When Major League Baseball expanded the playoffs last season to include an additional wild card slot, it opened the doors for a few teams usually sitting on the outside to sneak into the playoffs. This season, there are a few teams in the American League like the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians, who are outside of the wild card hunt. But with a month left in the season, they have time to steal a spot. For the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics, the two teams currently holding those spots, the playoffs begin now.
The Rays and Athletics are both playing .500 ball over the past ten games, opening the door for a surging team like the Yankees to make up ground in their pursuit of a playoff spot — a feat they’ve failed to accomplish only once since 1996. The Yankees are 7-3 in their past ten games and are 4.5 games back of the second wild card spot — but they finally have their offense in order. The trade for Alfonso Soriano sparked the offense while the returns of injured players Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez have made the Yankees’ lineup into a more recognizable list. The Yankees’ pitching has been great all season and they have the experience to pull off the comeback. However, seven games against the Orioles and seven games against the Red Sox will make or break their pursuit.
If there is to be any shuffling of the AL wild card battle, the likeliest candidate to do it is the Cleveland Indians. They sit three games behind the Oakland Athletics but have a cake schedule to finish the season. After two difficult series to begin the month against the Detroit Tigers on the road and the Orioles at home, the Indians will play some of the worst teams in baseball: six games against the White Sox, in second-to-last place with a 55-76 record; four games against the Minnesota Twins , who at 57-73 are 2.5 games better than the White Sox; four games against the worst team in baseball, the Houston Astros. The Indians also play the 59-71 New York Mets of the National League three times. In short, 14 of their 27 games in September are against the three worst American League teams and a Mets team that has pulled the plug after the loss of Matt Harvey.
The Baltimore Orioles might have hit their most difficult stretch of the season at the worst time. While they’re only 3.5 games back of the Athletics, the end of their schedule features eight games against the Red Sox, seven games against the Yankees, four against the Rays and six against the Toronto Blue Jays — all AL East rivals. They also have the three-game set with the Indians to begin the month, so winning that series could help the Orioles pull ahead of Terry Francona’s team, but it won’t be an easy series to win.
The Indians have been on the bubble all season long and have put themselves in perfect position to snag a playoff spot. The Indians, over the Yankees and Orioles, will snag the wild card spot from the Ray’s who have the unfortunate reality of playing in baseball’s toughest division. This would be good for baseball and good for Francona, especially if a showdown in the ALDS between him and his former Red Sox squad occurs.