A few seasons back, Major League Baseball decided to spice things up and added a second Wild Card spot to the playoffs. In November of 2011, MLB announced they would be adding this second wild card, with the top two Wild Card teams playing each other in a one game playoff to determine who would go on to the division series and who would go home. In a lot ways this second Wild Card was added to hopefully add to the excitement of pennant chases, much like the electric last day of the 2011 season(do you remember how awesome that day was? If not, go ahead and revisit it!)
Now that I just gave you the equivalent of a sugar rush, let’s get to the real meat and potatoes of this; the second Wild Card spot is up for grabs in the American League this year with four teams battling for the spot with only a game separating these teams. No one team in this group stand out amongst each other with each team holding equal positives and negatives to their run for a playoff spot. Obviously around these parts we are cheering for the Royals to make the playoffs. With that said, lets look at what each team will bring to this ‘Wild Card Shuffle’.
Kansas City Royals-Currently holding 2nd Wild Card spot, 34.0% chance of reaching playoffs(BaseballProspectus.com/odds/)
The Royals have seen a big increase in their chances of making the playoffs over the past week, in fact almost a 18% increase in that span. As most Royals fans can attest to, this has been a very topsy turvy season already, as the Royals went on a 10 game winning streak in June, took over first place of the American League Central from Detroit. Kansas City followed that by going on a losing streak and even straddling .500 before the All Star break. The Royals currently have a 4 game winning streak and are 7-3 over their last ten games. Outside of back to back series coming up with Oakland and San Francisco, the Royals will then play 12 straight games(outside of a lone game against the Yankees) against teams under .500, followed by 3 games to wrap up August against Cleveland, who are currently at .500. If the Royals are going to make a run, now would seem to be the best time to do it.
Positives: One of the best defenses in baseball, great bullpen, solid rotation
Negatives: Inconsistent offense, poor plate discipline, iffy manager
Toronto Blue Jays-1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot, 25.8% chance of reaching playoffs
A week ago, the Blue Jays looked golden; in that span their chance of making the playoffs has fallen 34.3% and have basically let the other teams around them back into the boat. The Blue Jays could still be the team to beat in this position, but it’s going to take a bit to widen the gap. Toronto is almost the polar opposite to the Royals schedule-wise over the next month; the Blue Jays have Detroit, Milwaukee, Seattle, New York and the once surging Rays to contend with in August. The Blue Jays have been hit by the injury bug as of late, and they should be getting a few of their offensive pieces(Encarnacion, Lind) back soon. The Jays have a young pitching staff and still need some help in the bullpen, but if they piece things together they are a real threat to the Royals for that spot.
Positives: Great offense, young pitching, aggressive GM
Negatives: injuries, thin bullpen, rough schedule
Seattle Mariners-1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot, 23.0% chance of reaching playoffs
Seattle is an interesting ball club to say the least. You have to wonder where the Mariners would be in the standings if their offense was just league average. Instead, they have a weak offense, in fact one so weak that it makes the Royals look like ‘Murderers Row’. But Seattle’s GM Jack Zduriencik has already been working to fix that, adding Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia before the trade deadline and very well could be adding more. Jack Z’s job is probably on the line, so he could very well be proactive over the next month. Add in a stellar pitching staff that is better than Kansas City’s and you have a team that the Royals should be worried about. The Mariners still play a number of playoff contenders to play this season, including 15 of their last 18 against teams vying for a playoff spot. Seattle very well could be the Royals biggest obstacle in front of them when it comes to grasping a playoff spot.
Positives: Fantastic pitching, a GM with his job on the line,excellent at run prevention
Negatives: weak offense, rough schedule
New York Yankees-1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot, 34.5% chance of reaching the playoffs
The fact that the Yankees are still in this conversation is a minor miracle. Their starting rotation has been decimated, they have been hit with a number of injuries and unless Derek Jeter is truly a God(as has been hinted at by almost every major media outlet this season), the Yankees shouldn’t even be in this position. But…here they are. Actually, out of these four teams, the Yankees have the best percentage chance of making the playoffs. Getting players back from injury will help, but they also need to add to their weakened rotation. Unfortunately for them, the likes of Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano just won’t work. The Yankees are known for stocking up this time of year, so don’t be shocked to see another pitcher head to the Bronx before the month is up. If that happens, their odds will improve, although they still have 24 games left against teams trying to reach October(and that isn’t even counting games against Cleveland and Tampa Bay, who are on the fringe). I would like to see the odds are stacked against them, but I have counted New York out before and they’ve proven me wrong. Don’t be surprised if they are still in this spot come late September.
Positives: Improving offense, excellent bullpen, deep pockets
Negatives: Pieced together rotation, tough schedule, old shortstop
You probably noticed I didn’t add Cleveland to this list. The Indians are currently 4 games out of the Wild Card spot, so technically they are still in it, but they would have a tougher road to go and more teams to climb over(same for Tampa Bay). Sure, it could happen. If anything, we have learned over the years that it’s not over until a spot is locked up. This might be the most interesting race to follow over the next seven weeks and one that could fluxuate quite a bit between now and then. Obviously us Royals fans are hoping that 29 years of playoff-less baseball ends this year, but there are no guarantees. Any of these four teams could grasp that last spot and play either the Angels or A’s for the one game playoff. None of these teams stand out above another, but the team that can play the most consistent over the rest of the season will probably be the team there at the end. At the very least it will be a fun seven weeks to cheer on your team if you are in Kansas City, Toronto, New York or Seattle. It will also be stomach churning at times. All this for October baseball. You gotta love it!