In theory, the addition of a second Wild Card team in baseball, was supposed to keep pennant fever alive deep into the season for most clubs. (Yay parity!) As September unfolds, the American and National Leagues present two decidedly different sides to this equation.
The five Senior Circuit playoff participants have been locked up for weeks. Via Baseball Prospectus, the Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals, Pirates and Reds have, at minimum, a 98.8 chance to make the postseason — with the Nationals a distant 7.5 games adrift in the Wild Card standings. All that’s left to decide is which of the three Central teams wins the division and which two will contest the Wild Card elimination game.
Over in the American League, it’s much more muddled, aside from Detroit and Boston in their respective divisions. Oakland and Texas (playing Wednesday afternoon) are locked up in a battle for the West once again. The loser there still has a 95 chance to make the postseason, falling into the Wild Card spot. It leaves the Rays, Yankees, Orioles, Indians and (nominally) the Royals fighting out for the final spot.
Games Back: NA (1st place in AL West)
Wild Card/Postseason probability: 36.4/97
Outlook: How much pressure will the Rangers put on themselves after losing out on the division in the final series last year and then losing in the Wild Card game to the Orioles? Will they press more knowing what transpired last year? Texas still has a quality rotation with Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and underrated 22-year-old lefty Martin Perez, which bodes well if they fall into the one-game playoff again.
Games Back: NA/1 game back in AL West
Wild Card/Postseason probability: 56.2/95.6
Outlook: The A’s play the Twins and Astros a combined 11 times this month. The three-game set at Texas from Sept. 11-13 will likely decide the division. Nothing about Oakland jumps out at you, but quietly guys like Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson produce. It’s a lineup that will single and walk you to death. Bartolo Colon getting the ball in Game 1 of a playoff series is something America deserves.
Games Back: NA
Wild Card/Postseason probability: 69.2/74.7
Outlook: On Aug. 24 the Rays were a 90-percent lock to make the postseason. Now, following a span where they’ve lost eight of nine (prior to Tuesday’s win against the Angels) those odds have dropped down to 75 percent. The Rays’ free fall allowed the teams below them to get back into the race, namely the Yankees. The Rays schedule is tough with 14 games left with the Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles and Rangers. Joe Maddon needs to find a way to get his offense in order. In the last 30 days his top bats haven’t produced much. Evan Longoria (.245) have cooled off Ben Zobrist (.262) and rookie Wil Myers is slugging .314 in that span.
Games Back: 2.5
Wild Card/Postseason probability: 10.2/10.5
Outlook: Thanks to the unlikely set of heroes: Alfonso Soriano, Ivan Nova, Brett Gardner and, yes, A-Rod the gritty, gutty Yankees currently have their best odds to make the playoffs sine July 30. With three games left with their personal whipping boys, the Blue Jays, and an additional six with the Astros and Giants, the Bombers postseason hopes are a lot brighter than their 10.5-percent chance would indicate. (Sorry Yankee haters.) Everybody ought to get a jump on the columns how it’s an outrage Rodriguez is playing in the postseason just to be safe. Oh right, those have been written weeks ago.
Games Back: 3
Wild Card/Postseason probability: 9.3/9.8
Outlook: This might sound like a backhanded compliment, but Baltimore, Chris Davis aside, has been decidedly average most of the season and still the Birds have hung around until September. This coming eight-game home stand that begins Thursday with the woeful White Sox followed by a potential elimination four-game set with the Yankees, figures to decide the Orioles fate. Chris Tillman had been pitching well until getting rocked by the Indians Tuesday night.
Games Back: 3.5
Wild Card/Postseason probability: 11.8/12.1
Outlook: Take away their 4-15 record vs. the Tigers and the Indians would be 19 games over .500. Cleveland’s offense has dried up, producing 30 runs in the last 11 games. Top starter Justin Masterson left Monday’s loss to the Orioles in the second inning with rib pain. Not good. Also not good: only 9,962 fans showing up at Progressive Field for Tuesday’s game with Baltimore — Jake Taylor is shaking his head somewhere in Mexico. However it pans out, expect baseball writers to trip over each other praising Terry Francona for keeping the Indians in the race.
Games Back: 4.5
Wild Card/Postseason probability: 1.1/1.2
Outlook: Kansas City, briefly, made themselves a Wild Card factor after the All-Star break … and then came back to earth. Maybe next year.
Predictions: AL West winner: Oakland; Wild cards: Texas, New York