As we’ve talked about here in the past, if it weren’t for the Wild Card race this September would have been a total snoozer for baseball. Only the National League Central — where Pittsburgh and St. Louis are currently tied for first — is there a gap between first and second less than six games.
We can mock Bud Selig for all sorts of his decisions, but we’ve got to give him credit for the multiple Wild Card era. Tuesday night only one of the six series involving two American League teams — Twins/White Sox — won’t have playoff implications. Cities like Kansas City and Cleveland have reason to pay attention to baseball deep in September. This is a positive development.
Problem is, this year the American League Wild Card race might generate excitement but at the same time it might generate just as much mediocre baseball.
The six teams fighting for the two Wild Card spots — the Rangers, Rays, Orioles, Yankees, Indians and Royals — are a combined 42-43 in September. In an abstract this makes some sense. The fourth and fifth best teams out of a league of 15 aren’t exactly going to be the second-coming of the 1927 Yankees, but the way September has unfurled it doesn’t seem like anyone — save for the Indians — are playing with the urgency of a playoff team.
Take the Rangers as the prime example. As little as a week ago Ron Washington’s club looked a shoo-in for the playoffs either through winning the West or the Wild Card. On Aug. 31 the Rangers were a season-best 21 games over .500. In September they’ve gone 2-11 and now are a game behind Tampa for the first Wild Card spot.
The Rangers have been smacked around by the very dangerous and underrated A’s, losing 5 of 6 head-to-head matchups this month — handing Oakland the division. Texas’ pitching has fallen apart too, with a 4.98 staff ERA in the month which is a full run higher than their season mark. Yu Darvish is 0-3 in September, losing his last two games despite allowing just one run each time over seven innings. Equally concerning, the Texas offense has produced a league-low 45 runs in the month.
Tampa hasn’t fared much better, going 6-8 in September. Fortunately for Tampa they ran into Texas Monday night so one of the two struggling clubs had to win. The high postseason stakes didn’t seem to rate in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, as only an announced 10,724 fans turned out to watch Wil Myers launch balls all over the Trop.
The Rays won 6-2, sending the Rangers to their seventh straight loss. Texas is teetering dangerously toward their second straight September collapse, only this time they might not even have the Wild Card fallback plan. Jon Daniels might be in line to shake up the club in the offseason, regardless of how the next few weeks unfold.
The combined poor play of Texas and Tampa leaves the door open for the middling Orioles to sneak back into the playoffs. Even after a humiliating sweep in Boston over the weekend, the Yankees remain only three games out in the loss column and still have three games remaining with the Rays and play their persona whipping boys — the Jays — tonight in Toronto.
The more likely scenario is Cleveland or Kansas City — which are a combined 19-9 this month — stay hot and sprint down the finish line into the playoffs. After this series with the Royals the Indians finish up with the Astros, White Sox and Twins. Terry Francona’s squad only has to make up a half game over that span. They should do it.
Kansas City’s fate is tied to the next two games with Cleveland. So long as the Royals don’t lose both to the Indians they’ll have a shot with a three-game set with the Rangers followed by a season-ending roadtrip with the Mariners and White Sox.