Where the AL Wild Card Race Stands After Crucial Rangers-Rays Series

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IISeptember 20, 2013

The American League Wild Card Continues to get crazier by the day.

As of the completion of Thursday's games, here's how everything looks:

The Rays and Rangers are tied atop the standings after the Rangers took two of three in their latest series.

But there's still nine or 10 games to go for all of the teams involved. As the old saying goes, it's anyone's ballgame.

So, let's break down each team and what exactly are their chances for winning one of the two wild cards:


Texas Rangers

The Rangers have been in a downward spiral once again at the end of the season and it seemed like there was no end in sight. However, after taking two of four from the Rays, fans still have hope.

Texas has three games left with the Royals and Astros, and four games left with the Angels. This weekend's series against Kansas City could effectively end the Royals' playoff hopes.

However, the two teams have only played three times this year and that was all the way back in June. That was a long time ago and this isn't the same Royals team, nor is it the same Rangers team.

The Royals are throwing their three big guns at the Rangers—Ervin Santana (9-9, 3.23 ERA), Jeremy Guthrie (14-11, 4.08 ERA) and James Shields (12-9, 3.33 ERA). The Rangers will counter with Martin Perez (9-5, 3.64 ERA), Matt Garza (3-5, 4.94 ERA with Rangers) and Alexi Ogando (7-4, 3.15 ERA).

The Royals won't have to face Yu Darvish, and that is to their advantage.

After that, the Rangers have the Astros and Angels, who they are a combined 25-6 against. Texas has to sweep Houston. If it doesn't, it's opening the door for one of the other teams to come in. Let's also not forget the Angels recently took two of three from the Rangers, so there is no guarantee there, either.

The Rangers showed some fight against the Rays, so maybe they'll do the same against the Royals. If they lose two of three, you can bet the Indians and Orioles will capitalize.


Tampa Bay Rays

For all of the talk people have had about the Rangers' slump, the Rays have had struggles of their own. Tampa Bay has lost 16 of its last 25 games and is struggling to stay on top in the wild card.

It has four games left with the Orioles, and three games each with the Yankees and Blue Jays. It's time for the Rays to put up or shut up because they're about to get tested against teams who are fighting for their playoff lives just as much.

Tampa Bay starts with David Price (8-8, 3.42 ERA) on Friday, followed up by Alex Cobb (9-3, 3.02 ERA), Jeremy Hellickson (11-9, 5.23 ERA) and Chris Archer (9-7, 3.02 ERA). What I like about their setup is Matt Moore (15-4, 3.34 ERA) is scheduled to pitch Tuesday against the Yankees. Because of that, he's set up to throw in the final game of the year should the Rays need him.

Now, I understand he's coming off injury, but regardless, he's been the best pitcher for the Rays all year.

The Rays are 28-19 against the three teams left on their schedule and have outscored them by a margin of 231-196.

While they do have one of the toughest schedules left, don't expect other teams to feel sorry for them.


Cleveland Indians

Long ago, I predicted the Indians would make the playoffs and got told I was blowing a lot of smoke.

However, here we are with a week-and-a-half left to go in the season and the Tribe are less than a game out in the wild card. Other than Cleveland fans, who thought they would be in this position?

The Indians have the Astros (51-102), White Sox (60-92) and Twins (65-86) left on their schedule. Needless to say, they have it easy the rest of the way. But just because they have it easy doesn't mean they should take their foot off the gas pedal.

Cleveland is 26-9 against those three teams this year, giving it a huge advantage. 

The most ironic thing is the Indians are doing it with a No. 3 starter and a bunch of No. 4 and 5 starters. No starting pitcher is a legitimate ace (not even Ubaldo Jimenez), but they're still managing to get the job done.

Even better, of the pitchers scheduled to face the Indians over the next week, only one has a winning record this year. That's Brett Oberholtzer at 4-3, who the Indians will face Friday.

I really like the Indians' chances with this schedule.


Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles are going to get a chance to prove their worth over the next four days, as they'll pay a visit to Tropicana Field.

We all know about how much the starting staff is overachieving for the Orioles. But after a 2012 season that saw Baltimore with one of the best bullpens in baseball, it's struggled this year. And it's all started with Jim Johnson who has blown nine saves this year. Could you imagine if he hadn't blown half of those save opportunities?

Still, he's improved as of late, converting his last seven save opportunities after blowing three straight.

But what I'm putting my money on is the offense. Players like Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Chris Davis got to experience a little bit of the playoffs last year and they want to taste it again.

That experience is what will carry the offense in the bit of the season.

I'm going to go ahead and call it: The Orioles will take three of four from the Rays over the next four days. That will bring them into a tie with the Rays. How about that for a final week push?


Kansas City Royals

It's down to do or die time for the Royals as they face the Rangers over the next three games. If they can take at least two, then the last week is against the Mariners and White Sox.

If they do make it to that point, I still don't really like the Royals' chances, as they are a combined 10-9 against Seattle and Chicago. Of course, the trio of Guthrie, Shields and Santana will get at least one start, and two of them will likely make a pair of starts. 

Putting one of those three in a do or die situation is something I could live with. And if it got to the bullpen for a save situation, Greg Holland (43 saves, 1.31 ERA) is showing he's one of the best young closers in the game.

Kansas City recently ran through a gauntlet, playing Detroit and Cleveland in 12 straight games where it went 7-5. Now, that's not bad, but the Royals know they have some work to do, and it all starts with Texas. Taking two of three from the Rangers will make the last week of the season even that more exciting.


New York Yankees

Finally, we have the Yankees, who just won't go away despite all of the injuries they've faced this year.

They still have to play San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Houston. I do like the last three games, but it's the middle three that concern me the most with how far back the Yankees are.

If the Yankees don't win that series, their playoff hopes are finished before they get to Houston. In fact, I'll go ahead and say that if they don't take at least two from the Giants, they're finished as well.

Here's how their pitching matchups will look over the next six games:

Sept. 20CC Sabathia (13-13, 4.90 ERA)Tim Lincecum (10-13, 4.40 ERA)
Sept. 21Ivan Nova (8-5, 3.36 ERA)Ryan Vogelsong (3-5, 5.73 ERA)
Sept. 22Andy Pettitte (10-10, 3.93 ERA)Yusmeiro Petit (4-0, 3.08 ERA)
Sept. 24Phil Hughes (4-13, 5.07 ERA)Matt Moore (15-4, 3.34 ERA)
Sept. 25Hiroki Kuroda (11-12, 3.17 ERA)David Price (8-8, 3.42 ERA)
Sept. 26CC SabathiaAlex Cobb (9-3, 3.02 ERA)

None of those are exactly easy matchups, especially against the Rays.

Now, fans may look past Lincecum and Vogelsong because of their struggles this year, but remember, Lincecum did pitch a no-hitter. So, some magic is still there.

Out of the Yankees, the only one I don't like being there is Hughes because he's struggled all season. Sabathia has struggled as well, but he has a good amount of experience of pitching in huge games down the stretch (as does Pettitte).

Regardless, it will be interesting to see if the Yankees can actually pull this out.



So, which of the six teams will make it out of this alive?

The first spot will go to the Indians. Their schedule is favorable at the end and is going to give them an advantage over the other teams. I believe they will be hosting the AL Wild Card game.

The second spot will go to the Rays, who will make it in...barely. I think it will come down to one of the final two days of the season where the Blue Jays will underperform (like they've done all year).

Texas will be on the outside looking in, missing the playoffs by two games, while Baltimore jumps it. The Rangers will miss out by one game. 

As far as the Royals and Yankees, their chances will be over by Tuesday or Wednesday (at the latest).


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