AL Wild Card Standings 2013: Breaking Down Race for Final Playoff Spots
In the precise scenario MLB clamored for when adding another wild-card spot, six American League teams are mathematically in playoff contention heading into the final week.
The new format is not always a smashing success. On the other side of the fence, the rule has greatly dulled the National League playoff picture now that the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates are killing time before their likely play-in game, rather than duking it out for the one spot.
But in the AL, two teams are tied while another trails by a slim margin. Three other squads are holding on for dear life, but the chances of them succeeding are microscopic.
Which teams are still fighting for the right to appear in the best-of-one game? Which squad has the best chance of advancing to the American League Division Series and gunning for a World Series title? Here's an outlook on each remaining club.
Tampa Bay Rays (87-69, 0 Games Back)
The Rays nearly squandered their lead, but an 8-3 stretch has saved their season.
After fending off the Baltimore Orioles on Monday, they will travel to the Bronx to face the New Yankees for three games. They then travel to Toronto to close out the season against the disappointing Blue Jays.
Tampa Bay enters the final week barely holding on to one of two playoff positions. Rookie Wil Myers has fueled the offense with a .481 slugging percentage since his promotion, but the pitching will make the difference.
Matt Moore, who has experienced an erratic season, will start two of the Rays' final six games. After bringing a 2.18 ERA into June, the 24-year-old lefty was hammered for 19 starts during his next three outings.
His 4.31 BB/9 rate makes Moore an unstable option, but Tampa Bay needs the good version to show up in his final two starts to stay ahead in the standings.
Cleveland Indians (86-70, 0 GB)
The rest of the AL should probably hope that Cleveland doesn't make it through this wild-card brawl.
Cleveland is closing out the season on fire, winning eight of its last 10 games with masterful pitching leading the way.
Through their last 11 games, the Indians have allowed just 21 runs. Ubaldo Jimenez has paved the way by only relinquishing 14 earned runs through his past 11 starts. That gives the once dominant ace an 1.77 ERA over that stretch.
A very friendly schedule has aided Cleveland's cause, but it won't get harder during the final week. The Indians close out the season against two AL Central disgraces, the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox. Each squad ranks in the bottom 10 in most offensive categories and is limping to the finish line after dealing veterans earlier in the season.
Texas Rangers (84-71, 1.5 GB)
Losing Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli forced the Texas Rangers to change their team identity. Watching Nelson Cruz get smacked with a 50-game suspension during the season only hurt more.
Will the Texas Rangers earn a spot in the Wild Card game?
Usually a ferocious offense, Texas has relied more on speed and pitching. Led by rookie Leonys Martin, the Rangers rank second with 135 total stolen bases. That has helped them stay afloat with the 10th-most runs scored.
Yu Darvish has also morphed into a legitimate ace, racking up a league-high 260 strikeouts alongside a 2.81 ERA. If they're going to pass Tampa Bay or Cleveland, the pitching must pave the way.
The good news for Texas, Darvish and Derek Holland will each make two starts during the final week, and it kicks off the action with three games against the Houston Astros. The season closes at home against the Los Angeles Angels, who don't have Jered Weaver lined up for the weekend series.
The cards are properly stacked up for the Rangers to do their part.
Kansas City Royals (82-73, 3.5 GB)
Mortgaging their future for short-term success has the Royals feeling ample pressure to succeed now.
Desperately trying to bolster their rotation, they traded Myers to the Rays for ace James Shields. The 31-year-old pitcher has done his part, posting a 3.21 ERA through 221.2 innings, but he will likely skip town when he enters free agency following the 2014 season.
Myers, on the other hand, is raking for Tampa Bay, who controls the 22-year-old slugger for six team-friendly seasons.
The Royals have valiantly scratched close to playoff contention behind the rejuvenated Eric Hosmer, who is hitting .307/.357/.455 after a stagnant start.
This week will be interesting to watch, even if Kansas City cannot secure an unlikely playoff bid. They face the light-hitting Seattle Mariners and White Sox, and flamethrower Yordano Ventura will be on display.
The 22-year-old rookie hit triple digits on the radar gun twice during his MLB debut, throwing a season-high 101.9 mile per hour fastball.
.@Royals Yordano Ventura hit 101.9 mph in his MLB debut tonight, the fastest pitch thrown by any starter in last 5 seasons.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 18, 2013
While the season can hardly be considered a failure, missing the playoffs while Myers thrives will have to hurt.
New York Yankees (82-74, 4.5 GB)
The Yankees should just be happy to be here.
In a season where everything has gone wrong, New York is still somehow alive at 82-74 despite brandishing a minus-11 run differential. They have battled injuries to Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, posting a .309 on-base percentages in one of its worst offensive campaigns in years.
They will have to sweep the Rays and Astros, and they must do it without CC Sabathia, who ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews reported will miss the season's final week with a hamstring sprain.
BREAKING: CC Sabathia suffers hamstring strain; he's done for the season. http://t.co/OnC1OKeZA4— ESPN New York (@ESPNNewYork) September 23, 2013
Then again, Sabathia registered a career-worst 4.78 ERA and allowed at least three earned runs in 12 of his 14 last starts, so he was not helping the cause much.
The Yankees need six wins and a lot of help to delay Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte's looming retirement.
Baltimore Orioles (81-75, 5 GB)
What has gone wrong for a Baltimore squad that made the playoffs last season at 93-69? Not much. In fact, the Orioles are better this year despite what the misleading records say.
Baltimore earned one of two wild-card spots in the format's inaugural season despite holding a mediocre plus-seven run differential. This year, they boast a better rate of plus-39.
The team has hit a MLB-high 200 home runs, led by Chris Davis' 51 blasts. Manny Machado has added 51 doubles along with sterling defense that should make him an easy Gold Glove selection at third base.
But a bullpen that saved the squad last year has not fared as prominently this season. Baltimore's relievers garnered a 3.00 ERA last year as opposed to a 3.46 mark this year. It seems like a small difference, but every run counts for a team that made its living sneaking out one-run victories.
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