With six weeks left in the season, nine teams are vying for two American League wild-card spots.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Welcome to the race for the American League wild card. It’s a nine-team field vying for two spots with just over six weeks left to play. In this pageant, almost every contestant has glaring and noticeable flaws, making them unworthy of vying for their division title.
But thanks to former commissioner Bud Selig’s grand plan of postseason inclusion back in 2012, even teams with nothing resembling a big-league starting rotation or offenses that seem to lack a pulse on most days can still have hope if they just hang around .500.
Still, for a team like the Mariners, who haven’t been to the postseason since 2001, it represents an opportunity. And in the dog days of August and roster bloat of September, it does provide some interest that otherwise might not be there. Let’s take a closer look at the combatants (record and stats coming into Saturday’s games):
New York Yankees (65-56) +114 run differential
They are one of the nine teams with a chance to still win their division, though the Red Sox seem on the verge of starting to pull away. New York wasn’t expected to vie for the postseason in 2017. But the hitting phenomenon that is Aaron Judge propelled them ahead of schedule. Add the contributions of Gary Sanchez and touted prospect Clint Frazier, and the unexpected seasons from Didi Gregorious and Starlin Castro, and the Yankees find themselves contending. Besides flame-throwing right-hander Luis Severino, their starting pitching isn’t great. If not for the recent struggles of Aroldis Chapman (14.54 ERA in past four appearances), their bullpen is the best in the AL.
Minnesota Twins (61-59) -41 run differential
Back on July 30, they were 50-53 and not playing well. They traded away starting pitcher Jaime Garcia, who they acquired from the Braves a week earlier, and also traded closer Brandon Kintzler. But the white flag from the front office didn’t reach the players. They went 8-3 over the next 11 games to put themselves back into it. They have a favorable schedule left.
Los Angeles Angels (62-60) -7 run differential
Somehow they came into Saturday tied for the second wild-card spot with the Twins. But if you look at their pitching staff and their lineup, it’s a mystery how they are in this position. Having Mike Trout makes the offense go and the unexpected offensive contributions from Andrelton Simmons have had a huge impact. The Angels are 22-15 in one-run games, which means there is a luck factor involved. The average fan couldn’t name the members of their starting rotation, which is being anchored by Parker Bridwell. It seems logical they won’t stay in the race.
Mariners (62-61) ½ game back, -10 run differential
Every time, they look like they might get some traction in the wild-card race with consistent baseball, they follow it up with an abysmal stretch that makes you wonder how they are still in it. They are trying to combat their starting-pitching deficiency by using the bullpen to shorten games. They need their offense to carry them. They are 47-17 when they score four or more runs and 5-42 when scoring three runs or less. The offense is certainly capable of such production. After the current brutal road trip, their schedule is somewhat workable. They will need to play better at home to have a chance.
Kansas City Royals (61-60) ½ game back, -26 run differential
When they won nine in a row shortly after the All-Star break, it looked as though the their postseason experience and veterans would carry them back to the playoffs. But that was followed by a 14-game stretch where they won just three games. When Salvador Perez was placed on the disabled list, that removed a potent bat from a lineup that is lacking. K.C.’s first five hitters — Whit Merrifield, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Perez and Mike Moustakas — are outstanding, but there’s a lot free outs after that. The bullpen, particularly Joakim Soria, has been shaky as well. Their schedule is tough.
Texas Rangers (60-61) 1½ games back, +26 run differential
When GM Jon Daniels traded Yu Darvish to the Dodgers, it was supposed to signal that the Rangers were punting on 2017. But Adrian Beltre simply wouldn’t allow it. The future Hall of Famer made it clear the team still could get the wild card and they’ve played like it, going 10-6 in August. They obviously have the offense, but a rotation without Yu Darvish has issues. Cole Hamels has pitched well in his return, but relying on Martin Perez and Andrew Cashner isn’t ideal.
Baltimore Orioles (60-62) 2 games back, -42 run differential
Everyone thought they should sell at the deadline when they were three games under .500. Instead they acquired Jeremy Hellickson to bolster their rotation. Relying on talented youngsters Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman to carry the rotation isn’t ideal, but their best option. Perhaps Friday night’s walkoff win over the Angels on Manny Machado’s grand slam can provide a lift. Their schedule doesn’t help them down the stretch.
Tampa Bay Rays (60-64) 3 games back, -18 run differential
They have the starting pitching to keep them in it, but their offense has been abysmal of late. Logan Morrison is slumping while even the hot bat of Corey Dickerson has cooled off some. They are averaging just two runs per game over their past 16 games with a team .576 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. It’s hard to be that bad in the hitter friendly AL East. The Rays don’t play a single game against a team that isn’t currently vying for a postseason spot for the rest of the season.
Toronto Blue Jays (59-63) 3 games back, -79 run differential
They’ve been hampered by injuries and inconsistency all season. With Troy Tulowitzki out for the season with a sprained ankle and Russell Martin not expected to return for a few more weeks, the lineup is lacking, leaving only Justin Smoak and Josh Donaldson to carry the production. They hit homers, but their team OPS of .728 is second-worst in the AL. With the exception of three games against the Tigers, the rest of their remaining games are against teams trying to earn a postseason spot.