Say what you will about Bud Selig, but under his watch, Major League Baseball’s playoff races have never been more exciting.
And now that we have been given a second Wild Card spot, the chase for the playoffs really is better than ever.
The three AL divisions are essentially locked up, so you can just pencil in the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics. The real fun exists in the Wild Card race, where six teams have legitimate shots at the two spots.
There are, of course, some old standbys in the Yankees, Rangers and Rays. There is the team looking to prove it wasn’t a one-year wonder in the Orioles. You have a revamped Indians team that is meeting expectations, and you have the earth-shattering, still-in-the-race, is-that-really-them Kansas City Royals.
So of those six, who will be left standing when the season ends, ready to square off in a one-game playoff?
The easiest way to handicap the race is by each team’s remaining schedule. Let’s take a quick look:
Tampa Bay: 4 vs. Rangers, 4 vs. Orioles, 3 at Yankees, 3 at Blue Jays
Texas: 4 at Rays, 3 at Royals, 3 vs. Astros, 4 vs. Angels
Cleveland: 3 at Royals, 4 vs. Astros, 2 vs. White Sox, 4 at Twins
Baltimore: 3 at Red Sox, 4 at Rays, 3 vs. Blue Jays, 3 vs. Red Sox
New York: 3 at Blue Jays, 3 vs. Giants, 3 vs. Rays, 3 at Astros
Kansas City: 3 vs. Indians, 3 vs. Rangers, 3 at Mariners, 4 at White Sox
At first glance, the almost obvious choice for one Wild Card spot would be the Cleveland Indians. Their schedule is a cream puff-loaded run, and their only downfall could be that it’s somehow too easy and they start pressing at the plate and pitching less freely. Though if their four-game sweep of the White Sox over the weekend is any indication, that doesn’t seem to be a potential problem.
So if the Indians take care of business and lock up a spot, who takes the second? The Rangers are in a deep tailspin, losing six in a row and nine of their last ten games.
The Yankees are battered and bruised, but riding Alex Rodriguez of all people. The Royals might just have too much ground to make up and too many teams to leapfrog, despite their relatively easy schedule. The Orioles play a brutal schedule and the Rays are trying to emerge from a disappointing stretch of their own.
But if one were forced to choose, the best bet would be Tampa Bay. Though the Rays have a streaky offense, their starting pitching is just too good to ignore.
The best part of all is that so many of these teams play each other over the final stretch. Teams like the Astros, Blue Jays and White Sox could play spoiler, but the race will really take shape as these contenders face off.
The American League playoff race is about to get intense, and every game – every pitch, every at-bat – will be magnified to a degree not yet seen throughout the year.
Sit back and enjoy.