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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Red Sox could catch the Yankees by this time next week

Improbable, but not that improbable.

The Red Sox play four in Kansas City. The Yankees play 3 in Anaheim. There couldn’t be much more difference in the strength these opponents. If the Red Sox seep KC, and the Yankees lose 2 to the Angels, that moves the Red Sox to 2 and a half games behind the Yankees. Then a sweep of the Yankees in New York next weekend would put the Red Sox on top.

That last part, of course, is the rather improbably part. Still, even coming a little short of that, the Red Sox could end the week withing striking distance of the division title, with one week to go in the season.

Red Sox fan is glad the Yankees won tonight

You wouldn’t think it.

Red Sox fans are not supposed to root for the Yankees.  Ever.  Except maybe, when the Yankees are playing a team the Red Sox need to beat.  That was not the case tonight.

In fact, a Yankees loss tonight would have put the Red Sox into the playoffs.  No way I, a Red Sox fan and lifelong Yankee hater, should be rooting for the Yanks.  And yet, I was watching tonight, rooting for the Yankees to beat the Baltimore Orioles.

What gives?

Tonight, the Yankees played their last game in Yankee Stadium.  Next year they move into a new stadium, and the current Yankee Stadium, with all its great baseball history, will be gone.  It was a night for baseball fans to reminisce.  It was a night to celebrate all the greats who played there, all the great moments that occurred there, and perhaps create a few new ones.

It was NOT a night for the Yankees to eliminate themselves from playoff contention by losing.

Even though everyone knows the Yankees will not make it to the playoffs this year (the odds of all the remaining necessary games going their way are about 4 in a million), the fact that they leave their stadium as a team officially still in the hunt is only right.  A loss tonight would have meant they were out of playoff contention for the first time in 13 years.  What a damper that disappointment would have put on a night that should be about positive memories.  Leave that hard truth for another day.  Let it happen with a Red Sox win tomorrow.

Farewells are bittersweet enough.  I will get satisfaction enough tomorrow in seeing the Yankees not make the playoffs.  Let’s not have the Yankees’ worst on-field disappointment in 13 years mar a day of celebration.

The Will of the Baseball Gods – a postseason prediction

Here is a prediction for the postseason in 2008:

I believe the Baseball Gods will make their feelings about the ending of Yankee Stadium known this autumn by sending the Red Sox and the Cubs to the World Series.

That would mean that this year, the World Series would be played in the only two parks in baseball that are older than Yankee Stadium, and the only other parks built before 1961.  These three are the only remaining parks to have seen the likes of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams.

There is a place for these older parks in this game.  They are our most tangible connection to the years gone by when the game of baseball was made great.  The Baseball Gods will want us to know that a move to the newer is not necessarily a move to the better.

Elimination numbers can be misleading

Here is a post I put on my MySpace blog earlier this evening, before the Monday, September 15 games were final.

Sometimes in baseball, a team’s chances aren’t as good as they look.

The Yankees and Toronto are right now tied at 80 and 70.  The Red Sox and Rays are ahead of these two teams, in the same division each with 88 wins (that’ll change by the time you read this, though).  This means that, even though their elimation numbers are 5, at least one of the Yankees and the Blue Jays will do no better than a tie for the division’s best record.

If you don’t know what an elimination number is, it’s the number of losses by a team in their remaining games that will eliminate them from being able to win the division.  In fact, if the sum of wins by the division leader in their remaining games, and losses by trailing team in their remaining games, adds up to at least this number, the trailing team is eliminated.  This number is calculated by subtracting from 163 both the number of wins the division leader already has, and the number of losses the trailing team has.

So if both the Yankees and Blue Jays have elimination numbers of 5, shouldn’t they both be able to pass the current division leader?  Interestingly, they can’t.  Why?  Well, they play each other three times more, so one must lose at least 2 more games, and thus will finish with at least 72 losses.  With at least 72 losses, they can have at most 90 wins.  And the Sox and Rays play 3 more against each other, so one must win at least 2 more games, and so will finish with at least 90 wins.  Hence, at least one of the Yankees and Blue Jays can do no better than tie one of the two current division leaders.

Of course we all know that neither of them will actually make it.  😛