The American League divisions seem to be settled. Boston and Cleveland hold 4.5-game leads over their nearest rival, and while far from insurmountable, their competition aren’t showing the consistency required to mount a series challenge. Meanwhile, the Houston Astros had their division wrapped up a long time ago and hold an 11.5-game lead out west.
The Wild Card, however, remains a mess. The Yankees hold a 2.5-game lead in the first spot and the Minnesota Twins hold the second spot, but there are four teams within three games of the Twins who can strike in a heartbeat. So, who will play game #163 to try to get themselves into the division series?
New York Yankees
The Yankees have blown hot and cold since the All-Star break, and with Aaron Judge falling off a cliff it has been a rough time for the Yankees. The massive outfielder has hit just .176 since the break, with seven homers and a massive 58 strikeouts.
Fortunately, Gary Sanchez has picked up the slack a little, and Aaron Hicks has returned to the lineup, but with a bullpen that has gone from “brilliant” to “ok”, they haven’t been able to hold onto the Red Sox in the East.
Their 2.5 game lead in the Wild Card race is fairly secure given their competition. They would be disappointed if they fail to host game #163 come September.
The current holders the second spot are far from secure. A 65-60 record is nice, but their roster is shaky. While Byron Buxton has finally found his groove at the plate and Brian Dozier has been on form, they have lost Miguel Sano to the DL, and while their recent sweep of the Diamondbacks was great, their pitching leaves a lot to be desired. Their post All-Star break ERA is 4.21 (11th) but well off that of some of the teams that are chasing them.
With 13 games against their immediate competition still on the slate, they need to tighten up their run prevention if they want to hold onto their slim lead.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels are on a 10-3 run at the moment and, as a result, sit half a game back of the Twins. It would be wrong to pin everything to the return of Mike Trout, but the All-Star outfielder is hitting .331 since his return and the Angels are 21-14.
The Angels pitching has improved a lot in the second half. Parker Bridwell, Tyler Skaggs, and JC Ramirez have been reliable starters while Eduardo Paredes, Blake Parker, and Yusmeiro Petit have been terrific coming out of the bullpen. The improved run prevention has fueled their push into the heart of the Wild Card race and bodes well for the rest of the season.
Kansas City Royals
KC’s push has stalled somewhat, but they are just 1.5 games back of the Twins. A 2-11 start to August knocked them off the top of the wild card heap, but they can climb their way back. The Royals have seven games against the Twins in September and six more against the hapless White Sox. The Royals’ bullpen has been strong in the second half, and the bats of Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer have all impressed.
A forgotten name in this playoff hunt, the Mariners have refused to go away this season. Despite being swept by the Angels, Seattle are just two games back of the Twins. New addition Yonder Alonso has hit .298 in his 13 games for the Mariners, both Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano have been in fine form and James Paxton has looked like a Cy Young candidate in his six starts in the second half.
The Rangers sit one-game under .500, and yet they are just three games back of the Twins. They have the best run differential (+28) of the chasing pack, thanks in part to the impressive second halves of Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Shin-Soo Choo. They are also getting good production out of Joey Gallo, who has added more average to his power. Losing Yu Darvish hurts, but Andrew Cashner is finding his form again and Cole Hamels is still solid.
Who wins the Wild Card spots?
The Yankees are fairly safe. With the likes of Luis Severino anchoring the rotation and, despite Aroldis Chapman’s struggles, a strong bullpen they have the run prevention that can hold a lead against such inconsistent opposition.
So if they take the first spot who takes the second? Well, my pick is the Angels.
Mike Trout’s brilliance, combined with a coming-out season for Andrelton Simmons and a strong second-half from Ben Revere and CJ Cron, has given the lineup enough pop to compete. The emergence of some stable pitching is providing a firm base from which to attack the standings, but the problem for the Angels is their remaining schedule.
They face Texas two more times this week and then six times in September. They also have six games against the Mariners and nine against the superb Houston Astros. That’s 23 of 36 remaining games against the best team in the American League or teams directly contending with.
They are the best team in this race, but the schedule may well end up being too much. I hope it isn’t though, because Mike Trout deserves the playoffs, and baseball needs him in the postseason.
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