HIM who was asked for an interview.

Batting practice is usually taken in complete silence at these games, at least until somebody shows up to play the music, so you can actually hear the banter between the players. Everything is kind of casual and relaxed.

At another point during BP yesterday, Dodgers catching prospect Chris O’Brien hit a wicked line drive to left that was headed straight at the groin of White Sox outfield prospect Jared Mitchell, who initially didn’t see it coming but when he finally did, was able to do some lightning-quick acrobatics to somehow completely avoid getting hit at all. The ball came within inches of causing a major injury, but it didn’t, and so everyone made a big joke about it.

“I’m comin’ after you!” O’Brien shouted, pointing his bat at Mitchell as he exited the cage and walked toward the dugout.

One of the weirdest things about the AFL is that while there are six teams, each of which has a handful of players from five different major league organizations, the only part of the uniform bearing the logo of one of those six teams — the Glendale Desert Dogs, the Surprise Saguaros, the Peoria Javelinas, the Mesa Solar Sox, the Salt River Rafters and the Scottsdale Scorpions — is the headgear, the caps and the batting helmets. From the neck down, each players wears the major league uniform of whatever organization he comes from. So at any given moment, you can have as many as 10 different big league uniforms on the field at once during an AFL game. Thankfully, there are no alternate jerseys. They stick to home whites and road grays here, because with so many uniforms running around, it’s confusing enough already.

Today at Camelback Ranch, Seager, who has been struggling with the bat since he got here, hit a beautiful, opposite-field home run, into the leftfield bullpen. Went down and got a low, outside pitch and just went with it. One Dodgers official who was seated near me, as the ball was sailing through the air, stood up and yelled, “Get up! Get up! Get the f–k up!!!” And the ball, as if on command, stayed up, just long enough to get up and over.

There were so few people in the stands today that as the game moved from the bottom of the eighth to the top of the ninth, even though I had moved back to the press box by then, I could hear the two base umpires talking to each other in the brief sliver of time before they started playing between-innings music. Couldn’t hear what they were saying, but could definitely hear their voices. And in the bottom of the ninth, when it appeared the Desert Dogs had won on a walk-off sacrifice fly but the run was waved off when the other team touched third base because the umpire agreed the runner had left early, I could hear the third-base coach arguing with the umpire.

When the Dogs finally did win in the 11th, I discovered that the celebration music they play — you know, like I Love L.A. when the Dodgers win at Dodger Stadium — is Who Let the Dogs Out? Stunningly, the “crowd” didn’t exactly break into any kind of dance in response. Most of these fans would have risked pulling something had they done so, or possibly falling and breaking a hip.

I love the AFL. I love the atmosphere, love the fact there are so many high-ranking baseball officials just sitting in the stands taking in the games. But mostly, I love it because it is a chance to see a bunch of guys who stand a really good chance of becoming major league players, certainly a better chance than the average minor leaguer, and you also know that a few of these guys probably will become stars.

You may have read yesterday that Seager and Dodgers pitching prospect Yimi Garcia have been named to Saturday’s AFL Fall Stars Game. It will be televised nationally on MLB Network, beginning at 5 p.m. West Coast time, if you’re interested. Keep in mind, this isn’t an All-Star Game, per se. A lot of players will appear in it who aren’t having especially good seasons in the AFL. It used to be called the Rising Stars Game, but they changed the name this year due to a sponsorship change. The players who get named to this thing are the most highly ranked prospects in the AFL, the players the fans want to see, not the players who are putting up the best stats. It’s a showcase league, and the Fall Stars Game is a showcase game, and rightfully so.

Seager, for instance, entered today hitting .146. Garcia, by contrast, has been solid, giving up two runs on four hits in 7 2/3 innings over six appearances.

Seager has a chance to be a star player in a few years. Garcia probably will be added to the Dodgers 40-man roster this winter and could be on the big league club sometime in 2014. I was told a few days ago that he was close to major league-ready. So this Saturday is a good chance to get a good look at both of them.

On another note, just a heads-up, don’t forget that MLB Gold Glove awards will be announced this afternoon, in about two hours, in fact, on ESPN2.

The continuing baseball education of Corey Seager

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Corey Seager is tired. Admittedly so. This is all new for a 19-year-old kid, who just a year and a half ago was still playing the oh-so-short high-school season, and even in this day of year-round travel ball, there is nothing that compares to this. Seager, a shortstop and one of the Dodgers’ top prospects, has been playing baseball nonstop since the beginning of spring training, which was followed immediately by his first full season as a professional, which he split between each level of A-ball. The team he finished with, advanced Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, reached the California League playoffs, pushing Seager’s season a week into September. After that, Seager got what he said was about a week off before he reported to Camelback Ranch, where he worked out with a host of other Dodgers minor leaguers — as well as some rehabbing big leaguers like, at various times, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier — while awaiting the start of the Arizona Fall League season.

That season is about half over now, which means Seager still has another two and a half weeks of baseball left before he returns home to North Carolina to spend the winter working out with his two older brothers, Kyle Seager, the starting third baseman for the Seattle Mariners, and Justin Seager, a first baseman who was drafted in June by the Mariners and just finished his first season in Rookie ball.

“It’s a little bit of a grind,” Seager conceded, but he isn’t complaining. Not many players get a prestigious AFL assignment at 19, but Seager is special. He was a first-round pick (18th overall) by the Dodgers, the only one of those in his family. And if his offensive numbers have been in steady decline since his midseason promotion to the Cal League from low Single-A Great Lakes, well, no one in the organization really cares about that. Not at this stage of Seager’s development, anyway.

Teams do pay attention to their top prospects’ performances, especially in the latter stages of their development as they begin to gauge their readiness for the big leagues. But Seager, whom the Dodgers signed out of high school last year to a $2.35 million bonus, isn’t there yet. The priority with players like him is to make sure they are properly challenged at every step, and that is one reason Seager has progressed so quickly in a little more than a year from Rookie ball to A-ball to advanced A-ball. Not quite as quickly as the guy who was drafted with the pick right behind him. That would be Michael Wacha, who will start Game 6 of the World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night at Fenway Park. But Wacha was drafted out of college, and thus is on a faster track.

It is somewhat noteworthy that Seager got off to such a fast start, hitting .309 with a .383 on-base percentage in the Pioneer League last year and then coming back in 2013 to hit an identical .309, this time with 18 doubles, 12 homers and 57 RBI, at Great Lakes before his promotion. Those were all positives signs, of course. But it was after his promotion, when he began to struggle for the first time in his life, when Dodgers officials were able to get a more definitive read on the type of player they had.

Seager had 16 hits in 100 at-bats for Rancho, and he struck out 31 times.

Although it was a jump of just one level, Seager said what he found in the Cal League was a much more sophisticated style of pitching, one that was geared toward exploiting a hitter’s weaknesses. A hundred at-bats, 27 games, isn’t a great deal of time for a hitter to adjust to that, although Seager said he felt more comfortable toward the end of the season, a claim supported by the fact he went 4-for-12 in the Quakes’ first-round playoff loss to Inland Empire. Baseball, you have probably heard a thousand or so times, is a game of adjustments. Pitchers almost always adjust before hitters do, and Seager was still in that process of adjusting, really, for the first time in his professional career, when the minor league season ended.

Fast-forward, then, to the AFL. Predictably, given that this is the highest level of pitching he ever has faced, those offensive struggles have continued. He entered today’s game against Surprise hitting .162, with 12 strikeouts in 37 ABs. And in his first two at-bats today, he struck out quickly, on three pitches the first time and four the next. But really, that is what the AFL is for. It’s a showcase league for some of the top prospects in the game, but it’s also a place where hitters, especially young hitters, come to struggle. More than anything, it’s a test, and even if a guy struggles all the way to the end, it doesn’t mean he failed that test. For Seager, it just means he gained six weeks of invaluable experience facing a level of competition that, when he presumably begins next season back at Rancho, most of his teammates won’t have seen.

Seager is one of the youngest players in the AFL this fall, and although by all accounts he is a mature 19, well, 19 is still 19. He is living with some of his older fellow Dodgers farmhands here, and he said he also is helped by the comfort and familiarity of having his Cal League hitting coach, Johnny Washington, filling the same role with Seager’s AFL team, the Glendale Desert Dogs.

Seager’s trek through the minors has been a growing process off the field as well. The low minor leagues are the great equalizer, and even if you got a huge signing bonus, you show up at the ballpark every day in the same proverbial boat with all your teammates, and Seager says he hasn’t been treated any differently along the way than anybody else — at least not in a way that is discernible to him. Obviously, the Dodgers are going to take special care with a guy they invested that much money in, but Seager still lived the low-minors life with everybody else, the long bus rides, the cheap motels, even living with host families last summer in Ogden and this year while in Great Lakes before finally getting his own apartment in Rancho.

For now, the Dodgers can be patient with Seager, but perhaps only to a point. Hanley Ramirez is a potential free agent after next season, and theoretically, Seager could be ready to take over by opening day 2015, but that would seem unlikely for a guy who still would be a few weeks shy of 21 at that point. The last thing you want to do with a prospect as prized as this one is stick him into the everyday lineup at a time when he isn’t ready, because history is rife with promising players who have been so adversely affected by that they never really recovered from it.

For his part, Seager said he has no time frame in mind for how quickly he wants to get there.

“One of the best things my brother told me was just to treat every stop like your own major leagues, and just kind of be in the moment, that way you’re not always looking up at all the levels you still have to go through,” he said. “It’s hard to do sometimes, but it was great advice.”

It would seem especially hard to do in the AFL, where games usually take place on weekday afternoons in front of crowds that tend to be in the 150 range and sometimes the only noise you hear is the plate umpire calling balls and strikes. But most of the major league players who passed through this league at one point or another on their way up the minor league ladder will tell you that the experience they got here was huge. And Seager is young enough that he may be back here next fall.

Before next fall, though, will come next spring, when a well-rested and more experienced Seager will come to spring training ready to take the next step, wherever he is asked to take it.

It may be a few years yet before the bright lights of the big leagues shine on him. But the organizational spotlight of the Dodgers already is trained firmly on Seager. He will be watched closely every step of the way, his progress monitored to the minutest detail. De Jon Watson, the Dodgers assistant general manager for player development, attends virtually every Desert Dogs game, watching intently from the stands, and various other Dodgers front-office types are in and out on a regular basis. Some minor league players are just that, minor league players. Others are major league prospects. But some, undeniably, are the future, and Seager is one of those. He is coming, sooner or later.

And if he happens to struggle through an AFL season at a point in the year when his body is running on fumes, well, that is nothing more than a speed bump along the way.

Interesting language in Guerrero contract

First, here is the breakdown of Alexander Guerrero‘s new four-year, $28 million contract with the Dodgers, lifted directly from an ESPN.com story:

Bonuses could increase the value of Guerrero’s contract. The deal calls for a $10 million signing bonus payable upon approval of the contract by Major League Baseball. Guerrero would earn $4 million in both 2014 and 2015, and $5 million in both 2016 and 2017. There is $1 million per year in performance bonuses, based on 500 to 600 plate appearances.

He also will be eligible for free agency after his age-30 season, and he cannot be optioned to the minor leagues without his permission.

OK, to me, the most interesting (and possibly dicey) part of this is that he can’t be optioned without his permission. Let’s say that as the Dodgers get to the end of spring training, they aren’t entirely convinced this guy is ready to be their everyday second baseman. And then, let’s say that as with all talented prospects, they don’t want him wasting away on the bench, so they want to send him to Triple-A (or Double-A) to get regular playing time and regular at-bats until they deem him ready for the majors. Is he going to go willingly? Would ANY player go willingly?

The ESPN story went on to say that Hyun-jin Ryu, who like Guerrero is being represented by agent Scott Boras, had the same deal in his contract when he signed with the Dodgers last winter. But with Ryu, there was no question that he was ready to join the Dodgers starting rotation. With Guerrero, there is some thought that he MIGHT be ready to jump into the everyday lineup, but that is far from a given, and general manager Ned Colletti indicated earlier this week that the club wasn’t ready to part ways with veteran second baseman Mark Ellis.

So, it will be interesting to see how this plays out if Guerrero should struggle in winter ball or in spring training.

As stated in a previous post, I went to my first Arizona Fall League game of 2013 today. I’m always amazed at the people from the industry that you run into at these games. There aren’t more than about a hundred paying customers here today, but among the non-paying customers, I have seen much of the Padres front office, including general manager Josh Byrnes and manager Bud Black, vice president of baseball operations Omar Minaya and special assistant (and former Dodgers infielder) Mark Loretta; from the Dodgers, I have seen assistant GM for player development De Jon Watson, assistant pitching coach Ken Howell, catching instructor Steve Yeager and minor league hitting coordinator Eric Owens. From various other teams, I have seen former major league manager John McLaren, former eight-time All-Star catcher Ted Simmons and even former Dodgers outfielder Eric Davis.

But the AFL isn’t just about spotting baseball celebrities in the stands. It’s a chance to see some of the top prospects in the game, guys who are no more than a year or two away from the majors. Of all the Dodgers prospects who are playing for the Glendale Desert Dogs this year, the biggest is Corey Seager, their first-round pick in last year’s amateur draft. He is all of 19 years old, and he is struggling in the AFL (hitting .172), just he did after a late-season promotion to advanced Single-A Rancho Cucamonga (.160). But Seager had a solid year at low Single-A Great Lakes, hitting .309 with 12 homers and 57 RBI. He is a couple of years away, but if you happen to live in the Phoenix area, he’s worth getting a look at, and the price of admission for AFL games is less than $10.

Seager, by the way, has the day off today.

Dodgers trade Alex Castellanos to Boston

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Greetings from Camelback Ranch. No, you didn’t hibernate through the winter and wake up with spring training already under way. This is the Arizona Fall League, the Glendale Desert Dogs (the team the Dodgers prospects are playing for) and the Peoria Javelinas.

So the Boston Red Sox may be getting ready for a World Series that starts tonight, but they aren’t too busy to make minor league trades, apparently. Today, they dealt outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker and cash to the Dodgers for outfielder Alex Castellanos, whom the Dodgers had designated for assignment a week ago to clear a 40-man roster spot for outfielder Mike Baxter, whom they claimed off waivers from the New York Mets.

Hazelbaker, 26, was the Red Sox’s fourth-round pick in the 2009 amateur draft out of Ball State. He has no major league experience, but he has progressed steadily through the Boston system and is coming off his first full season at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he hit .257 with a .313 on-base percentage, 11 homers and 54 RBI — decent numbers, but certainly not eyepopping. As acquisitions go, this one appears rather pedestrian, but this is a player you could see in the majors at some point in 2014 as a backup outfielder. And maybe “pedestrian” isn’t the right term, because he CAN run. He stole 37 bases for Pawtucket this year, in 44 attempts. But he also struck out once every 3.7 plate appearances.

The Dodgers had acquired Castellanos from St. Louis in the Rafael Furcal trade of 2011, and while he put up reasonable offensive numbers in the minors — he hit .257 with 19 homers at Triple-A Albuquerque this year in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League — his reputation as a proverbial “4-A player” was probably cemented by the fact that in 24 major league games over the past two seasons, he hit .171, with a strikeout every 3.3 plate appearances.

Finally, because this Don Mattingly thing isn’t going to go away until it’s resolved, I wanted to post a couple of links. First, Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register has one of the best takes on this I have read so far, drawing the conclusion that it’s probably time for Mattingly and the Dodgers to go their separate ways. And good friend Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com points out that this isn’t totally out of character for Mattingly, who frequently was candid with the New York press during his playing days whenever he would have differences with bombastic Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

And finally, some last-day-of-the-season miscellany

It seems like hours ago now — well, actually, it WAS hours ago, but it seems longer — but we did a group interview in the dugout this morning with Zach Lee and Scott Schebler, who had been named the Dodgers’ Minor League Pitcher and Player of the Year, respectively. Amazing how different these two guys’ stories are.

Lee, 22, you may recall, was the Dodgers’ first-round draft pick in 2010, and he was signed to a $5.25 million bonus literally MINUTES before the deadline for signing that year’s draft picks passed, spurning the scholarship to play football at Louisiana State University that just about everyone — but especially the LSU coaching staff — just assumed he was going to take. He went 10-10 with a 3.22 ERA at Double-A Chattanooga, his best minor league season, and he said his goal is to be in the majors sometimes in 2014.

Schebler, who will turn 23 next week, was a 26th-rounder. He hit .296, with 27 homers, 91 RBI and a .360 on-base percentage at Rancho Cucamonga, and he probably WON’T be in the bigs in 2014.

Lee is the golden boy. Schebler is, by necessity, a scrapper and an overachiever. Lee is looking forward to a relaxing offseason. Schebler is hoping the minor league staff can line him up a gig in the Mexican Winter League so he can continue to test himself against what probably is close to Triple-A caliber pitching, with a small number of major leaguers mixed in.

On another note, while I want to keep this blog 99.999999 percent about the Dodgers, I did have some interesting observations from the season-ending standings … which aren’t COMPLETELY wrapped up, because Tampa Bay and Texas have a Game 163 tomorrow in Arlington for the final American League wildcard spot.

One thing I always try to make note of, even though it doesn’t really mean anything, is which team finishes with baseball’s best record. This year, there is a tie between Boston and St. Louis, each of which went 97-65. The A.L. won the interleague race again this year, but it was a lot closer than I thought, just 154-146 — thanks to the lowly Miami Marlins three-game sweeping what might be the most talented team in the A.L., the Detroit Tigers, on this final weekend. The Tigers ran away with the A.L. Central, jumping out to something like an eight-game lead at one point in September, if I recall correctly. But it took them until the middle of last week to finally clinch, and they ended up winning the division by ONE game because of the Indians’ season-ending 10-game winning streak.

Cleveland hosts either the Rays or Rangers in the A.L. wildcard game on Wednesday, with the winner of THAT game going to Boston to begin the ALDS. Oakland hosts Texas to start the other ALDS.

The biggest margin of victory in any division was that of the Dodgers, who won the sad-sack N.L. West by 11 games. And the Dodgers are the THIRD seed to the N.L. side of the playoff bracket. That should tell you how bad this division really is. By the way, that is the Dodgers’ largest margin of victory EVER in a division race (divisional play began in 1969). The only bigger margin was that of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who won the N.L. pennant by 13 games in 1953 and 13 1/2 in 1955.

Finally, the jury is still out for me on the new format that was instituted last year, with the one-game wildcard play-in. I haven’t completely rejected it, and I may wholly embrace it at some point. But you have to admit, there is something very strange about the Pirates and Reds playing a completely meaningless game TODAY in Cincinnati, then the same two teams turning around two days later and playing a tense, one-game, all-the-marbles game in Pittsburgh. And you could argue that there is something even stranger about St. Louis having outlasted BOTH of these teams to win the N.L. Central by a comfortable, three-game margin, only to have to begin the postseason by surviving a tough, best-of-five NLDS against ONE OF THOSE SAME TEAMS.

Being an old guy, I really miss the old days, when there were four divisions, six teams in each of them, you had to win your division to make the playoffs, and when you did, you went straight to the League Championship Series. That was when they used that old 18-and-12 scheduling format, which guaranteed that when you got into the LCS, the team you were playing was one you hadn’t seen in a while, because under that format there was NO cross-divisional play after the Sunday before Labor Day.

I also used to walk 10 miles to school in the snow, uphill both days. Young people today and their fancy-schmancy wildcard games.

Dodgers are taking the day completely off tomorrow, and I plan to take it MOSTLY off. But I will post a time or two. I assume we’ll get start times for the Dodgers-Braves series early tomorrow. In fact, I kind of thought we would get them tonight, but so far, no dice.

So unless and until that happens, this is good night from me. Big week ahead, so get plenty of rest.

Almost forgot, plus a couple of can’t-miss links …

Almost forgot, but expect the Dodgers to close out their September callups today because the minor league regular season has ended and neither Albuquerque nor Chattanooga is playoff bound. Chris Withrow is the only definite, and I assume he’ll be here today. Might be someone else. Looking at the 40-man, only guys I can imagine even being on the radar are Alex Castellanos, Justin Sellers and Elian Herrera. Might be only Withrow.

Also, here’s a really good piece by Andrew Vigliotta on MLB Pro Blogs about Clayton Kershaw, how he ranks against other pitchers historically and how he has a chance to be the greatest starting pitcher of all time. Seems to me we have read the same thing in recent years about Tim Lincecum, Justin Verlander, et al. Also seems to be, as I have stated repeatedly here, that Kershaw isn’t even the best starter on the Dodgers right now. But this is still a well-written, well-researched and well-stated piece of work by Vigliotta that is definitely worth your time.

And finally, here’s another really good piece in the Denver Post by Benjamin Hochman looking at what he calls a “stupid” — he means that in a good way — winning streak by the Dodgers and comparing it to similar late-season streaks by the Rockies in 2007 and the Cardinals in 2011, and includes voices from all three teams, Jeff Francis on the 2007 Rockies and Nick Punto from both the 2011 Cardinals and 2013 Dodgers.

Another (rather repetitive) Matt Kemp update

He went 0-for-4 as the DH for Rancho today in the Quakes’ season finale. The good news was that he didn’t strike out at all. The bad news is that he remains hitless in 18 at-bats. The Quakes are going to the Cal League playoffs, and I don’t think the schedule for that is set yet because I didn’t see it on the minor league site, but Matty could either continue his rehab in those playoffs or he could do something else — possibly even be activated by the Dodgers, but I still get the sense that isn’t upon us yet.

Kemp takes another 0-fer at Rancho

He did finally reach base once, drawing a walk in the first inning. After that, though, he popped up and struck out twice, leaving him now 0-for-15 in four rehab games, with exactly one ball hit out of the infield.