With a week and a half remaining in the 2016 MLB season, the American League is as close as it could be. Six teams stand separated by only 3.5 games, and the end of September is sizing up to be as chaotic as ever. When the second Wild Card was brought in for the 2012 season, this is what MLB brass had in mind: a tight race that kept several markets in the chase until seasons end. It keeps the eyes of the general public focused intently on the game until the very end. So, who will end up playing their way through the current AL Wild Card logjam?
The AL Wild Card Logjam
Toronto Blue Jays
Currently, the Toronto Blue Jays sit in the first Wild Card position, a game over the Baltimore Orioles and a minimum of 1.5 over the rest of the field. On September 1, the Blue Jays were sitting pretty in first place in the AL East, but after a rough start to the month and a subsequent hot streak by the Boston Red Sox, the Jays find themselves fighting for their playoff lives.
They are in a potentially advantageous position. With 10 games remaining, all against AL East foes (four vs New York Yankees, three vs Orioles, three vs Red Sox), the Jays control their fate. Now, that sounds good, but the biggest issue with this team has been shockingly consistent all month: they don’t score enough runs to consistently win games. Plain and simple, their offense has not gotten the job done recently, despite the incredible depth and skill in their lineup. This team is probably the obvious choice for the team that will be able to turn the switch. They possess too much talent to be denied.
So, will they be able to turn their September around and see real October baseball yet again? Yes, and a Wild Card game at the Rogers Center would be a lot of fun to see.
The collapse is in full swing. Maybe the people of Baltimore could sense this, which would explain the lack of attendance. Splitting with the Tampa Bay Rays, and only achieving that by a coming back from four runs down, is a bad sign for any team. The Orioles followed that by being genuinely outclassed by a cruising Red Sox team, which managed a four-game series sweep without much concern. These Orioles are in rough shape coming down the stretch drive.
On paper, their remaining schedule is OK. With a trio of three game series against the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks, the Blue Jays, whom they currently trail, and a young difficult Yankees team with nothing to lose, Baltimore could go either way. They still have the same offensive weapons, but the rotation has collapsed. That’s been expected that all season, but the timing could not have been worse. Now they look to be in survival mode.
In the end, it is unlikely they will be able to hold off the competition to get into the Wild Card game. But overall it was still a great season for a slightly over-matched Orioles team.
The Detroit Tigers have befuddled fans all season. Currently only a half game back of the Orioles for the second wildcard spot, the Tigers are well within striking distance. Stacked with incredible amounts of talent, albeit aging, this Tigers team boast skills that most teams can’t compete with. Including Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmerman, Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Nick Castellanos, and the always disappointing Justin Upton, the talent is there. But something is missing.
Their remaining schedule goes as follows: three games against the Kansas City Royals followed by four against the Cleveland Indians, all leading to a season ending clash against the Atlanta Braves. Their schedule is potentially tough depending on the Indians plans for resting starters. It seems unlikely that this team, which has played so inconsistently all season, has the ability to string together a strong 10-game push to put themselves over the top. But if the race were capped on pure talent alone, there would be little doubt as to their inclusion.
When it is all said and done, look for the Tigers to be on the outside looking in at playoff time.
Despite currently being a game out of the Wild Card, and having to leapfrog multiple teams to get in, the Houston Astros seem like the team that has it all lined up to make a big push in the last 10 days of the season. With 10 games remaining, seven of which are against the Angels, Houston has the season in their hands. The only concern left would be a three-game set at home against the Seattle Mariners. While the Mariners boast an excellent club with plenty of weapons, especially on the mound, they are unlikely to pose much of a threat to the streaking Astros.
With a dynamic young lineup and arguably the AL MVP in Jose Altuve, the Astros have also gotten hot at the right time. They’ve played some of their best ball of the year over the past week, winning six of seven games. Look for the Astros to keep building on their momentum and ride it into the playoffs at season’s end, an unlikely finish after a 17-28 start to this season.
With so many teams vying for an opportunity of play in a single elimination Wild Card game, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Mariners or the Yankees are able to make a final push large enough to reach the post-season. Despite being in striking distance, both of these team are most likely playing the role of spoiler until season’s end.
In the end, the two teams that deserve to be there will be. Despite scheduling or luck, a 162 games schedule always brings the deserving teams to the end. This season will be no different. It may end up being a stretch run that is spoken about for some time.