6-team AL wildcard race now looking like a 3-team race

It’s been exciting watching the wild card race in the American League evolving these last couple of weeks, with 6 teams having a real shot.  With division leaders pulling away, making the division races relatively uninteresting, and with the National League’s 5 playoff entrants pretty much a done deal (with only positioning remaining a question), this race has provided most of the late-season playoff race drama.

But as we approach the last week of play of the regular season, 3 of those 6 contending teams now look like outside longshots.

Each of these 6 teams has either 7 or 8 games remaining in the season.  It’s not likely that any of them will lose more than 3 or 4 of these remaining games.  However, the Yankees, Orioles, and Royals, each with 73 losses, will require at least two of the Rays (now at 69 losses) , Indians, and Rangers (70 losses each) to lose 3 or 4 games just to have a chance at tying.  Were the Indians and Rangers both to lose exactly 3 of their remaining games, one of the 73-loss teams would have to win all their remaining games just to tie.  Not unheard of; the 2007 Rockies faced this sort of scenario with just over 2 weeks to go that season, needing to win their last 15 games to make a wild card berth probable; they won 14 of those 15 to tie for the wild card and force a one-game playoff for the spot (which they won).  These streaks would be half as long, and with 3 teams poised to try for it, it’s not too out-of-the-question that one may do it.

At this point, scheduled opponents can make a big difference.  The Orioles seem to have the short end of the stick here, with 2 of their remaining 8 games against the Rays (who are fighting to keep their slim wild card lead). and 3 against the Red Sox (who will likely be trying to maintain their lead for home-field advantage against the other division leaders, Detroit and Oakland).  The Yankees also have 3 games against the Rays, but otherwise have an easy schedule, with 3 games against the bottom-dwelling Astros.  The Royals seem to have the best schedule of all though, with today’s game against the Rangers their only one against a contending opponent.

Though the Rays have the best record right now by a slim margin, if the Yankees or Orioles make a charge now, the Rays’ position in the standings will fall rapidly, while the Rangers and Indians, with easier schedules, would most likely stay put at the lead of the wildcard race.  Unfortunately for the Yankees and Orioles, this would only allow them to leapfrog one of the three leading teams; not enough to take a wildcard berth.

In the end, two of the 3 leading teams must falter, and that just doesn’t seem all that likely.  The Yankees, Orioles, and Royals are all positioned to make it interesting by winning, but won’t likely catch a wild card berth even if they do.

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