Updated 2017 MLB Playoff Chances with Just 3 Weeks Remaining

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2017

Updated 2017 MLB Playoff Chances with Just 3 Weeks Remaining

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    Brian Dozier has powered the Minnesota Twins into the American League's second wild-card spot.
    Brian Dozier has powered the Minnesota Twins into the American League's second wild-card spot.Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Approximately three weeks remain in MLB's 2017 season, providing ample time for the American League to sort out its chaotic wild-card ruckus. The crowded race will at least offer excitement with most of the divisions firmly in hand.

    Outside of the AL East and NL Central, the current leaders can coast into the postseason with spacious advantages. The Washington Nationals even clinched the NL East on Sunday.

    Because of the wild-card uncertainty, over half of baseball carries playoff aspirations into September's second week. Some teams in the AL pile sport losing records, but with great parity occasionally comes greater mediocrity.

    With the season winding down, let's calculate MLB's updated playoff percentages. While the standings fuel the estimations, other factors (recent performance, run differential, health and rest-of-season projections based on remaining schedules) also factor into the probabilities. 

AL East

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    Chris Sale should pitch the Boston Red Sox to an AL East title.
    Chris Sale should pitch the Boston Red Sox to an AL East title.Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Contenders

    Boston Red Sox (81-62, 3 games up in division)

    Before the Boston Red Sox could fret over losing three of four to the New York Yankees last season, they started a four-game winning streak with a 19-inning triumph over the Toronto Blue Jays. They still must vanquish their rivals in the AL's only competitive division clash, but the wild card is waiting as a cushy fallback plan.

    Eight games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels, the runner-up for the second wild-card spot, it'd take an epic collapse akin to 2011's unraveling for Boston to miss the postseason altogether. That should not be a problem in a schedule featuring the Oakland Athletics, Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays.

    Their probability of winning the AL East would reside around the 80-percent range. Even with Chris Sale in tow to pitch a possible win-or-go-home elimination game, they should be amply motivated to avoid such a volatile situation.

    Postseason Chances: 99 percent

             

    New York Yankees (78-65, 5 games up in WC)

    Of the eight teams actively jousting for two AL Wild Card Game tickets, the Yankees are the best by a mile.

    Because of a 15-24 record in one-run games—which is especially strange given their shutdown relief pitching—the Bronx Bombers have under-performed their plus-156 run differential. That towering scoring margin is much closer to an elite contender than the subpar squads hoping to sneak into the playoffs.

    No wild-card competitor can match their rotation and bullpen depth. If Aaron Judge blasting two home runs on Sunday signifies the end of his lengthy slump, everyone else is in major trouble.

    They won't have any head-to-head matchups to catch up to the Red Sox, so the Yankees will likely settle for hosting a Wild Card Game as heavy favorites.

    Postseason Chances: 95 percent

             

    Baltimore Orioles (71-73, 3.5 games back in WC)

    The Orioles are good at scoring runs. If only they didn't need to worry about keeping other teams off the scoreboard.

    Of the eight teams that have allowed more than 5.0 runs per game, Baltimore is the only playoff hopeful. While Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop deserve credit, the baseball gods have also extended a helping hand. A minus-42 run differential gives them a 68-76 projected Pythagorean record

    That three-game difference feeds their postseason chances, but expect regression to strike hard in upcoming back-to-back slates against the Yankees and Red Sox. Faltering in those six games could knock them out of the chase before the final week.

    Postseason Chances: 4 percent

             

    Tampa Bay Rays (71-74, 4 games back in WC)

    Another huge reason the Orioles still have life? Tim Beckham. Since acquiring him from the Rays—who were also gearing up for a playoff push—the shortstop is batting .339/.373/.571.

    Whoops. Tampa Bay could sorely use him with Steven Souza, Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison simultaneously regressing from sizzling starts. Chris Archer's eight-run implosion against Boston is especially troubling since starting pitching figured to be its edge over most of the field.

    After allowing 33 runs in their last four losses, the Rays must turn the corner against the Yankees, Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Orioles. Once a strong wild-card contender, slumping stars and a tough schedule dwindle their increasingly bleak outlook.

    Postseason Chances: 6 percent

               

    Toronto Blue Jays (67-77, 7.5 games back in WC)

    The AL is bad enough for the Blue Jays to get a blurb because of a three-game winning streak. They're down 7.5 games, but they're seventh on the waiting list for the second wild-card spot.

    Postseason Chances: 0.1 percent

AL Central

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    The Cleveland Indians took control of the AL Central by winning 18 games in a row.
    The Cleveland Indians took control of the AL Central by winning 18 games in a row.Duane Burleson/Getty Images

    Contenders

    Cleveland Indians (88-56, 13.5 games up in division)

    Remember when the Cleveland Indians got swept by the Minnesota Twins in late June to cede control of the AL Central? The reigning AL champions now boast a 13.5-game division lead following an ongoing 19-game winning streak.

    They're running roughshod without Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis. That's why they were wise to add Jay Bruce to a lineup fueled by slugger Edwin Encarnacion, unheralded star Carlos Santana, superstar Francisco Lindor and MVP candidate Jose Ramirez.

    Despite missing Andrew Miller, the bullpen still wields baseball's best ERA (2.82). The rotation tops MLB in strikeouts, and their success isn't just because of Cy Young Award contender Cory Kluber. Trevor Bauer sports a 3.03 second-half ERA, and Mike Clevinger hasn't relinquished a run in each of his last three starts.

    They were already the division's best team by a mile in terms of run differential before winning 19 in a row. Now the standings reflect their superiority.

    Postseason Chances: 99.9 percent

            

    Minnesota Twins (74-69, 1 game up in WC)

    What's the most remarkable part of the Twins taking control of the wild-card scrum? Is it Brian Dozier once again embarking on another second-half power tear with 16 homers after the All-Star break? Or maybe youngster Byron Buxton emerging as a true star and veteran Joe Mauer returning to vintage form?

    Or what about Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco and Eduardo Escobar all catching fire to ease the loss of Miguel Sano?

    It all seems too good to last, and their minus-10 run differential still portrays a mediocre club. But they're in the driver's seat with time expiring and play 12 of their final 19 games against the Blue Jays, San Diego Padres and Detroit Tigers. 

    None of their competitors are particularly good either, so the Twins maintain a slight edge even if their downfall wouldn't prove the least bit surprising.

    Postseason Chances: 40 percent

            

    Kansas City Royals (71-72, 3 games back in WC)

    The Royals shouldn't still be in the mix. With a minus-72 run differential, they're fortunate to reside in the proximity of a .500 record. They continue to give everyday reps to Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar even though they're baseball's two-worst qualified hitters.

    But since no team has run away with the second wild-card spot, the Royals declined to trade pending free agents Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Outside of that trio and Whit Merrifield, they don't have the hitting (or pitching) to leapfrog multiple teams.

    Their best hope lies in beating up the Chicago White Sox and Tigers down the stretch. It's possible after defeating the Twins on Saturday and Sunday to diminish their deficit. 

    Postseason Chances: 7 percent

               

    Out of Contention

    Detroit Tigers (60-83)

    Chicago White Sox (57-86)

AL West

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    Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips give the Los Angeles Angels an extra spark in the AL wild-card race.
    Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips give the Los Angeles Angels an extra spark in the AL wild-card race.Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

    Contenders

    Houston Astros (86-57, 13 games up in division)

    Following a 60-29 first half, the Astros have fallen to earth with a 26-28 record after the All-Star break. Yet the decline will at most cost them home-field advantage in a potential American League Championship Series showdown with Cleveland.

    Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Carlos Correa and George Springer are all off the disabled list, and the recently acquired Justin Verlander fortifies a rotation that stumbled to a 4.83 ERA in August. They can diminish their magic number to one by sweeping the Los Angeles Angels in a series starting Tuesday.

    Postseason Chances: 99.9 percent

                

    Los Angeles Angels (73-70, 1 game back in WC)

    As of Tuesday morning, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus respectively give the Angels postseason probabilities of 29.5 and 21.5 percent. One can argue that neither projection places enough impetus on their acquiring Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips through waiver trades.

    Mike Trout needed lineup help in the worst way, and Albert Pujols' MLB-worst WAR no longer qualifies as positive support. Can those veteran hitters overcome a rotation rocking baseball's fifth-highest fielding independent pitching (FIP)?

    That's where Garrett Richards comes into play. He made his first appearance in five months last Tuesday, but worked just 3.1 innings on a limited pitch count. For the Angels to truck through a tough schedule and bring Trout to his second career postseason, they need an expedited return to form from their ace.

    Although they would hold a higher probability if not for just dropping two of three games to the Seattle Mariners, the Angels still have the best shot of any AL West club to make the Wild Card Game.

    Postseason Chances: 30 percent

            

    Texas Rangers (72-71, 2 games back in WC)

    Texas might stand tall as a wild-card favorite if not for trading Yu Darvish and losing Adrian Beltre to a season-ending hamstring injury.

    The Rangers have registered the best run differential (plus-39) of every AL team vying for the second wild-card bid, but they have gone 13-22 in one-run games after shining in close contests (36-11) last year. The regression makes sense given their lackluster starting and relief pitching.

    Cole Hamels has yielded 24 runs in his last six starts, so the Rangers have a steep uphill climb to the playoffs.

    Postseason Chances: 12 percent

           

    Seattle Mariners (71-73, 3.5 games back in WC)

    A familiar refrain for many AL playoff hopefuls, the Mariners lack pitching.

    Mike Leake has stabilized one rotation spot by winning both of his two starts since getting acquired in a last-minute August deal from the St. Louis Cardinals. After him, however, they're grasping for quality innings with James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly all on the disabled list.

    Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz will attempt to power them into the play-in game, but the pitching staff will struggle with the Astros, Indians, Rangers and Angels on the docket.

    Postseason Chances: 7 percent

          

    Out of Contention

    Oakland Athletics (63-80)

NL East

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    The Washington Nationals can start planning for the playoffs.
    The Washington Nationals can start planning for the playoffs.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Contenders

    Washington Nationals (88-55, clinched division)

    The Nationals clinched the NL East on Sunday. Now they have three weeks to rest while simultaneously avoiding rust heading into the National League Division Series.

    For onlookers worried about the down time hurting them in October, the 1998 Yankees ended the AL East race on Aug. 30. They went 11-2 en route to their first of three straight World Series crowns.

    Postseason Chances: 100 percent

           

    Miami Marlins (68-75, 10.5 games back in WC)

    Giancarlo Stanton's crusade against baseballs vaulted the Miami Marlins into the wild-card hunt, but that momentum came to a screeching halt by losing 12 of 14 games. 

    Despite Stanton's 54 home runs and .644 slugging percentage, the Marlins collectively rank in the bottom half of both categories. Their star's power barrage wasn't enough to keep them in contention, so they're a monumental long shot to soar back into the playoff picture.

    Postseason Chances: 0.5 percent

               

    Out of Contention

    Atlanta Braves (64-78)

    New York Mets (63-80)

    Philadelphia Phillies (54-89)

NL Central

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    The St. Louis Cardinals are alive in the NL Central and wild-card races in large part because of Luke Weaver.
    The St. Louis Cardinals are alive in the NL Central and wild-card races in large part because of Luke Weaver.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Contenders

    Chicago Cubs (77-66, 2 games up in division)

    The Cubs have too much talent to have kept toiling near the .500 mark. Although they can't look ahead to their title defense just yet, they gained a slight semblance of comfort atop the NL Central before getting swept by the Milwaukee Brewers.

    Behind huge second halves from Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez, their offense ranks second in weighted on-base average (wOBA) after the All-Star break. Welcoming back catcher Willson Contreras—who hit 10 homers in 23 second-half games before injuring his hamstring—will provide another boost. They may need it after scoring five runs in three games against Milwaukee.

    Although their rotation has still dipped notches below last year's dominance, they're heading back in the right direction. Kyle Hendricks has filed a 2.58 ERA since returning from the disabled list in late July. Jose Quintana has 68 strikeouts in 58 innings since the crosstown blockbuster, and John Lackey has recovered from a horrid start with a 3.67 ERA in 10 second-half outings.

    Their odds would have resided above 90 percent had they claimed two or three weekend wins over the Brewers. Instead they're on high alert. 

    Postseason Chances: 75 percent

             

    Milwaukee Brewers (75-68, 2.5 games back in division, 4 back in WC)

    Only the most optimistic Brewers fans expected them to keep pace with the Cubs during a retooling year, so it's hardly a shock they faded after a torrid start. It's more surprising to see them discovering a second wind.

    Skeptics probably expected pitching to be their undoing, but the offense has fatally regressed. Entering the intermission sixth in wOBA, they rank second-to-last after the All-Star break.

    Making matters worse, their second-half stumbles came against bottom-tier opponents. The Brewers split six games with the Philadelphia Phillies, lost two of three to the San Francisco Giants and recently got swept by the last-place Reds.

    They also suffered a major blow when Jimmy Nelson jammed his shoulder running the bases Friday night. Milwaukee announced that its ace, who had recorded a 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts, will miss the rest of the season. 

    All of this figured to derail their chances, but sweeping the Cubs gave them new life. They need to stay hot against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Marlins before facing the Cubs again next weekend, but Nelson's injury nevertheless hindered their odds from rising more.

    Postseason Chances: 18 percent

               

    St. Louis Cardinals (75-68, 2 games back in division, 3.5 back in WC)

    Is it Devil Magic, or simply stellar player development? The Cardinals continue to lurk behind the Cubs and Colorado Rockies because of stellar late-season returns from rookies Paul DeJong, Luke Weaver, Jose Martinez and Harrison Bader.

    Even with key contributors injured (Alex Reyes, Trevor Rosenthal, Jedd Gyorko and Adam Wainwright), performing below expectations (Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Seung Hwan Oh) or traded (Mike Leake), they have won eight of their last 10 games. They wield a superior run differential (plus-74) to the wild-card-leading Rockies. And they have six more showdowns against the Cubs to make up ground in the NL Central.

    Getting Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler back from day-to-day ailments gives them a bounty of lineup options down the stretch. With Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn and Weaver leading a formidable rotation, the Cardinals would pose a big postseason problem.

    Postseason Chances: 30 percent

            

    Pittsburgh Pirates (68-77, 10 games back in division, 11.5 back in WC)

    The Pirates wouldn't have let Juan Nicasio walk for free if harboring any postseason expectations. Perhaps a lengthy winning streak could drag them back into contention, but they will probably settle for trying to dash the Brewers and Cardinals' hopes in head-to-head matchups.

    Postseason Chances: 0.5 percent

         

    Out of Contention

    Cincinnati Reds (61-80)

NL West

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    Zack Greinke should be representing the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL's Wild Card Game next month.
    Zack Greinke should be representing the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL's Wild Card Game next month.Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Contenders

    Los Angeles Dodgers (92-52, 9 games up in division )

    The Dodgers needed to lose 16 of 17 games while the Arizona Diamondbacks won 14 of 17 just for the NL West to feasibly remain competitive. Despite getting swept twice by their NL West foes during am 11-game losing streak, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts didn't excess concern over their sudden swoon.

    "We're going to win the division," Roberts told reporters after their sixth loss to Arizona in nine days, per Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times. "I can assure you of that."

    It wasn't a bold claim. Having lost eight games from July 1 to Aug. 25, they have still banked an MLB-high 92 victories. FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus both still give them a 100 percent probability of seizing their fifth straight NL West crown.

    They won't chase the best regular-season record in MLB history, but the Dodgers will avoid the worst collapse ever and wrap up the division with room to spare.

    Postseason Chances: 99.9 percent

            

    Arizona Diamondbacks (83-61, 7.5 games up in WC)

    Arizona's hot streak will instead get rewarded by a spot in the NL Wild Card Game. Having built a cushy lead over Colorado, it can recalibrate its rotation over the closing days to line Zack Greinke up for the winner-take-all start at Chase Field.

    That alone should make the Diamondbacks comfortable favorites. Greinke has garnered a 2.31 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 105 innings at his hitter-friendly home park. He's a bad Max Scherzer September away from drawing serious NL Cy Young Award consideration.

    They are also on track to hold the best run differential (plus-136) of any NL club ever subjected to the single-elimination playoff contest. They could possibly seize the NL's second-best record if Washington takes its foot off the gas, so take the Diamondbacks seriously as a World Series contender.

    Postseason Chances: 99 percent

               

    Colorado Rockies (79-65, 3.3 games up in WC)

    Having gone 19-19 since July 31, Colorado is no longer a safe bet to face Arizona in the Wild Card Game. Yet following a four-game sweep over the Dodgers and Monday win over Arizona, Baseball Prospectus (87.9) and FanGraphs (86.7) bumped up their chances considerably.

    The schedule offers good news. When they finish their current four-game slate against the Diamondbacks, they will get nine games against the Padres and Giants. A season-ending set against the Dodgers could be a blessing in disguise since their foes should have nothing at stake.

    They will need bounce-backs from the pitching staff, particularly beleaguered closer Greg Holland, to fend off the Cardinals and Brewers. It's closer than they would like, but the Rockies are still in good position to make their first playoff appearance since 2009.

    Postseason Chances: 77 percent

           

    Out of Contention

    San Diego Padres (65-79)

    San Francisco Giants (57-89)

            

    Note: All advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.