Published on September 14th, 2013 | by Adam Hintz0
Handicapping the AL Wild Card Race
Somewhere within the offices of Major League Baseball, someone is very happy.
Whoever it was that initially pushed for the two wild card format that has been implemented over the past two seasons has to be tickled pink by the race underway in the American League. Two teams –Oakland and Texas — locked in a dogfight (that is increasingly looking pretty one-sided) in the AL West, while no less than five other teams struggle to slot into that second wild card spot.
Except the Rangers have lost five in a row, meaning they’re only a half game up on the Rays for first in the Wild Card chase – suddenly it’s a six team free-for-all without any clear favorites. The Rangers are in their aforementioned free-fall, the Rays can’t hit, the Yankees are too hurt (and have to play Boston too much), the Orioles are too unlucky, the Indians are too flawed, and the Royals are managed by Ned Yost. Who should be favored to emerge? Let’s break it down:
(Teams presented in order of current place in the standings. We’ll re-evaluate at the end.)
1. Texas Rangers (81-66)
Remaining Schedule: 1 vs. OAK, 4 @ TB, 3 @ KC, 3 vs. HOU, 4 vs. LAA
The Rangers picked the worst time to stop playing good baseball. After a really bad month of July that saw them post a losing record for the first time in over a year, the Rangers played really well in August only to see it all fall apart over the past couple weeks. Since the calendar flipped over to September, the Rangers are 2-10, losing four out of five games to their arch-rival Athletics, two out of three to the Angels, and getting swept by the Pirates (a loss to Minnesota started the month). The Rangers began the month with the lead in the AL West, and now sit dangerously close to the precipice of an offseason of regret and second-guesses.
The biggest factor working against the Rangers is their schedule. Yes, they have seven home games to close the season against the bottom-feeders of their division, but they may be outside of the playoff picture before they get that far. Even if they pull off the win against Oakland on Sunday, it’s hard to envision the Rangers winning more than two of the four games in Tampa (by the way, whoever scheduled this series must have had divine inspiration – that Rangers/Rays tilt should be the series of the week), and then Kansas City is suddenly a tough place to play. Realistically, I see the Rangers going 4-4 over their next eight games, and that may be optimistic.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (80-66)
Remaining Schedule: 2 @ MIN, 4 vs. TEX, 4 vs. BAL, 3 @ NYY, 3 @ TOR
Just like the Rangers, the Rays find themselves staring down the barrel of a very tough stretch of games to close the season – in fact, I’d say the Rays have the hardest road of all the (realistic) playoff-hopefuls.
The Rays need a sweep in Minnesota; there isn’t another way around it. Like I said in the Rangers blurb, I see a split as the most realistic outcome of the series in Tampa, which means the Rays would need to dominate their next two series against division rivals in order to remain in control of their own destiny. David Price is a legitimate ace capable of carrying this team every five days, but I just don’t know if it’ll be enough to propel the Rays into the postseason.
3. Cleveland Indians (79-68) (1.5 GB Tampa Bay for 2nd Wild Card Berth)
Remaining Schedule: 2 @ CHW, 3 @ KC, 4 vs. HOU, 2 vs. CHW, 4 @ MIN
And Cleveland runs away with the award for easiest schedule among the postseason hopefuls. I don’t think the Indians can win two out of three in Kansas City, but if they do I think they’ll find themselves in the driver’s seat going into next weekend’s date with the moribund Houston Astros.
The Indians are an interesting team with a lot of deeply flawed but highly intriguing parts that sometimes work together. Ubaldo Jimenez might be their best starter (<2.00 ERA since the All-Star Break) while Justin Masterson recovers from a strained oblique that came at the worst time possible, while rookie Danny Salazar continues to look like the next big thing in the Central Division, all while being limited to 75 pitches per outing. Meanwhile the offense in Cleveland just sputters along, with Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana anchoring a horrendously streaky lineup. Ryan Raburn might be the team’s third best hitter.
I could see the Indians taking care of business and sneaking into the top wild card spot by the skin of their teeth, and I could also see the Tribe losing three of four to Houston. I don’t know anymore.
4. New York Yankees (79-70) (2.5 GB Tampa Bay)
Remaining Schedule: 1 @ BOS, 3 @ TOR, 3 vs. SF, 3 vs. TB, 3 @ HOU
Like the Indians, the Yankees don’t have a particularly daunting schedule, but I just don’t think they can hope to climb over the teams above them if they don’t manage to win on Sunday against the Red Sox.
Assuming they do manage to win one game in Boston, if the Yankees can hold their own and sweep the Rays, I could definitely see them sneaking into the second wild card spot. At the end of the day, however, I think this Yankees team will be remembered for their valiant effort to even be included in the postseason picture.
Well, that and the fact A-Rod playing through his suspension appeal is going to retroactively taint all of the warm-and-fuzzies this team has generated over the past month.
5. Baltimore Orioles (78-70) (3 GB Tampa Bay)
Remaining Schedule: 1 @ TOR, 3 @ BOS, 4 @ TB, 3 vs. TOR, 3 vs. BOS
Let’s see… six games against Boston, and four in Tampa.
Even if the Orioles start winning one-run games again, it’s going to take a miracle. At least they have Chris Davis and Manny Machado?
I think we’ll remember Buck Showalter’s tirade against the Yankees as the turning point in the Orioles season, the moment they went from contenders to also-rans.
6. Kansas City Royals (77-70) (3.5 GB Tampa Bay)
Remaining Schedule: 2 @ DET, 3 vs. CLE, 3 vs. TEX, 3 @ SEA, 4 @ CHW
Here’s the good news: The Royals are going to finish above .500 for the first time in 10 years.
At the end of the day, it’s just too much ground to make up with too little time left and an slightly unfavorable schedule for the Royals to really entertain ideas about the postseason. They will essentially need to sweep the Indians and the Rangers to put themselves into a realistic position to qualify for the Wild Card. I just don’t see it happening.
Another bright spot: missing the playoffs might finally be enough to get Ned Yost fired. Royals fans can only hope.
Tampa Bay Rays (90-72)
Texas Rangers (89-73)
Cleveland Indians (89-73)
New York Yankees (88-74)
Kansas City Royals (87-75)
Baltimore Orioles (84-78)
In this scenario, the Wild Card tiebreaker would be played in Cleveland on September 30th (I would favor the Indians in this game, though not confidently if Darvish pitches), with the actual Wild Card game in Tampa the next day.
Ultimately, I think the Rays have the inside track to make it to the Divisional Series, but I have to think Cleveland and Texas have legitimate chances, as well.
(Splash Image courtesy of FanSided)