Win five games in a row, and you have a playoff spot.
That’s been the mantra of the AL Wild Card race thus far this season. With nine teams separated by 5-1/2 games or fewer, virtually every single AL team can consider themselves a playoff hopeful. It made for an interesting trade deadline, and it should make for an exciting rest of the season.
Take the Twins, for instance. Minnesota was cruising along earlier this month, and on Wednesday, July 19, the team was just a half-game out of the AL Central lead. Five days later, they made a deal for right-hander Jaime Garcia from the Braves. In the nine games that followed, the Twins won just twice, completely shifting course at the deadline. Garcia was promptly flipped to the Yankees, and closer Brandon Kintzler was shipped off to Washington.
The Twins had seemingly faded, and their postseason chances looked even bleaker after declaring themselves sellers on deadline day. That’s not what happened, though. Their 9-4 record since that day has catapulted them near the top of the Wild Card contenders. At the time of this writing, the Twins are just a half-game out.
Despite this craziness, this AL Wild Card race hasn’t always been this hectic. Let’s check it out on a month-to-month basis.
The Wild Card scene in April was in fact wild, but mainly due to the teams near the bottom of the barrel.
The Royals and Blue Jays jumped out to awful starts, going 7-16 and 8-17 in the first month, respectively, shoving them to the bottom of this race. Nobody expected either team to be a true World Series contender, but even then, it was quite a shock to see these two teams in this location of the standings. Kansas City would rebound for a nice stretch, but this start hurt them.
The Orioles and Yankees opened up with a tie for the AL’s best record at the end of April, but only the New York team would be able to sustain success deeper into the season. As for the White Sox, the team faded, just like we all thought they would. It was a good start for them, but Chicago was a seller from the get-go, and that did not change by deadline season.
The Twins were in the midst of a great month, but they unfortunately ended May on a four-game losing streak. Just a week earlier, Minnesota had a multi-game lead on the Indians for the division lead. Some struggles at the end thrust them into a tie, although this would not be the last time that Minnesota would taste the top of the division.
The Orioles maintained their ground through May, and some thought that Buck Showalter’s team was going to be a playoff shocker yet again. The Blue Jays also picked up a lot of games, winning 16 games this month and pulling within just two games after ending the month on a three-game streak of wins.
The White Sox and Athletics found themselves near the bottom of the race at this time, and they would generally stay there since. Neither team, however, was worse than the Royals, who were 22-30 and 5-1/2 games out of the second Wild Card.
June: Yankees, Twins, Rays
Trade season began to roll in, and yet another drastic switch in the AL Wild Card occurred. The Rays, who were fairly quiet throughout the first two months of the season, jumped into a tie with the Twins for a playoff spot, and they made this known, acquiring Adieny Hechavarria from the Marlins on June 24 as they began their push for the postseason.
The Royals also made up immense ground here, pulling to a .500 record at 39-39 by the end of the month. The team picked up 4.5 of the 5.5 games they were behind during May. They were tied with the Angels, who were actually playing better in the absence of Mike Trout, shocking virtually all of the baseball world.
The Mariners (1.5), Orioles (1.5), Rangers (2.0) and Blue Jays (3.5) all stayed within four games of a playoff spot, but nobody figured that the any of these teams were really set to make noise when October rolled around. Of those four, I felt that the Mariners were the most talented, calling them “buyers” in my ultimate trade deadline guide posted at the beginning of the next month.
July: Red Sox, Royals
July is when we all thought that the true AL Wild Card race was taking shape. The Red Sox and Yankees were duking it out for the AL East lead, with the loser moving down to the home-field spot of the Wild Card game. Boston had a 1.5-game lead over the Royals, who had strung together another successful month and were looking like true contenders. At nine and six games above .500, respectively, a Red Sox- (or Yankees-) Royals Wild Card game looked like a true possibility. An AL Central title for Kansas City wasn’t out of the question, either.
Only the Mariners (2.5) and Rays (2.5) were able to remain within four games of the Royals. When looking at the standings on July 31, I thought we were homing in on the four true contending teams. So did many others.
This month, the Orioles began to fade, yet still “bought” at the trade deadline, getting Jeremy Hellickson from the Phillies. (I didn’t get that move. At all.) The Twins, Angels, Rangers and Blue Jays were all basically afterthoughts. They did not buy on deadline day. The Tigers, Athletics and White Sox rounded out the league, and have continued to do so.
August: Basically Everyone
On August 5, the Wild Card teams were the Yankees and Royals.
On August 7, the Wild Card teams were the Yankees, Royals and Rays.
On August 9, the Wild Card teams were the Yankees and Mariners.
On August 11, the Wild Card teams were the Yankees and Twins.
On August 14, the Wild Card teams were the Yankees and Angels.
There you have it. Since August 1, we have seen six different teams sit in the second Wild Card spot. That’s more than a third of the league! At the time of this writing, seven teams are within four games of that coveted spot, though time may be running out for those near the bottom.
The only constant here have been the Yankees, who are still technically in the AL East race, but are quickly fading here. The AL Wild Card game will probably run through New York, but the second team involved isn’t even close to having been decided.
Check out FanGraphs’ playoff charts for all of the AL Wild Card teams since August 1:
FanGraphs doesn’t even know who is going to take that second Wild Card spot. Here are each team’s current chances of making the postseason:
- Angels, 33.8%
- Royals, 26.9%
- Twins, 22.3%
- Rays, 20.2%
- Mariners, 11.8%
- Orioles, 8.4%
- Rangers, 8.3%
- Blue Jays, 5.8%
How quickly can this change? On August 9, the Mariners had a 31.1 percent chance to make the postseason. They have lost 20 percentage points on that figure in five days. That’s what happens when you lose four consecutive games in a race this close.
Now, we are entering a stretch run for the ages. I have never seen a Wild Card race quite like this one, and I’m personally hoping that we finally get something crazy, like a four-way tie, that happens at the end. For now, though, we just need to see how it plays out. As shown plenty of times, the baseball season is a long one.
Good luck, everyone. May the odds be ever in your favor.
All stats current through games played on Sunday, August 13.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.