For the first time since 1995, 18 teams are within five games of a postseason berth with most teams down to around 20 games remaining in the season. The wild card race is looking to be one for the ages in both the American and National leagues, but the AL east situation specifically could get very fascinating.
The Indians and Rangers are both in great positions to hold onto the lead in their divisions, respectively. However, the AL east’s battle for the top spot is wide open, with the Red Sox leading the Blue Jays and Orioles by merely two games at the moment (as of September 12th).
The race for the top spot is pivotal, as the division winners are exempt from the play-in game, where the top two non-division winners will duke it out in one game to see who moves on.
As of now, the Blue Jays and Orioles would play in that game, and while they are both in the hunt for the division lead, they are also each being hunted by the Tigers and Yankees, who are eyeinga spot in the 2016 playoffs. The Yankees and Tigers each trail by two games, with 20 games left to play for each squad.
So how likely is it that one of these teams makes it? Well, for the Yankees, their fate is in their own hands. The Bronx bombers have 17 games left after their series with the Dodgers, all 17 come against division clubs, including four against Toronto and three (the final weekend of the year) against the Orioles. The AL east should be wary, after call-up Gary Sanchez debuted, they have caught fire. Sanchez is hitting .341 and has an incredible 13 home runs in merely 24 games for the Yankees, his 12 long balls in the last 30 days are the third highest in the MLB. Masahiro Tanaka has locked in too, going 4-0 with a 1.35 ERA in his last four starts. The Yankees are an impressive 13-5 in their last 18 games, and have enjoyed 19 wins over a 30 day period.
In comparison, the Orioles are simply 8-8 in their last few weeks, and Toronto is a dismal 3-11 in their last two weeks. Even though both Baltimore and Toronto have the wild card in their own hands, they must be cautious of the surging Yankees, and the evil empire aren’t the only ones threatening.
The Detroit Tigers are also right on the heels of the Jays and the birds from Baltimore. After winning nine of 11, Detroit has slowed down a bit. Even so, the Tigers are knotted with the Yankees for “last team out” in the AL wild card clash, and have 10 games left against sub-par teams. Justin Upton’s play has been huge as of late, driving in 24 runs in the past 30 days, not to mention J.D. Martinez who has posted an average of .400 over the last 30, and an even better .471 in the previous seven games. Not only is the hitting picking back up, Justin Verlander has returned to old form with a 14-8 record and an ERA of 3.33. Michael Fullmer (14-10, 2.76) has been a reliable number two starter, but Detroit will need to see more from the back-end of their rotation if they want to have a chance to make a run in October.
It would be easy to write a story focusing on just the Blue Jays, Orioles, Tigers and Yankees, but there are other teams that cannot be ignored. The Astros and Mariners are only 3.5 games out, and the defending-champ Royals are four out of the wild card. The Astros and Mariners each have a chance to propel (or terminate) their seasons, as they play each other six times down the stretch. They don’t share the same fortune as the Yankees, who get to play the teams that they trail.
On the bright side for Houston, they also have 10 games against teams under .500 (the Mariners have eight games against such teams). In comparison, the Yankees only have three games against sub-.500 opponents (The Royals have 11 games against under .500 teams). It is difficult to tell if any of these three teams will make a run, they are right on the brink where they could fall off, or surge to the playoffs. The Mariners will look to all they can get from Felix Hernandez, who is 5-1 with a 4.06 ERA in his last six starts. The Royals will need stronger production from Lorenzo Cain, and for Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales to keep putting up numbers.
As for Houston, a similar young, inexperienced, but talented team from last year looks to move into the playoffs. As expected, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa have had monster seasons, already combining for over 180 RBI. When it comes to pitching for the Stro’s, it’s a completely different story. After his Cy Young-winning season, Dallas Keuchel is 9-12, and the rest of the staff isn’t much better. Doug Fister is 12-11, Collin McHugh is 10-10, and the best ERA among starters is not even under four.
When it comes down to it, it is impossible to know which players need to step up, and who actually will. There will be heroes and there will be goats, and although we don’t know who they are yet in 2016, time will tell, and when it does, the results will be intriguing and intense as the 2016 MLB regular season culminates.