Will the Baltimore Orioles win their first AL East title in 15 years?
There are just three days left in the 2012 Major League Baseball season, and the American League is still littered with question marks (Gotham police suspect The Riddler).
All we know is this: Thanks to their victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday night, the Texas Rangers are in the playoffs. So are the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees.
We just don't know how these three teams are going to get into the playoffs. For that matter, we don't know how anybody is getting into the playoffs on the American League side of the fence. The Rangers, O's and Yanks have locked up playoff spots, but all three AL divisions and both wild-card spots are still technically up for grabs.
So yeah, much must still be decided in the Junior Circuit. In case you need one (and you do), ahead of you is a helpful rundown of the various scenarios that could unfold over the next three days.
Fair warning: Total chaos was averted with the Rangers' latest beating of the Angels, but this stuff is still fairly confusing. If you have one, put on your thinking cap...
The A's still have a shot at the AL West title.
Situation: Texas leading, Oakland 2 GB
Texas' Final Three Games: at Oakland
Oakland's Final Three Games: vs. Texas
The AL West is pretty simple. For the Rangers to win their third straight division title, all they have to do is win a single game in Oakland.
One loss won't cost the Rangers the AL West. Neither will two losses.
But a sweep? Yeah, that will cost them. If the Rangers are swept, the A's will win their first AL West title in six years, and the Rangers will have to settle for a wild card.
If the Rangers sweep, on the other hand, the A's will find themselves needing other things to fall into line in order to secure a wild-card berth.
I'll have much more on the wild-card front in just a moment. For now, we shall start working our way east by moving on to the AL Central...
The Tigers are in the driver's seat in the AL Central.
Situation: Detroit leading, Chicago 3 GB
Detroit's Final Three Games: at Kansas City
Chicago's Final Three Games: at Cleveland
Thankfully, the AL Central is also pretty simple at this point in time.
Heading into the final three days of the regular season, the Tigers control their own destiny. If they win a single game against the Royals, they're in. Since they have an 11-4 record against Kansas City this year, the smart money is indeed on them winning at least one game.
In the event that the Tigers get swept, their season won't necessarily be a disaster. If the White Sox lose a game against the Indians, the Tigers are in the playoffs via the AL Central title.
In the event that the Tigers get swept and the White Sox sweep, however...
Per MLB's tiebreaker rules, a tie atop the AL Central when the dust clears on Wednesday night will result in a one-game playoff. Since the Tigers have owned the White Sox to the tune of a 12-6 record this season, the one-game playoff would be in Detroit on Thursday.
If it comes to that, the winner would go to the ALDS, and the loser would go home.
Right then, let's head east. That's where things get really interesting.
The Yankees are in a dogfight for the AL East with an unfamiliar foe.
Situation: Yankees and Orioles tied for first
New York's Final Three Games: vs. Boston
Baltimore's Final Three Games: at Tampa Bay
The AL East is currently all tied up between the Yankees and the Orioles, and there's a chance it could still be all tied up three days from now.
This will happen if the Yanks and O's produce the same result in their last series of the year. If the both sweep, the tie stands. If they both get swept, the tie stands. If they both win two out of three, the tie stands. And so on and so forth.
In the event of a tie, the Yanks and O's would meet on Thursday to decide the division title. They split the season series nine games to nine, so home-field advantage would be decided by the two teams' intradivision records.
The Orioles have already clinched an edge there. The O's are 42-27 in AL East play. The Yankees are 38-31. So if there is a playoff game to decide the AL East title, it will be in Baltimore, where the Yankees are 6-3 this season.
The loser of said playoff game would settle for a wild-card spot.
Speaking of the wild card...
Tampa Bay's playoff chances are hanging by a thread.
1. Baltimore/New York +1
2. Oakland -
3. LA Angels/Tampa Bay 3 GB
Los Angeles' Last Three Games: at Seattle
Tampa Bay's Final Three Games: vs. Baltimore
With the Rangers, Yankees and Orioles all having clinched postseason berths, and the Tigers and White Sox out of the wild-card picture altogether, the key to the American League wild-card race is in the hands of the Oakland A's.
All the A's have to do is win a single game. If they do, they clinch at least a wild-card berth while simultaneously shattering the hopes and dreams of the Angels and Rays (h/t Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com).
Of course, the Angels and Rays can shatter their own hopes and dreams as well. If either of them lose another game, they're all done this season.
But what happens if the A's get swept and the Angels and/or Rays sweep their final series?
These are scenarios that require their own slides...
The A's are at the center of several head-scratching tiebreaker scenarios.
Let's say the A's get swept by the Rangers. What then?
Simple: They'll hope like hell that both the Angels and the Rays lose at least one game in their respective final series. If they do, the A's are assured of a wild-card berth.
But let's say the Angels sweep their series against the Mariners while the Rays lose at least one game to the Orioles. In that case, a tiebreaker would be needed between the A's and Angels.
Since the A's won their season series against the Angels, a one-game tiebreaker would be played in Oakland on Thursday. The winner would move on to play in the wild-card playoff game on Friday.
If the Rays sweep the Orioles while the Angels lose at least one game to the Mariners, then it would be the Rays heading to Oakland for a one-game playoff on Thursday. They'd have to travel because they went 4-5 against the A's this year.
Now, what if the A's get swept and both the Angels and the Rays sweep?
You just had to ask...
The Angels and A's may not be done with one another just yet.
If the A's get swept by the Rangers, and the Angels and Rays both score sweeps to finish off their seasons, then all three clubs will end the season with records of 91-71.
In this scenario, the A's would take precedent over the Angels and Rays because they won their season series against both clubs. The Rays would then take precedent over the Angels because the Rays went 9-1 against the Angels this season.
The A's would then get to choose whether they want to be "Club A," "Club B" or "Club C." This is a case where no choice is really the correct choice, as Clubs A and B have to play a game on Thursday that would lead to a game against Club C on Friday, meaning that Club A or B would have to win two games on back-to-back days in order to secure the wild card.
If the A's choose to be Club C so they only have to play one game, it stands to reason that the Rays would choose to be Club A so they could host the Angels (Club B) at Tropicana Field on Thursday.
The winner of that game would then host the A's on Friday, and the winner of that game would earn the second wild card.
If the A's would rather be Club A so they could host both the game on Thursday and the game on Friday, my guess is that the Rays would choose to be Club C so they'd only have to play one game. It's either that, or they'd choose to be Club B and hope for a win on Thursday before heading home to host Club C on Friday.
Regardless of how it all plays out, the winner of this little three-way tie would presumably play either the Orioles or the Yankees on Saturday for the right to go to the ALDS. That's a possibility because one of the two division series could start on Sunday if need be.
In case you're wondering, not all wild-card tiebreaking scenarios involve only the A's, Angels and Rays. There are a couple more that must be discussed.
The A's and Yankees could meet in a do-or-die game on Friday.
The Orioles and Yankees both have the same record and the A's are just a game behind both of them, so what happens if all three teams finish the year with the same record?
It could happen pretty easily, actually. If the Orioles and Yankees both lose two out of three to finish the season and the A's win two out of three, then all three teams would end the season with a record of 93-69.
Thankfully, the tiebreaker scenario for this situation is quite simple.
First, the Orioles and Yankees would do battle for the AL East title on Thursday. Again, the game would be in Baltimore, as the O's have already clinched a better AL East record than the Yankees.
The loser of that game would play the A's on Friday. The tiebreaking rules would call for the A's to host the game, so the loser of the O's vs. Yanks tilt on Thursday would immediately have to fly across the country to Oakland.
Now, a scenario such as this could also come to pass if the A's sweep the Rangers while the Orioles and Yankees both lose two out of three in their final series, as the Rangers would find themselves with a record of 93-69.
If so, it would be the same thing. The O's and Yanks would play in Baltimore on Thursday, and the winner would head to Texas for a do-or-die wild card game on Friday.
Now, what if the Orioles and Yankees don't finish tied for the AL East and no game between the two of them is needed on Thursday. What then?
Thankfully, it's actually pretty simple.
If the Orioles don't win the AL East, their road to the World Series gets a lot tougher.
If the Orioles Miss Out on the AL East
The simplest thing that could happen here involves the Orioles missing out on the AL East title and finishing with a better record than the A's in the wild-card hunt. In that scenario, they would host the A's in Baltimore on Friday for the right to move on to the ALDS.
If the Orioles and A's finish with the same record, the A's would host the O's on Friday in Oakland because they went 5-4 against the O's this season.
If the Orioles finish with the same record as the Rangers, the O's would head to Texas on Friday because they went just 2-5 against the Rangers this season.
If the potential three-team battle royale between the A's, Angels and Rays comes to pass, the Orioles would sit back and wait to host the victor of it in Baltimore. Once again, that winner-take-all game would presumably go down on Saturday, with the winner moving straight to the ALDS on Sunday.
If the Yankees Miss Out on the AL East
If the Yankees miss out on the AL East and finish with a better record than the A's, then they'll host the A's in the wild-card game on Friday.
If the Yankees and A's finish with the exact same record, things will get tricky because they split their season series at five games apiece. The tiebreaker rules call for the team with the better winning percentage in intradivision games to get home-field advantage.
The only way the Yankees and A's are finishing with the same record is if the Yankees lose two out of three against the Red Sox and the A's win two out of three against the Rangers. In this case, the A's would host the Yankees because their .561 winning percentage in AL West play would top the Yankees' .542 winning percentage in AL East play.
In the event that the Yankees find themselves tied with the Rangers instead, then the Rangers would head to the Bronx to take on the Yankees on Friday.
One way or another, Orioles fans shouldn't worry. There will be playoff baseball in Baltimore this year.
OK, let's just go ahead and make this simple. Here's what each team needs to happen in the final three days of the regular season.
Win your series and hope that the Yankees lose theirs.
New York Yankees
Exactly the same. Win your series and hope the Orioles lose theirs.
Win one game. If you can't do that, hope the White Sox lose at least one game.
Chicago White Sox
Sweep the Indians and hope the Tigers get swept by the Royals. If it comes to that, then roll into Detroit on Thursday and beat the Tigers to complete your comeback.
Just win a game, and the AL West is yours.
Sweep the Rangers to win the AL West. Win one game to clinch a wild-card berth.
Los Angeles Angels
Sweep and hope the A's get swept. Ideally, the Rays will lose a game too.
Tampa Bay Rays
Sweep and hope the A's get swept. Ideally, the Angels will lose a game too.
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