Photo: Bill Kostroun
Back in 2012, there was much excitement surrounding the league regarding the addition of a second wild card team to the MLB postseason. This addition meant that there would be a one game playoff series between the two wild card teams from each league to kick off the playoffs. The first wild card game became infamously known as the “infield fly rule game”, where the umpires made an atrocious call on what was the last game of Chipper Jones’ storied career.
However, not only did this change add more drama to the postseason, it also suddenly made the regular season more electrifying. There is no better example of the increase in competition that this second wild card spot provides than what is going on this year in the AL Wild Card race.
Of the 15 American League teams, 3 are locks to win their division (sorry Yankees fans, but I’m counting the Bosox). Of the 12 teams left, 7 teams have a realistic spot at snagging one of the wild card spots. Let’s examine each of the 7 team’s strengths and weaknesses in regards to making it to the AL Wild Card Game. We’ll start off with the teams I give the smallest shot and finish with the favorites
- Minnesota Twins (58-57)
After a horrific 2016 campaign in Minnesota, 2017 will be a success for the Twins regardless of a postseason berth. The biggest thing the Twins have going for them is their consistency. The Twins have constantly been around .500 all season and have avoided massive losing skids unlike most of their competitors. Sano and Buxton provide a talented young core in Minnesota that could pull off a miracle and give the Twins their first postseason berth in a while.
However, there are reasons why I give the Twins the smallest shot to make the postseason despite them being only ½ games behind the Angels for the second spot. The biggest reason is their disappointing run differential of -52. A run differential this negative does not generally lead to long term success or postseason appearances. The Twins simply do not have a scary lineup and were sellers at the trade deadline. Don’t expect the Twins to find themselves still playing ball into mid- October.
- Tampa Bay Rays (59-59)
Tampa being this low on the list speaks to how deep this AL Wild Card hunt is. The Rays have been in control of the wild card spots various times throughout this season. Finding themselves only a game out gives them hope for another playoff bid. The Rays have an offense that at times can be explosive. The addition of Lucas Duda at the trade deadline has already paid off, and him, Morrison and Souza provide special pop in the middle of their order. Once Archer gets going, the Rays have a solid #1 starter atop their rotation that could lead them into October.
However, Tampa has a very difficult schedule the rest of the season. More than half of the Rays remaining series are against teams with winning records in the postseason discussion. Tampa also has over performed for the most part this season, which does not put a September burnout out of the question.
- Kansas City Royals (58-58)
It is somewhat surprising that we are only two seasons removed from Kansas City winning the World Series and their second straight AL Crown. It seems that way because we seem to forget that these players who are perceived to be washed-up vets by the casual fan, were postseason heroes not long ago. The success that the Royal’s core has had in big moments and as underdogs leads me to believe that the Royals have a fighting chance to make the postseason. The Royals have also had multiple long winning streaks this season. Who’s to say they can’t reel off another 8-2 stretch?
But there’s more to it. As previously mentioned, the Royals aren’t exactly burning with youth. This experience helps to some extent, but a baseball season is very long. Maybe these vets are already showing signs of decline, as the Royals have a 3-7 record in their last 10 games. I would love to hear 50,000 people scream “Mouseeeeee” as much as anyone, but I have to be realistic. The fact that their front office mostly stood pat at the trade deadline would worry me as a fan. It isn’t out of the question to think that Kansas City’s Royal reign over the AL is just about done.
- Los Angeles Angels (60-58)
Please let me be wrong about not putting them as one of my favorites to make the postseason. As the average baseball fan should, I really want to see Trout in the postseason again. The Angels also surprisingly have won 5 in a row and are in sole possession of the second wild card spot. Take this with a grain of salt, however, because they only lead by ½ games. The biggest reason I give the Angels a shot to make the postseason is obviously Mike Trout and the presence he is. The Angels are two game over .500 without 6 weeks of Trout. How good would they be with a full season of Trout? The Halos have been promising since his return from the DL and they have even found a couple solid contributors in Kole Calhoun and Andrelton Simmons.
— MLB (@MLB) August 13, 2017
On the other hand, the Angels aren’t actually a good team. At least not good enough to make the postseason. They have a slightly negative run differential. They also rely on Trout too heavily. If he slumps for a week, their season could be finished. They are in the bottom third of the league in runs scored as a team and most advanced metrics do not favor the Angels. A team average of .246 does not exactly look good for a postseason resume.
- Baltimore Orioles (58-59)
The O’s are the only team on this list that made the AL Wild Card game last year, where they lost in a bloodbath to the Blue Jays.
Throwback when Edwin Encarnacion hit a walk-off home run in the wild card against the Baltimore Orioles pic.twitter.com/xOIc3ZiZ7F
— Pro Sports Fandom (@ProSportsFandom) February 26, 2017
This year’s Orioles team has severely underperformed, but they are now beginning to turn it around. This turnaround has been led by their franchise player, Manny Machado, who had an atrocious OBP in the .290s before the All-Star break. After a hot start to the second half, Manny now has respectable numbers and he has put the O’s in the thick of the postseason hunt. The biggest reason I have the O’s as my third choice team is because they’ve been there, done that. Once Gausman and Tillman start pitching, they could find themselves in yet another wild card game.
With that said, there is a reason that Baltimore has a losing record. Their rotation has been abysmal, as they have the second worst ERA in the AL. They have very little speed on the base paths, play poor team defense, and do not have guys that hit for a high average. Their key to success is the long ball and Zach Britton in the pen. Unless Trumbo and Chris Davis tap into their power potential, the O’s could be sitting on the couch come October.
- Seattle Mariners (59-59)
I picked the M’s to make the playoffs as a wild card team before the season and while I am less confident about that pick now, I do still believe in them. Their middle of the order in Cano, Cruz, and Seager is probably the best on this list, plus Jean Segura is a solid hitter atop the lineup. Despite having the worst record in the AL in May, the Mariners have rallied to a .500 record. This speaks to the firepower this team has. The Mariners have found a hidden gem this season in James Paxton, who will most likely finish third in AL Cy Young voting.
However, after being hit by a line drive, James Paxton is on the DL. He will return before the end of the season, but the amount of starts that he misses could determine whether or not the Mariners make the playoffs. That is the biggest downfall I see in this team. If Felix starts pitching, watch out. The Mariners could do damage as a wild card team.
- New York Yankees (61-54)
According to Red Sox GM, Dave Dombrowski, the Yanks are the Golden State Warriors of baseball. While the validity of this statement can certainly be questioned, in regards to the AL Wild Card race, the Yankees might actually be comparable to the Warriors. The Yanks are the only team on this list to actually have good pitching and hitting team numbers. That, coupled with the fact that the Yankees were an elite team for a couple months throughout the season, leads me to believe that the Yankees are just about a postseason lock. But with the Bosox dancing away with the division for the second season in a row,
— Red Sox (@RedSox) August 9, 2017
the Yanks’ World Series hopes might depend on the wild card.
The fact that there are no teams here on pace for more than 86 wins means that it is more likely than not that at least one of these teams will go on a tear to finish the regular season. As baseball fans, we should be happy that this second wild card spot was implemented. Who, besides the Yankees, wants to take a step ahead of the pack and play in October? It will be an exciting last month and a half of the regular season as we find out.
Graphical standings of the crazy AL Wild Card race since the all-star break pic.twitter.com/TJMzWnWPgM
— Dan Hirsch (@DanHirsch) August 13, 2017