While divisions are as good as settled, the American League wildcard race provides intrigue in September. As it stands, we can expect it to go right down to a photo finish in the final days of this month, with the potential for a multi-team dead heat.
In a couple of weeks we will hear about all the possible permutations. There could be playoffs within divisions prior to the wildcard game, there could be multiple rounds of pre-wildcard playoffs. Obviously it’s a while until we know this, but this piece is going to take a look through the potential wildcard teams and assess their chances.
Twins and Yankees hold the power
The New York Yankees have occupied the first wildcard berth for many weeks now. Yankee Stadium is the likely location for the wildcard game, though their upcoming series against the Minnesota Twins could drastically change the picture with the Yankees only leading the Central Division ball club by 2.5 games at the time of writing.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 9, 2017
The Twins were one of a few teams who took the Majors by storm in the first couple of months. Led by the veteran Ervin Santana, Minnesota has dropped off the electric pace set by the Cleveland Indians in their division, but remain in a wildcard spot. Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano are the star names in an underrated line-up, and it’s hard not to look at their schedule favourably.
Aside from their matchup with the Yankees in New York, the Twins face the Toronto Blue Jays, the Detroit Tigers (twice) and the San Diego Padres. Their schedule and win record to date should make Twins fans everywhere confident of clinching the second spot. Their penultimate series against Cleveland could prove pivotal if other results are disappointing, though.
Sitting just outside the wildcard spots, we turn to the Los Angeles Angels. Their recent additions to their line-up give them a top four as good as any in the league, with Brandon Phillips and Justin Upton joining Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. A poor start to September does, however, undermine their playoff chances. Pitching remains a concern, and the Angels would be leaning heavily on the top of their line-up in any potential wildcard matchup.
— Did Mike Trout Homer (@DidTroutHomer) September 10, 2017
The balanced AL West makes for a tricky end to the season, too, with two series against the Houston Astros, a showdown against the Texas Rangers and a final set with the Seattle Mariners, who trail them by just one game. Oh, and best not forget about the visit of the Indians between from 19th to 21st.
The Rangers and Mariners are almost neck-and-neck with the Angels. Texas have remained competitive despite trading Yu Darvish in July, and are in a good position with two series against the struggling Oakland Athletics to come. 10 of the Rangers’ remaining games are against Seattle or Los Angeles, however.
The powerful Rangers would be a dangerous wildcard opponent for anybody with their significant home run threat throughout the line-up. Few rosters have that many sluggers.
Last 365 days
Joey Gallo: 37 HR, 72 RBI
Paul Goldschmidt: 37 HR, 123 RBI
Lineup quality & batting order position, mainly
— High Heat Stats (@HighHeatStats) September 5, 2017
Seattle are in an almost identical situation to Texas and the Angels. Their series against one another will decide which team is first in line to challenge the Twins and Yankees. It will likely go right down to the final series with the Angels for the Mariners, who have a fair chance of making it to the postseason for the first time since 2001.
Pair of outsiders
The Baltimore Orioles had a solid August, but a poor start to September has hurt their wildcard chances. Manny Machado has returned to his best in emphatic fashion, and their formidable line-up looks dangerous once again.
Their season will be decided from September 14th to 20th. Seven games in seven days with the Yankees and Boston Red Sox are a true test of their playoff credentials. A remaining pair of series against Tampa Bay are a chance to make further ground for Baltimore, but that could be irrelevant if they cannot take at least four from seven against Boston and New York.
One other team remain in realistic contention: the Kansas City Royals. The 2015 world champions have been hot and cold this season, but will be determined to have one last shot in October before a group of their key players head for free agency this winter.
Pitching has been a weakness for the Royals, and Jason Vargas or Jason Hammel are unlikely to dominate any wildcard opponent. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez will have some pitchers concerned in an all-or-nothing game, mind.
Kansas City’s schedule looks the best of the lot. Nine of their remaining games are against the Chicago White Sox or Detroit Tigers, who hold the two worst records in the American League.
The Royals have been there and done it, but they have a lot to do and a lot of teams to pass if they are to make it into the winner-takes-all game.
Wildcard saves the season
Houston, Cleveland and Boston are almost assured of their postseason places. The wildcard game gives a meaning to the remainder of this season, and Major League Baseball is better for it.
It would take a collapse for the Yankees to miss out on the playoffs, but it is certainly plausible with so much lying on their series against the Twins. Realistically, only one of the three teams from the West will be able to make a strong challenge. The Angels are threatening, yet there is a possibility they cancel one another out by taking too many games off each other.
The Orioles and Royals might have more ground to make up, but it would only take a short winning streak to snatch a wildcard spot and both have that potential.
As the 40-man rosters elongate games, and many fixtures are completely irrelevant, the American League wildcard race is as exciting as it gets. The greatest challenge will be picking which of these teams to watch each night.