It’s a wild, wild, Wild Card race

On Friday, 3 September, the Yankees were a game and a half ahead of the Red Sox in the Wild Card standings and seven games ahead of the Blue Jays, who, let’s be honest, looked out of it. We were already salivating over a Chris Sale vs. Gerrit Cole Wild Card game.

A week is a long time in politics, but even longer in baseball. With 20 games of the regular season remaining, New York and Toronto are tied just one game behind Boston in the race for AL Wild Card spots. All three teams have 63 losses.

And just two games further back sit the two west coast paupers from Oakland and Seattle. With three games covering five teams, this race is closer than at the start of the month.

The expanded playoffs of 2020 were a one-off, so we are back to five teams from each league reaching the postseason: three division winners, plus two wild card teams who will meet for a win-or-go-home Wild Card game on the 5th or 6th October.

If the season finished today, we would have the exciting prospect of the Blue Jays facing off against the Yankees in Game 163 before taking on the Red Sox the following day in the Wild Card game, with the winners progressing to a best-of-five series against the Rays.

But that is looking too far ahead. The Blue Jays are the hottest team in MLB, having won 13 of their last 15 games and have a +152 run differential (compared to +53 for Boston or +28 for New York). Toronto could easily find themselves a couple of games ahead of the two juggernauts by next weekend. That said, an .867 winning percentage over the last 15 games is not sustainable, so perhaps the Blue Jays will be out of contention by this time next week.

The Yankees are trending in the other direction, with 11 defeats over their last 15 games, but seriously, who is counting New York out? Although, I’m pretty sure someone predicted they would miss the playoffs.

Writing off Oakland or Seattle seems foolish and smacks East coast bias, although Fangraphs sees neither team having a better than 7% chance of reaching the Wild Card. The A’s and Mariners play each other seven times over the final 22 days. It is easy to see one team winning six out of seven to catapult themselves above the AL East contenders.

The race in the NL is arguably more exciting, with the division title in the NL West still up for grabs. Currently, San Francisco holds a 2½ game lead over their rivals from Los Angeles, with both teams far ahead of the other Wild Card contenders. With the reward for the division champions being a best-of-five postseason series rather than the crapshoot of a one-off game, we will enjoy both teams pushing each other for the next three weeks.

The Dodgers have the easier schedule with six games against the Diamondbacks and three against the Rockies before finishing with a series against the probable NL Central champions from Milwaukee, who will have their attention focused on the NLDS. The Giants, remarkably, still have to face the Padres 10 times before the end of the season.

So, one of the Dodgers or Giants will win the division, and the other will play in the Wild Card game. Their opponents in the one-off shootout will be either the Padres, Reds, Cardinals, Braves, Phillies, or Mets.

One of the NL East trio of Braves, Phillies or Mets will clinch the division. Atlanta is in the strongest position at the moment with a 3½ game lead over the Phillies and a five-game lead over the Mets.

All of the sextet of contenders for the second Wild Card spot are spluttering, with none of the teams have a winning record over their last 10 games. Who will seize the opportunity?

If the season finished today, the Reds would face the Padres in Game 163, with the winners travelling to play the Dodgers in the Wild Card game before getting a shot at the Giants in the NLDS.

Cincinnati looks to have the easiest schedule, with nine games against the Pirates and four against the Nationals, but maybe complacency has led to September series defeats at the hands of the Tigers and Cubs.

The Padres have the toughest finish to the season with all 20 games against contenders, including 10 against the Giants.

Statistically, the softest schedule belongs to the Phillies, who play the Pirates, Marlins and Orioles a total of 10 times, but also have to face division rivals Mets and Braves a combined six.

Given their ability to dominate baseball news, I’m not counting out the Mets. A Blue Jays-style run of 13 wins over the next 15 games could have them, full of momentum, face the current World Series champions in a one-off Wild Card game. That feels like a Mets’ storyline.

I don’t see the point of power rankings except to provoke conversation, and I strongly disagree with ESPN ranking the Cardinals last among the six contenders for the second Wild Card spot. The franchise has a proven track record of reaching the postseason, and two wins against the Dodgers and one against the Reds in the Cardinals’ last four games suggest they are hitting top form at the right time.



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