While the National League playoff race has all the drama of an Adam Sandler movie, the American League is a twisted mess of teams gunning for three of the four postseason invites. Five clubs find themselves in the precarious position of not yet having punched anything resembling a ticket. The only team that seems to have secured a spot is the Detroit Tigers.
Furthermore, with a scant 16 games remaining in the regular season, these five teams find themselves playing each other a lot. Props to some pretty prescient schedulers, because it's all going down to the wire.
Current: Sit atop the AL East with the best record in the AL at 88-57. Hold a 3.5-game lead over the Boston Red Sox for the AL East and the wild card.
What Have You Done for Me Lately? Six-game winning streak, four-game losing streak, one-game...win streak?
The good news for the Yankees is that if the playoffs started today, they'd be the top seed in the American League. The bad news is that the playoffs don't start today. Coming off a wicked five games that included a four-game losing streak and four games decided by a single run, the Yankees have been stretched thin.
Add to that the facts that their remaining Strength of Schedule (SOS) is the second highest of the five teams (0.517) and that nine of their remaining games are against two of the other playoff contenders (six with the Tampa Bay Rays, three with the Sox), and that 3.5-game lead looks slightly dicey.
Yankees vs. Remaining Schedule|
That's not to say that all is lost. If you look at the matchups remaining on the Yankees' schedule, removing one game with the Minnesota Twins because it's one game and it's the Twins, their offense should be able to get them enough wins against the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays to keep pace with everyone else. If the Rays can't come up with their standard lights-out pitching and defense against the Yankees' bats, they'll get taken down, too.
That leaves three games with the Red Sox, and the Yankees do currently have a three and a half game lead.
Boston Red Sox
What Have You Done for Me Lately? Five-game skid.
Another good news/bad news story. If the playoffs started today, Boston would have the wild card locked up, but the way they've been playing lately, dropping eight out of their last 10 to the Rangers, Jays, and Rays, it would probably be a quick exit. The Sox have the third highest remaining SOS (0.491), which puts them smack in the middle of the five, and they get seven against the Baltimore Orioles to help them make up some ground.
Red Sox vs. Remaining Schedule|
The mission for Boston is simple: Right the ship, slug their way through the rest of the schedule (pun intended) and gain at least a game, preferably two, on the Yankees before they meet on September 23rd. Oh, and also fend off the ridiculously hot Rays for the wild card.
Tampa Bay Rays
Current: Third in the AL East with an 81-64 record. Seven in back of the Yankees in the AL East and 3.5 behind Boston for the wild card.
What Have You Done for Me Lately? Seven wins out of their last eight.
Good: The molten hot Rays are winning, convincingly, over teams like the Rangers and Red Sox. Bad: They have the most ground to make up, with the division all but out of reach and the wild card only now within their grasp. Ugly: Out of the five in contention, they have the toughest remaining SOS (0.542).
Rays vs. Remaining Schedule|
Start the chant now: DE-FENSE! The Rays excellent pitching and fielding could help them scrap their way in. But when you add up the obstacles—the games behind, the SOS, and the fact that they'll need to grind out each win to get there—it's a long shot by any standard.
Current: Lead the AL West with an 83-64 record. Trail Boston 2.5 games for the wild card.
What Have You Done for Me Lately?: L W L W L W L W
The Rangers have been going on winning streaks and then sputtering along, trading single wins for single losses. Luckily for them, things get a lot easier for a while. They have a series each against the Cleveland Indians and the Oakland Athletics, and two big ones against the Mariners. Even though the Rangers close out the regular season with the Angels, their SOS is the lowest of the five (0.467).
Rangers vs. Remaining Schedule|
The Rangers' bats are just flat out unstoppable, and that's what they'll need to lean on to put enough wins together to fend off the Angels. If they play well and pitch well, they can beat anybody, and since they really don't need to beat anybody who's anybody until they get to the Angels at the end, they just need to avoid beating themselves.
Los Angeles Angels
Current: Mired in 2nd in the AL West with an 80-66 record. Trail Texas by 2.5 games. Five in back of Boston for the wild card.
What Have You Done for Me Lately? Took 2 out of 3 from the Twins, Mariners, and Yankees.
It may be too late for the Angels, but they sure look like an engine that could. A streaky team that recently started putting together more wins than losses, they've got the second lowest remaining SOS (0.477) and their season concludes with three games against the Rangers.
Angels vs. Remaining Schedule|
Luck. Well, luck and pitching. And defense. The Angels are remarkably similar to their remaining competition in most statistical categories. Much like the Rays, they'll have to claw their way up and make as few mistakes as possible. Unlike the Rays, the Angels' competition is nowhere near as strong.
The Yankees do what they do, and build up their confidence and their lead on the Sox while feasting on Seattle and Toronto before beginning the roughest stretch of any of the five. Being on top is a good position from which to battle, and that slim lead that the Yankees cling to will be what gets them over.
The Red Sox don't get it together in time to catch the Yankees, but they clinch the wild card. However, the Rays make it interesting, giving both the Yanks and the Sox a scare by getting within a couple games of each by the end of the season.
The Rangers nearly knock themselves out of the AL West lead, but their offense is just too strong and their schedule too weak, and they clinch before they meet the Angels for the last three games of the season. The Angels fall away and become streaky again. They don't make up enough ground on either the Rangers or the Sox.
What happens after that? Well, that's anyone's guess.