The American League’s Wild Ride to the Wildcard

As the Season is winding down, the race for October is heating up. Since the addition of a second Wildcard team to the MLB playoffs, the last few weeks of the season have a whole new feel.

In 2012, MLB decided that they were going to add a second Wildcard to their playoff structure, and it has worked out very well. There is more excitement at the end of the year, and more teams are now in contention. This year alone, in the American League, there are eight teams fighting for those two spots.

Currently the Yankees hold the first Wildcard position, which gives them home field advantage for the one game playoff matchup against whoever wins the second position. As of right now, the Minnesota Twins hold it, but will they keep it? The Yankees have a three game lead over the Twins, and a five game lead over the top contender, Angels. So the chances of them losing a spot in the Wildcard game is slim, but not impossible. The Yankees will have to finish off the season against three teams vying for a Wildcard spot. Nothing is guaranteed of course, but seeing as how the Yanks are only 3 games behind the Red Sox for the Eastern Division championship, they have a lot to play for down the stretch, and I expect them to be very competitive.

Minnesota is currently in the second Wildcard spot, and lead the Angels by two games, while trailing the Yankees by three. The Twins have a few tough series ahead of them including a series against the Yankees, and the Indians. Two series against the struggling Tigers could be what they need to secure their spot in October. Going 5-5 in their last ten games hasn’t allowed them to separate themselves, and they will definitely need to have a stronger finish.

The Angels are on the outside looking in, and have not really dazzled as of late. With the Twins ahead of them by two games, they had a great opportunity to catch up during the Twins’ struggles, but they answered by going 5-5 in their last ten as well. They may have the toughest stretch run, going up against two divisional leaders in the Astros and the Indians, and also have to face off against their divisional rivals, the Mariners and Rangers. Both of those teams are in the Wildcard hunt as well, so it should make for a fun couple of weeks. A break comes in the second to last series of the year when they will take on the woeful White Sox for three games.

The Seattle Mariners are 3.5 games behind the Twins, and at this stage in the season, 3.5 games could be tough to make up. Seattle has also played mediocre baseball as of late, also only going 5-5 in their last ten games. The Rangers, who are also 5-5 in their last ten games (it feels like nobody wants to play into October), along with their divisional foes the Mariners and Angels, are all going to have to play against each other as the season winds down. If one of these teams decides that they want this, and get a little help along the way, they could find their late push pay off and slide into the Wildcard game. I think that Texas has a slight advantage when it comes to the schedule, because they have seven remaining games against a pretty bad Oakland A’s team, And that may help. They will have to be dominant against their divisional rivals, and I am not sure if they can do that.

The Kansas City Royals are kind of an interesting story. Before the trade deadline, their front office decided to keep the team together for one last run at the playoffs. The Royals have several very good players who will be free agents at the end of the year, but instead of being sellers, and trading off their soon to be free agent talent, they stood their ground and are making a run. Unfortunately, you may notice a trend here, they have gone 5-5 in their last ten games, and have not made up any ground against the teams ahead of them. They trail their divisional rival, Twins by four games in the Wildcard race, but only have two tough series left, against the Indians and the Diamondbacks. The rest are against the worst, second worst and fourth worst teams in the American League. If they can get hot, and go on a nice run, they could make a push for it.

The Baltimore Orioles, who are 4.5 games out, and the Tampa Bay Rays, who are five games out, are long shots here. Neither team has played well lately with the O’s losing seven of their last ten, and the Rays losing six of their last ten. There is hope for them, but it’s not easy. They will need all of the teams mentioned above to slide a few games, and they would need to get hot if either of the two want to make a push. Baltimore has to play the Red Sox, who lead the Eastern Division, and the Yankees, who are leading the Wildcard. But they do have seven left with the Rays, and three with a struggling Pirates team. Tampa will have their seven with the Orioles, and also the Yankees, Cubs and Red Sox, yikes.

So after all of that here are my picks. I think the Yankees will hold on to the top spot in the Wildcard, they will make a nice run, but won’t be able to catch Boston for the division. So who will they play in the one game, Wildcard playoff? I think the Twins will blow their chance at the playoffs this year. They are a good, young team, but if either the Rangers, Angels or Mariners can separate themselves from the other, they will also end up taking over the second wildcard. With the Twins, I just feel like their youngsters will run out of gas, and fall short down the stretch when the pressure is on. So who do I think will separate themselves in the AL West? The Angels. They have to play better than they have been, but they have some very good talent. I was torn between them and the Rangers, and if Texas hadn’t traded Yu Darvish and Johnathan Lucroy, we may be talking about them instead, even with the four game defacit. Honestly, I am amazed that they are still contending. And the Mariners are a pretty good team, but with their remaining schedule, I feel like they won’t have enough to overcome. The Angels making up the two games on the Twins is a lot easier to see happening.

Wait there is more…Another scenario could play out here, and could very well happen. IF, the western division foes beat up on themselves, and split their series against each other, and not let any one team separate themselves, the Royals could take this. Their remaining schedule is pretty weak, as I mentioned above, and if they can beat up on the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Tigers, while not getting swept (maybe even win the series) against the Indians and the Diamondbacks, this is a whole new race. I feel like making up four games, in a short period of time will be tough to do, even if they play well.

So if I am as smart as I think I am (which I am probably not), the playoff picture will look like this, as long as the divisional winners don’t switch up spots in the standings:

  • Wildcard Game – Angels @ Yankees ) 1 game, in New York
  • ALDS – Angels/Yankees @ Cleveland – Best of five, Cleveland has home-field advantage
  • ALDS – Boston @ Houston – Best of five, Houston has home field advantage

Anything can happen, so make sure you watch, and pay attention. It should be a fun ride to the finish!

 

 

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