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Next season is crucial for Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy

Next season is crucial for Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy

In J.J. Hardy’s 12-year major league career, he’s played for three different teams, yet he’s never been a free agent. 

A year from now, that could be different. 

Hardy has twice eschewed free agency for three-year contracts with the Orioles, once in 2011, and again as the American League Championship Series began in 2014. 

He probably could have made more money as a free agent each time, but that doesn’t bother him. 

The Orioles were overjoyed when he agreed to a three-year extension with a fourth-year option that runs through 2017. Hardy’s three-year contract guaranteed him $40 million, and if he has 600 plate appearances next season, a $14 million option kicks in.

His option also vests if Hardy is traded, which isn’t likely, but as a 10-year major leaguer with five years of service he’d have to agree to. 

Hardy hasn’t had 600 plate appearances since 2013, and in 2016 when he had 438, he played in only 115 games. 

Not only would Hardy have to be healthy to get 600 plate appearances, but his teammates would have to hit well, too, since manager Buck Showalter usually batted him seventh, eighth or ninth. 

His injury in 2016 came when he fouled a ball off his foot and broke it. Hardy missed seven weeks but came back strongly. 

He played as often in 2016 as in 2015 when a variety of injuries slowed him, but his offensive numbers moved up. His batting average rose from .215 to .269 and his RBIs increased from 37 to 48. 

Not only did his offense come back, but his defense was much better in 2016, too. His defensive WAR increased from 1.1 to 1.3, far off from his Gold Glove seasons of 2012-14, but still fine. 

Hardy is never going to hit 30 home runs in a season again as he did in 2011. In his past three seasons, he’s combined for only 26, but he gives Showalter a dependable, heady shortstop who has worked brilliantly with both Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop. 

Hardy came into spring training in terrific shape, and once he returned from his foot injury on June 18, he was rested only three times. 

A year from now, Hardy will be 35, and there are not many regular shortstops of that age, and while Machado, who played shortstop when Hardy was injured, would love to play there, the Orioles would like to put that move off for a while. 

While Hardy won’t be the biggest story of 2017, it will certainly be one worth watching. If he can have another season like this one, even if he doesn’t have 600 plate appearances, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Orioles extend him for another year or two. 

That way Hardy could end his career with the Orioles, and without testing free agency. He’ll say he didn’t miss anything. 

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Wade Miley roughed up again, Orioles shut out in St. Pete

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USA Today Sports

Wade Miley roughed up again, Orioles shut out in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Evan Longoria and Logan Morrison homered Friday night and the Tampa Bay Rays clinched third place in the AL East with a 7-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

Longoria led off the fifth with his 20th homer off Baltimore starter Wade Miley, marking Longoria's fifth straight 20-homer season and the ninth of his 10-year career.

RELATED: WILD CARD RACES WITH THREE DAYS REMAINING

Morrison hit his 38th homer off reliever Chris Tillman in the seventh.

Rays starter Jake Odorizzi left his final start of the season after four innings with a sore right knee.

Brad Boxberger (4-4) got the win as the first of four Tampa Bay relievers.

Miley (8-15) lost his fifth straight start, giving up four runs and five hits in four innings. He walked five, raising his major league-leading total to 93. The Baltimore bullpen gave up five more walks.

Trey Mancini had one of Baltimore's four hits. It was Mancini's 158th hit, tying Cal Ripken (1982) for second-place all-time among Oriole rookies.

The Orioles, shut out for the 11th time, lost for the 17th time in 21 games and dropped three games behind Tampa Bay with two games left in the season.

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MLB Wild Card Standings: Projecting the standings with three days left

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USA TODAY Sports

MLB Wild Card Standings: Projecting the standings with three days left

With the MLB postseason only five days away and three more days in the regular season the playoff field is almost set.

After Thursday night’s action, the St. Louis Cardinals were eliminated from the second Wild Card spot in the National League. Their 2-1 loss to the Cubs put them too far out of reach of the Rockies.

In the American League the AL East race is all but done after the Yankees lost on Thursday.

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AMERICAN LEAGUE

Not too many changes in the American League race after yesterday.

The New York Yankees (89-70) lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 9-6 at home after entering the day only three games back in the division. While the Boston Red Sox (92-67) lost too, three games to surpass is too much for even the Bronx Bombers to overcome.

It will be interesting though to watch both teams sweat. Boston hosts the Houston Astros who are trying to overtake the Indians for the top seed in the AL. New York hosts division rivals Toronto.

The Minnesota Twins (83-76) lost to the Indians after allowing 10 hits in the contest. Win or lose it does not matter how they end the season because they will be the No. 5 seed and the visitors in the American League Wild Card Game. Presumably it will be against the Yankees.

AL WILD CARD RACE (AS OF SEPT 29):

New York Yankees:     +6.0 
Minnesota Twins:           ---
 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Colorado was off on Thursday night in preparation for their final series of the year against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Milwaukee Brewers (84-75) did manage to gain a half game with their nail biting 4-3 win over the Reds. Brett Phillips hit a go-ahead double in the sixth inning and the final three frames remained scoreless for both squads.

They now move to two games back of the Colorado Rockies (86-73) with three games to go.

Colorado will host their final series against the Dodgers. Milwaukee is traveling to the St. Louis Cardinals (82-77) for their final three games. St. Louis is now out of contention, four games out of the final Wild Card spot.

FanGraphs.com now has Colorado at a 93.3 percent chance of taking the final postseason spot.  Milwaukee moved up slightly to 6.7 percent.

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NL WILD CARD RACE (AS OF SEPT 29):

#4 Arizona Diamondbacks:  +6.0
Colorado Rockies:                   ---
Milwaukee Brewers:              -2.0