Making the Case for Why Each MLB Contender Will, Won't Make the Playoffs

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Making the Case for Why Each MLB Contender Will, Won't Make the Playoffs

It was a wild weekend in Major League Baseball, one that had numerous matchups with postseason implications.

While five of the six divisions seem to be settled, there are still as many as 15 teams within five games of a playoff spot, nine in the American League and six in the National League entering play Monday.

In other words, plenty can change between now and the final day of the regular season on Sept. 29., which was exactly two weeks from Sunday.

Here's a rundown of the 15 contenders and how things might play out for each as October approaches.

 

American League

Boston Red Sox

Record: 92-59 (.609)

Games Up in Division: 9.5 (on Tampa Bay Rays)

Why They Will Make It: The Red Sox haven't yet clinched a postseason berth, but with a magic number of four following their three-game sweep of the New York Yankees over the weekend and the best record in baseball, they essentially have a 100 percent chance.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
With Clay Buchholz back and pitching well, Boston has all but sewn up a postseason berth.

 

Oakland Athletics

Record: 88-61 (.591)

Games Up in Division: 6.5 (on Texas Rangers)

Why They Will Make It: The red-hot A's have won five games in a row—including all three over the fading Rangers—and eight of their past 10, which gives them a virtual guarantee at a playoff spot and likely a second straight AL West crown.

 

Detroit Tigers

Record: 86-63 (.577)

Games Up in Division: 5.0 (on Cleveland Indians)

Why They Will Make It: Somewhat surprisingly, Detroit has the smallest division lead in the AL—a still-cushiony five games. But October is all but ensured, and the Central division looks to be locked down, too, as the Tigers finish up against a who's who of MLB's worst in the Mariners, White Sox, Twins and Marlins.

 

Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 81-67 (.547)

Games Up in Wild Card: 0.5 (on Cleveland Indians)

Why They Won't Make It: After a boffo July (21-5!), the Rays sunk to 11-15 in August and are just 6-8 in September after failing to sweep the lowly Twins despite being up 3-0 through six innings Sunday.

While they do have a greater than 70 percent chance at getting to the playoffs, they embark on arguably the toughest final two weeks any contender faces, starting with a four-game set against the Rangers, the team they're tied with for the AL wild-card lead. After Texas, the Rays get the Orioles for four and Yankees for three, two teams that are right on their tail.

Any more slip-ups over the next 11 contests, and Tampa will be toast.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price has thrown well, but the Rays haven't won any of his past four starts.

 

Texas Rangers

Record: 81-67 (.547)

Games Up in Wild Card: 0.5 (on Cleveland Indians)

Why They Will Make It: Losers of six straight and nine of 10, the Rangers have become MLB's coldest club—at the exact wrong time. They also have the lowest chance (60 percent) of making the playoffs of all teams currently in a postseason position.

As mentioned above, they get the Rays for four beginning Monday. If they can't at least split, Texas could well be on the outside looking in.

Still, the saving grace here is the fact that the Rangers face an easier road than Tampa with Royals, Astros and Angels over their final 11 games, which wraps up with seven at home to end the season.

 

Cleveland Indians

Record: 81-68 (.544)

Games Back in Wild Card: 0.5 (behind Rays and Rangers)

Why They Will Make It: Holy easy schedule, Batman! Beginning Monday, Cleveland's last 13 games are against the Royals, Astros, White Sox and Twins. No wonder the Indians have a better than 50 percent chance at October.

By the way, a win Monday on the road in Kansas City would not only knock the Royals further out, it actually would put the Indians in the second wild-card spot because the Rays and Rangers, who are just a half-game ahead, are playing each other.

 

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 79-70 (.530)

Games Back in Wild Card: 2.5 (behind Rays and Rangers)

Why They Won't Make It: To avoid sinking, the O's have to do more than swim over their next seven games—three on the road in Boston followed by four in Tampa—they have to pull a Michael freakin' Phelps. More than one loss against either the Red Sox or the Rays would just about end things.

Their current probability of reaching the postseason? Try five percent.

 

New York Yankees

Record: 79-71 (.527)

Games Back in Wild Card: 3.0 (behind Rays and Rangers)

Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Brett Gardner is just the latest Yankee to succumb to injury.

Why They Won't Make It: After a brutal three-game sweep at the hands of the arch-rival Red Sox, the Yankees are four back of Tampa and Texas in the all-important loss column and would need to leapfrog three teams in the standings to get into the second wild-card spot.

Off days this Monday and next, as well as an easier schedule in which they face the Blue Jays, Giants and Astros in nine of their final 12, might give New York a better shot than Baltimore—but not by much.

 

Kansas City Royals

Record: 78-71 (.523)

Games Back in Wild Card: 3.5 (behind Rays and Rangers)

Why They Won't Make It: Much like Sunday's heartbreaker—a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Tigers as Alex Avila hit his second homer of the game in the eighth inning—every loss is another nail in the coffin of what has otherwise been a worthy breakthrough campaign for a club that should at least manage its first winning season since 2003.

KC's only saving grace would be sweeping three against Cleveland starting Monday, because if it can do that while the Rays and Rangers face off, there's ground to be made up.

 

National League

Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 86-63 (.577)

Games Up in Division: 10.5 (on Arizona Diamondbacks)

Why They Will Make It: Largest division lead in baseball. Magic number of four. It's only a matter of when.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Clayton Kershaw and Co. have the biggest division lead in baseball.

 

Atlanta Braves

Record: 89-60 (.597)

Games Up in Division: 10.0 (on Washington Nationals)

Why They Will Make It: The Braves have been coasting for the past month-plus, and even with several players battling injuries (Jason Heyward, Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachyand slumps (B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla), getting in is merely a formality at this point for a team that still holds the best record in the NL.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 87-62 (.584)

Games Up in Division: 3.5 (on Cincinnati Reds)

Why They Will Make It: St. Louis is tied with Pirates atop the NL Central while the Reds are only 3.5 back, but the Cardinals have a leg up because Pittsburgh and Cincinnati play each other six times over the rest of the regular season.

Unless one of those two wins at least five of six against the other—and frankly, it probably would have to be the Pirates—St. Louis just might avoid falling into the one-game play-in contest.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 87-62 (.584)

Games Up in Division: 3.5 (on Cincinnati Reds)

Why They Will Make It: Now at 87 wins and counting, Pittsburgh has just about a 100 percent chance of making the playoffs for the first time since 1992. The question, though, will be whether they can beat up the Padres, Reds and Cubs enough over their next 13 contests to prevent their postseason stay from potentially lasting all of one game.

Joe Sargent/Getty Images
The Pirates still have some work to do if they want to guarantee themselves a playoff series for the first time since 1992.

 

Cincinnati Reds

Record: 84-66 (.560)

Games Up in Wild Card: 4.5 (on Washington Nationals)

Why They Will Make It: Nearly a cinch to clinch a week ago, the Reds lost four of six to the dregs of the NL Central—the Cubs and Brewers—to allow at least the faintest of doubts to seep into Cincinnati.

The good news? They can just about squash all that by taking out a team that is even worse than Chicago and Milwaukee—the Astros—over the next three beginning Monday.

 

Washington Nationals

Record: 79-70 (.530)

Games Back in Wild Card: 4.5 (behind Cincinnati Reds)

Why They Won't Make It: The Nationals have been as hot as the A's recently with wins in eight of 10 and an 11-3 mark in September overall.

But, c'mon, this club only has itself to blame for underperforming until now. And at this point, the math is just too tough to work out: If the Reds fall apart and go, say, 5-7 over their final 12, Washington would still need to go 10-3—just to force a tiebreaker.

With nine left against the Braves, Cardinals and Diamondbacks, that's not going to happen. Right?

Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Ryan Zimmerman (nine homers in 13 games) and the Nationals have been on fire recently, but is it too little, too late?

 

All postseason probabilities come from Baseball Prospectus.

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