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One-game wild-card playoffs: Dramatic, but fair?


One-game wild-card playoffs: Dramatic, but fair?

By sometime Friday night, either Chipper Jones will be out of baseball or the defending World Series champion Cardinals will be out of the playoffs.

One and done.

A pair of wild-card matchups - St. Louis at Atlanta, then Baltimore at Texas - to decide which teams advance to the next round. Part of the new, expanded postseason format, where 162 games, six months of grinding and upward of 50,000 pitches get boiled down to nine all-or-nothing innings.

Dramatic? Certainly. Fair? Well, depends on who you ask.

``I hate it. I'm old-school. I'm old,'' Washington manager Davey Johnson said.

At 69, he has a vested interest. His NL East champion Nationals will visit the Cardinals-Braves winner Sunday in Game 1 of the division series.

``I love it,'' Cleveland closer Chris Perez said. ``If you are in it, or watching it as a fan, it doesn't get any more exciting.''

Or, as Texas general manager Jon Daniels summed up on the eve of his team's big game: ``I'll let you know tomorrow.''

Clearly, several sides to this debate.

Major League Baseball hoped to get more clubs involved in postseason races, and the Angels, Dodgers, Brewers, Rays and Pirates were among those that enjoyed the chase this year.

There also was some sentiment that wild-card teams were getting it too easy and winning the World Series too often, as the Cardinals did last season. By adding an extra playoff club in each league and then forcing it to play in a winner-take-all game, it could make the path tougher.

That's OK by Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose team clinched the majors' final playoff spot this year.

``We're ecstatic. We'd be home right now. We'd be spectators, so we're exceptionally happy about the format,'' he said.

``The fact that we have to use up a pitcher, it makes sense to me. I believe the team that wins the division ought to have an advantage. I think it's been well done,'' he said.

On the other hand, a club that runs into the wrong pitcher could be eliminated in a hurry.

``I think for teams like Atlanta - who had an unbelievable year, and it could be ruined by one game - it's probably unfair,'' Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche said.

``Now, in one game, any given day, a college team could beat a big league team. It's just the way the ball rolls. So I don't know how much one game proves as far as who deserves to move on,'' he said. ``You almost have to do it two out of three. But then you get other teams sitting around for a week. So I don't know the right way to do it.''

Braves second baseman Dan Uggla isn't a fan.

``I'm not for this new playoff thing at all,'' he said. ``They're kind of messing things up for everybody.''

This could be the last game for Uggla's star teammate, with Jones set to retire at age 40.

Orioles All-Star center fielder Adam Jones also is in jeopardy. His team returns to the postseason for the first time since 1997, but could be ousted before it gets a home playoff game.

``I'm sure there are some people in Baltimore that are frustrated. Of course you want Camden Yards rocking,'' he said.

``This is the situation we put ourselves in. We're happy to be in the situation, and we're going to take full advantage of the opportunity,'' he said.

This is not the first time a whole season has come down to one game.

Baseball history is filled with thrilling one-game playoffs - the Bucky Dent home run in 1978, Matt Holliday heading home in the 13th inning in 2007, among others. But those came about naturally, tiebreakers forced by final-day developments.

Minnesota's Ron Gardenhire is the only person to manage two one-game division tiebreakers, losing 1-0 to the Chicago White Sox in 2008, then beating Detroit 6-5 in 12 innings the following year.

``When we won Game 163 against Detroit, that was probably one of the funnest times I've had on a baseball field,'' he said. ``After everything you've been through to go and play and get one chance and lose 1-0 was really heartbreaking.

``And you're going to see that this year. You go through a whole big battle like they've gone through down the end with every game, every inning, every pitch meaning something and then you get one game? Somebody is going to go, `We did all that for this?'''

The NFL is set up for one-and-dones. The NBA and NHL play a series in the postseason. So did baseball - best-of-five, best-of-seven - until adding this mini-round.

``I wish it was a three-game playoff,'' Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. ``I've clinched and I wait for you and you just got here, and one game, anybody can win, and I'm done? I wish they would cut the season to 159 and play three games. A lot of people would love that.''

Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria agreed that one game makes things difficult. Yet after the Rays were eliminated in the final days, he'd gladly trade places with Texas or Baltimore.

``I'd take their situation over ours any day. They're in the postseason,'' he said.

Slugger Adam Dunn would like the chance for one more swing, too, after his White Sox were overtaken by Detroit in the AL Central. Still, one game is rugged for anyone.

``I can see from a fan's perspective, but from a player's perspective I can't imagine liking it,'' Dunn said. ``I don't like it. I don't think it's fair.''

No matter, it's a new era in baseball. Oakland general manager Billy Beane can accept that, and sees all sides to the fresh playoff format.

``Yeah, listen, it's great and it's terrible all in the same sentence,'' he said.


AP Sports Writers Paul Newberry, Howard Fendrich, Stephen Hawkins, Janie McCauley, Steven Wine and Fred Goodall, and AP freelance writers Mark Didtler, Chuck Murr, Ian Harrison and Steve Herrick contributed to this report.

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Orioles round out starting pitching rotation, finalize 4-year contract with Alex Cobb

USA Today Sports

Orioles round out starting pitching rotation, finalize 4-year contract with Alex Cobb

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Alex Cobb's comfort and familiarity with the AL East was the deciding factor in his decision to sign with the Baltimore Orioles.

"They used the AL East and the success I've had in it to their advantage," the 30-year-old right-hander said Wednesday after finalizing a $57 million, four-year contract. "They kept challenging me with it and I love the challenge of pitching in this division and they know that over the times we talked. They did a really good job of making me feel like this is where I need to be."

Cobb gets $14 million in each of the first three seasons and $15 million in 2021, and he would earn a $500,000 bonus in each year he pitches 180 innings. Baltimore will defer $6.5 million from this year's salary and $4.5 million in each of the next three seasons.

He gets $2 million of the deferred money on Nov. 30, 2022, and $1.8 million annually on Nov. 30 from 2023-32. If he doesn't pitch at least 130 innings in 2020, an additional $5.25 million of the final's year salary would get deferred, payable $1.75 million annually on Nov. 30 from 2033-35.


Cobb has a full no-trade this year, then can list 10 teams from 2019-21 that he cannot be dealt to without his consent.

He had spent his entire six-season big league career with Tampa Bay and was the last big-name starting pitcher available in a slow-moving free agent market. He joined Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman, who were signed last month, in a revamped rotation that includes holdovers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.

Cobb was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 29 starts last season. He pitched 179 1/3 innings in his first full year back after missing nearly two seasons because of Tommy John surgery.

He had turned down the Rays' $17.4 million qualifying offer in November, and Baltimore pursued him from the start of free agency.

"They didn't stop bothering me the whole offseason," Cobb said. "They were very persistent, and I think that you notice that confidence they have in you just by the way they speak to you and the questions you ask and not questioning anything that's gone on. Everyone's got flaws that they come with and potential things you could really harp on that might not be your strong suit, but they never went down that avenue. They always told me how much they like certain aspects of what I do on and off the field, and just kept repeating how well I fit in here."


Cobb is 48-35 with a 3.50 in six big league seasons. Baltimore will lose its third-highest draft pick, currently No. 51, and the Rays get an extra selection after the first round as compensation.

Jose Mesa Jr. was designated for assignment Wednesday to clear a roster spot.

Baltimore opens on March 29 at home against Minnesota, but Cobb won't be ready to pitch then. He has agreed to be optioned to a minor league affiliate to help build up innings.

"I'm going to be pushing it as quick as I can," Cobb said. "That's going to be up to them. They've invested in me for a four-year period and as much as we know how much every game matters even early in April, we're going to have to look out for the overall future of this whole thing and whole contract and whatever they determine to be the way to protect me and my feedback from the bullpens I'm going to be throwing here in the next few days will probably determine the timeline."

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Orioles agree to one-year deal with pitcher Chris Tillman, according to reports

USA Today Sports

Orioles agree to one-year deal with pitcher Chris Tillman, according to reports

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A person familiar with the negotiations says pitcher Chris Tillman and the Baltimore Orioles have agreed to a $3 million, one-year contract.

The deal includes performance bonuses, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday because the deal had not yet been announced.

Tillman was 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA in 19 starts and five relief appearances last year. He would be the second starter added by the Orioles in the past week after right-hander Andrew Cashner.

Tillman likely would join right-handers Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Cashner in the rotation.

The 29-year-old right-hander lives in Sarasota and had been working out at the Orioles' facility before spring training. Manager Buck Showalter watched Tillman throw and was impressed.

Tillman began last season on the disabled list with right shoulder stiffness.

"Better than he did last year at this time. I think he's got the chance to pitch well for somebody this year," Showalter said. "A lot of the challenges he had last year -- this time last year -- aren't there. Somebody's going to reap the benefits."

Tillman's is 73-55 with a 4.43 ERA in nine major league seasons, all with the Orioles. He won 16 games in both 2013 and 2016.

"He's a guy when he's healthy you can bank on him giving you 200 innings and keeping his ERA between a 3 and a 4," Gausman said. "That in the AL East is always going to be very valuable."