The playoff drama of September is now focused on the American League where Cleveland and Baltimore are 1.5 games behind Tampa Bay and New York and Kansas CIty are 3 and 4 games back. This drama is created by the new format that adds a one game playoff between the two top non-division winners for what has been the lone wild card position. I wrote hereearlier that the schedule favors the Yankees, but they have faltered and have only gained a half game since August 23. Kansas City finishes with seven games against Chicago and Seattle, but may be a game or two too far back to close the gap. Baltimore plays three against the Yankees this week and then Boston six times and the resurgent Blue Jays (8-2 over the last ten) six times with three against Tampa Bay. There is no easy road there.
The lesson here is that although it is possible to close a gap in a few weeks, the gap was caused by the way a team played for 135 games, and it is unlikely to change very much in the last 27. So, too, is the lead a team has earned. A team must collapse to lose a long developed lead. I still think the Yankees can make it to the wild card due to the schedule, but they must dominate the lesser teams and they lost 3 of 4 to the Red Sox where a split was necessary, but they swept three against the White Sox. Playing the top teams even and dominating those below is the secret here. The reason the schedule favors the Yankees is that when they finish with Baltimore and Boston next Sunday, they play last place teams twelve straight to end the season. If they are 4-2 or 3-3 with Baltimore and Boston, they can be 9-3, or 8-4 with the lesser teams. It will still be close.
Cleveland has a similar chore, and plays thirteen times against sub .500 teams to end the season, with five more with KC whom they beat yesterday, as well. Cleveland may, in fact, have a slight edge over the Yankees in this race to the wild card.
Of course, all is pure conjecture if Tampa Bay plays well as wild card pretenders trail this team in the standings. TB plays six of twenty against sub .500 teams. If they split with Boston, Baltimore and NYY, and dominate 6-0, 5-1 or 4-2 against Minnesota and Toronto, they will win. It will be interestng and that is why our interest remains.
The real race is to avoid ignominy by finishing last. In the NL Central, San DIego, San Francisco, and Colorado are one game apart for last. All of these teams have tough teams to play going forward with the final series of San Diego at San Fransico likely determining the loser.
“It ain’t over ’til its over,” said Yogi Berra, the sage of baseball lore. So true. It will come down to who throws and fields the best, as it has for the first 140 games of the season.