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American League wildcard wackiness

Thanks to the second wildcard, September should be an interesting month to watch the American League playoff race.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week Henry Druschel wrote about the positives of the second wildcard. While there is some serious dissention still (after all, baseball people hate change!) the current playoff structure has positioned us for a wild and wacky September in which many teams have a chance to at least play in the wildcard game. Furthermore, many of the teams in contention for the wildcard (and the AL East) are facing off against one another on several occasions over the next 30 days. Let's take a step back and analyze the schedules and playoff odds for the American League wildcard teams.

Thursday night is a light slate of games, and entering into Labor Day weekend, there is quite the bunching in the standings:

1 Red Sox 74 59 0.556 +2 41-30 33-29 5-5
2 Tigers 72 61 0.541 - 39-28 33-33 8-2
2 Orioles 72 61 0.541 - 43-24 29-37 5-5
4 Astros 71 62 0.534 1 39-29 32-33 8-2
5 Yankees 69 63 0.523 2.5 37-28 32-35 6-4
6 Royals 69 64 0.519 3 41-23 28-41 6-4
7 Mariners 68 65 0.511 4 36-28 32-37 2-8

It's a tight race for sure, but it gets more intriguing when you look at the rest-of-season schedule breakdowns and the amount of times these teams play against one another. Throw in the fact that Toronto is leading Boston by only two games, and the plot thickens further. Here is a matrix of the times the teams listed above play one another:

Team Red Sox Tigers Orioles Astros Yankees Royals Mariners
Red Sox --- 0 7 0 6 0 0
Tigers 0 --- 3 0 6 0
Orioles 7 3 --- 0 6 0 0
Astros 0 0 0 --- 0 0 6
Yankees 6 6 0 --- 0 0
Royals 0 6 0 0 0 --- 0
Mariners 0 0 0 6 0 0 ---

The Mariners are technically still in it and are only down four games; however, they have to climb over five teams, which is incredibly difficult to do in a short period of time ----- especially when you consider they only have six games against the Astros, who are also on the outside. A split with them does not leave them any better off (Houston has won 10 of 13 so far this season) and the M's would definitely need some additional help.

The Astros are only one game back, and though it seems they would benefit from the other teams beating one another up on a regular basis, their September schedule includes six games against the division-leading Rangers, four games on the road against Cleveland, and three against the Cubs. That's a tough hill to climb.

The Royals are in an interesting spot because they are three games back but face a team that currently sits in the second slot. They put themselves in a pretty bad midsummer hole, but they've come back blazing through August, tearing off 20 wins in 29 games.

The American League East is really where it gets interesting. In addition to the Orioles playing 16 games against wildcard contenders, they also have another two games against Toronto, who just beat them two out of three games in Baltimore. The Yankees have 12 games against Boston and Baltimore, with an additional SEVEN (!) against the Blue Jays. Don't look now, folks, but this very mediocre Yankees team *could* potentially win that division (although it's highly improbable as we'll see below).


Above makes for a pretty fun narrative and there will be plenty of exciting baseball to watch in the American League throughout the month of September, but what do the expert sites say about the race to the playoffs?

Team Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds FanGraphs Cool Standings 538 MLB Predictions
Red Sox 82.7% 86.5% 77%
Tigers 47.0% 51.1% 50%
Orioles 34.8% 31.2% 30%
Astros 23.1% 25.8% 27%
Yankees 6.5% 5.0% 12%
Royals 8.7% 4.4% 14%
Mariners 9.7% 5.0% 7%

The Red Sox are sitting pretty based on all models because not only are they in the driver's seat for the wildcard but they have the best shot of any of these other teams at winning their division. 538 is far more bullish on the Yankees and Royals hopes than the other two sites.

All in all, this should be a great race hopefully to the bitter end. The last day of the season, all teams start their games at the same time (3:05 eastern), and there are some matchups that will hopefully decide who gets into the playoffs and who goes home. Who knows, maybe we get the wonderful scenario where we have a one-game winner take all to play in another one-game winner take all. A fan can dream; happy September.


Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano