We’re nearing September and the playoff race has begun to take shape. No division has a lead of less than 3.5 games. No American League division has one of less than 4.5 games. On top of that, the National League Wild Card race is essentially down to three or four teams.
Many of these races are completely finished. The Dodgers, Astros, and Nationals have essentially punched their tickets already. Though it’s hard to say that some of these other races are totally locked up, it would be surprising to see the leaders topple. Even the NL Wild Card race is questionable, as the Brewers sit 3.5 games back of the Rockies with a rough schedule to play. As far as divisions go, the Cubs have finally begun to hit their stride, the Indians have kept pace with the hot Twins, and the Yankees stumbling has allowed Boston to open up their lead. All could possibly lose their grasp on the 3- to 4.5-game leads, but the likelihood of that happening is low. And even with their stumbling after the All-Star break, the Yankees are in fairly solid position entering September as well.
So where do we go for excitement in September? The race for the second AL Wild Card.
Currently, there are six teams that are 3 games back or less of the second Wild Card spot. The Yankees currently sit in the top spot, 3.5 games up on the Twins (current occupiers of the second slot), and boast playoff odds of over 80 percent at every outlet. The Angels, Royals, Mariners, and Rangers all make up a hodgepodge of teams below the Twins by a game or less. Finally, the Orioles and Rays sit a mere three games out.
The playoff odds scenarios reflect the closeness of this race.
Playoff Odds as of 8/25
Generally, it seems that the Orioles are all but counted out. Hovering between two and three percent puts them well behind the field.
Interestingly enough, the Rays sit just as many games out as the Orioles, but have a significant edge in playoff odds. There are many other factors at play than games back — strength of roster, difficulty of schedule — so it’s interesting to see such a large difference between the two teams. There seems to be some belief by the projection models in what the Rays have built.
The Rangers are the only other team that sits a full game or more out. And while their odds only put them a small margin behind their division foes in Seattle, neither of the AL West competitors quite match up with the remaining teams in the field.
The Royals, Angels, and Twins all sit above a 20 percent chance at making the playoffs. In all likelihood, only one of them will actually make it.
Of the three, the Royals were definitely more inclined to buy at the trade deadline when they added a cadre of arms in Trevor Cahill, Ryan Buchter, and Brandon Maurer. They also still carry a significant amount of the position player core that led them to the World Series in Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, and Alcides Escobar, even though the latter two have been extremely questionable performers this year.
The Angels are getting quite the shot in the arm that no team can really match up to, but not via trade. Instead, both Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney are returning from the disabled list. The pair look to add to a pitching staff that has been very relief heavy, with guys like Yusmiero Petit and Blake Parker having career years. It also comes at a great time since many of their starting arms, including the always confounding Matt Shoemaker, are on the DL. On top of that, Andrelton Simmons has finally hit to a level where he could be considered a premium player. Oh, and they have Mike Trout.
Finally, the Twins are possibly the most confusing occupant of this group. Once a favorite to inhabit the basement of the AL, the Twins have found success in odd ways this season. Byron Buxton, since an anemic start offensively, has come along nicely and begun to show flashes of why people were so excited about him. Miguel Sano and José Berríos have broken out in a big way for the Twins as well. But, the odd decision making around the deadline to acquire and then jettison Jaime Garcia left many wondering if the Twins were really pushing for it. With a strong run of late, they haven’t given themselves much choice but to keep going.
Though there seems to be some separation currently in the Wild Card race between a few different groups of teams, the season is at a point where that can quickly change. As it stands, this is the race to watch in baseball — maybe the only race to watch in baseball — and it’s going to be good.
Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a Stats Intern at Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.