It’s that time again, the hunt for October is officially underway, and the thing most baseball fans should look forward to down the stretch is the tight American League wild card race that is heating up by the minute. As of today, six teams still have a legitimate shot at one of the two spots available, but which two will get a chance to play in an all-or-nothing playoff game to continue their season come October? That’s what we are here to find out here at Sports Unbiased, as we provide a breakdown of each team still in the hunt, and predict which two teams will earn a trip to the playoffs in the AL wild card game.
Tampa Bay Rays – Remaining schedule: 4 games vs. Rangers (9/16 – 9/19), 4 games vs. Orioles (9/20 – 9/23), 3 games at Yankees (9/24 – 9/26), 3 games at Blue Jays (9/27 – 9/29)
Breakdown: The Rays might decide whether they will make a trip to the playoffs for the second time in three years this upcoming week when they take on the Rangers and the Orioles for four games each. The Rangers and Orioles are currently breathing right down the Rays neck, and will more than likely come in and try to play their best baseball of the season.
Tampa Bay does have the advantage of playing at home this week, where they are 45-28 on the season. To continue the success the Rays have had this season, they will need David Price and Chris Archer to keep pitching like they have down the stretch. David Price is 3-3 with a 2.97 ERA in his last 10 starts, and Archer has been a pleasant surprise this season, with a 9-7 record and ERA at 3.03. Star 3B Evan Longoria and youngster Wil Myers will also need to continue to lead the pack on offense. Longoria leads the team with homers at 29, while Myers has an average hovering around .300 with 12 HR and 46 RBI in 74 games. Manager Joe Maddon has done yet again another great job with this team. He has them feeling loose and confident, and will have to keep them that way to continue their success.
Texas Rangers – remaining schedule: 4 games at Rays (9/16 – 9/19), 3 games at Royals (9/20-9/22), 3 games vs. Astros (9/23 – 9/25), 4 games vs. Angels (9/26 – 9/29)
Breakdown: The Rangers picked a bad time to start sliding out of a AL West Championship race, as they sit at 2-11 on the month and are 6.5 games out from those 1st place Oakland As. However, Texas still has a shot at saving their season, as they will begin a huge four game series against the Rays on Monday night, September 16.
Both teams are tied at 81-67 for first in the wild card standings. Starters Yu Darvish and Derek Holland have carried the pitching staff all season, but will certainly need to get back on track to get the Rangers back in gear. If Texas can stay afloat in the wild card race until their last match-up of the season with the Astros (51-98), then we could see Texas in the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Let’s not forget this is a team that has been here before, so don’t count them out just yet despite their horrible September slide.
Cleveland Indians – remaining schedule: 3 games at Royals (9/16 – 9/18), 4 games vs. Astros (9/19 – 9/22), 2 vs. White Sox (9/24 – 9/25), 4 at Twins (9/26 – 9/29)
Breakdown: The Indians are surging, winning seven of their last 10 and are only sitting 0.5 game out of a wild card spot. Talk about putting the pressure on other AL teams that have been here in the past. These are unfamiliar sites for the Indians, who will open Monday 81-68, but haven’t made the playoffs since 2007.
What Terry Francona has done in Cleveland in his first season is remarkable, and he should be heavily considered for AL Manager of the Year. They have a nice core that is clearly loose and certainly believes that they belong in the position they are currently in. The biggest surprise in the final month for the Indians has got to be former ace Ubaldo Jimenez, who has picked up on old habits with 5 wins, a 1.83 ERA, and 71 strikeouts in his last 10 starts.
The combination of a balanced offense led by Jason Kipnis, Michael Bourn, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley, with Jimenez riding a hot arm could lead to the Indians grass-hopping the Texas Rangers into one of those two wild card spots this week. Most might bank on the Indians getting into the postseason based on the lack of strength left in their schedule. This will certainly be an interesting team to watch the final week of the season.
Baltimore Orioles – remaining schedule: 3 at Red Sox (9/17 – 9/19), 4 at Rays (9/20 – 9/23), 3 vs. Blue Jays (9/24 – 9/26), 3 vs. Red Sox (9/27 – 9/29)
Breakdown: Baltimore has had success for a second straight season, but not as much as they did last year. In 2012 the Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games but this season are nine games under at 14-23. That’s a huge turnaround that speaks to their lack of strong starting pitching and occasional games blown by the bullpen this season.
The Orioles will need to pick it up, and hard, to have any chance of a wild card spot. They will have their hands full, as they play the Rays for four and the Red Sox in a series twice before season’s end. Right now they are looking like outsiders that will need to win and get help from the other contenders to have any chance of a second straight postseason appearance.
New York Yankees – remaining schedule: 3 games at Blue Jays (9/17 – 9/19), 3 games vs. Giants (9/20 – 9/22), 3 vs. Rays (9/24 – 9/26), 3 at Astros (9/27 – 9/29)
Breakdown: With all that has gone on with the Yankees this season from injuries to key players, to the Alex Rodriguez Biogenesis fiasco, to the decline of ace C.C. Sabathia, it’s really hard to believe they are only three games out of a wild card spot. They have managed to just hang around most of the season and have filled holes to where they needed to be with guys like Alfonso Soriano and Mark Reynolds so they can be able to make a late-season push like they are in position to do.
Their remaining schedule isn’t too tough, and would anyone be surprised if the Evil Empire pulled this off and earned a playoff spot? It will be tough, but it is certainly there for the taking if they heat up. From a complete baseball standpoint, it would be nice to see Mariano Rivera in one last postseason before the future Hall of Famer calls it quits.
Kansas City Royals – remaining schedule: 3 vs. Indians (9/16 – 9/18), 3 vs. Rangers (9/20 – 9/22), 3 at Mariners (9/23 – 9/25), 4 at White Sox (9/26 – 9/29)
Breakdown: It’s make it-or-break it week for the Royals, who sit the farthest back of a spot at 3.5 games back. The Indians are playing great baseball, and even though the Rangers are struggling at the moment, they are still a solid club and they will be a big series for this Royals team this weekend. Anything below 4-2 this week could leave the Royals out of the race going into the final week.
James Shields has been great in recent starts, winning seven of his last 10, but he can’t carry this pitching staff all alone. Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie will need to pick up the slack down the stretch to give the offense a chance to win some games.
AL Wild Card Slot #1 – Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays just seem like the most complete team out of this group. They have a nice offensive core, something they haven’t had a while, highlighted by Evan Longoria, Wil Myers, James Loney, Ben Zobrist, and Matt Joyce. Their starting pitching has really picked up and their front-3 (Price, Moore, Archer) should continue to pitch well enough to get this team home-field advantage in a one-game playoff. Manager Joe Maddon will keep this team confident, loose, and focused on the postseason.
AL Wild Card Slot #2 – Cleveland Indians
The Indians are just on a roll and it is difficult to not see them overpassing the Texas Rangers for good this week, who just aren’t playing good baseball at all. Ubaldo Jimenez looks like the pitcher we saw make an All-Star game with the Colorado Rockies, and the offense is clicking at the right time.
The schedule isn’t too tough with only the Astros (51-98), White Sox (58-91), and Twins (64-84) left after a three game set with the Royals. This is where Terry Francona is great to have at the helm with this young, inexperienced Indians team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2007. His postseason success with the Red Sox will come in handy late in the season, and will be able to make his team believe that they belong here. Their good mix of youngsters and veteran players who are playing extremely well should lead to a wild card berth by arguably baseball’s hottest team.
There you have it, breakdowns of each team still in the hunt, with the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians predicted to take each wild card slot come the end of September. Agree or disagree? Think another team will make it? Vote for the two teams you think will take the wild card slots below!