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Handicapping the wild, wild wild-card race in the American League

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

The Rays have the lead. The Indians have the schedule.

The Orioles have the power. The Yankees have the experience.

The Royals? For the first time in years, they have hope.

And us? We have only one real in-or-out race for a playoff spot, but at least it's a good one.

A great one, potentially. A wild, wild race for a wild-card spot, with three weeks to go and five teams still alive.

As of Monday, the computers at coolstandings.com gave none of the five teams as much as a 50 percent chance of winning. And even the Royals were given an 8.5 percent chance -- basically a one-in-12 shot.

Compare that to the National League, where the five playoff spots were so locked up that every team was at least 98.5 percent certain of closing it out. Compare that to the other four spots in the AL, where the Rangers were given a 91.9 percent chance, and the Red Sox, Tigers and A's were all at 98.9 percent or better.

The National League Central isn't settled. Neither is the American League West. But as important as winning a division is, all those teams will be playing in October.

Only one of these five will make it.

But which one will it be?

1. Rays

Record: 78-64.

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (14): 3 vs. Red Sox, 4 vs. Rangers, 4 vs. Orioles, 3 at Yankees.

Games vs. non-contenders (6): 3 at Twins, 3 at Blue Jays.

Their offense is struggling, as it sometimes does. The Rays have lost 11 of 15, in large part because they've scored an MLB-low 41 runs in those 15 games. But their rotation always gives them a chance, even against the best teams, which is why all those teams that are already in the playoffs have to be hoping that the Rays will be out. Do you want to face David Price and Matt Moore twice in a short series (or in a one-game wild-card playoff)?

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 47.1. Baseballprospectus.com: 67.9 percent*.

CBSSports.com projection: After a tough trip west, they come home and get healthy. Even with the tough schedule, they hang on.

2. Indians

Record: 77-66, 1 1/2 games behind.

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (5): 2 vs. Royals, 3 at Royals.

Games vs. non-contenders (14): 4 at White Sox, 4 vs. Astros, 2 vs. White Sox, 4 at Twins.

The easy schedule makes them easy to like. The way Ubaldo Jimenez pitched in Monday's 4-3 win over the Royals, and the way Scott Kazmir pitched over the weekend against the Mets, makes it easier to believe. But Justin Masterson is hurt, and may not make it back before the end of the season. And the Indians' lineup is still one big hitter short. Still, what a story it would be if Terry Francona leads their September charge, and if it eventually gets him an October date at Fenway Park.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 36.0. Baseballprospectus.com: 19.6.

CBSSports.com projection: All year, the Indians have looked good, but just (by a hair) not good enough. They stay in it until the final weekend, but can't overtake Rays.

3. Orioles

Record: 77-66, 1 1/2 games behind.

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (13): 3 vs. Yankees, 3 at Red Sox, 4 at Rays, 3 vs. Red Sox.

Games vs. non-contenders (6): 3 at Blue Jays, 3 vs. Blue Jays.

Chris Tillman pitched like an ace Monday night against the Yankees. Scott Feldman threw a shutout last Friday against the White Sox. But the fact is that only the Astros, Blue Jays and Twins have a higher rotation ERA than the Orioles. Last year's Orioles made up for shaky starting pitching by winning every one-run game and every extra-inning game. This year's Orioles haven't been as fortunate. But that power (they lead the majors in home runs) and defense (they could set a record for fewest errors) gives them a chance.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 16.5. Baseballprospectus.com: 10.5.

CBSSports.com projection: We've learned over the past two years not to count this team out, but we've known forever that a team 27th in rotation ERA doesn't win.

4. Yankees

Record: 76-68, 3 games behind.

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (9): 3 at Orioles, 3 at Red Sox, 3 vs. Rays.

Games vs. non-contenders (9): 3 at Blue Jays, 3 vs. Giants, 3 at Astros.

If they can stay alive for another week, maybe those nine games against last-place teams could save them. Don't count on it. The Yankees have been piecing this together all year, and a big reason they could is that they rarely lost a game when they took a lead. But now their bullpen is beat up, with David Robertson and Boone Logan out, and everyone tired from overuse. And the starting rotation can't give them enough innings to take the pressure off.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 6.2. Baseballprospectus.com: 6.9.

CBSSports.com projection: Forget it. They had their run. They had their fun. For just the second time since the 1994 strike, they're spending October at home.

5. Royals

Record: 75-69, 4 games behind.

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (11): 2 at Indians, 3 at Tigers, 3 vs. Indians, 3 vs. Rangers.

Games vs. non-contenders (7): 3 at Mariners, 4 at White Sox.

General manager Dayton Moore always said he was aiming for 2014, and after the Royals went 8-20 in May, there was never much chance of getting there a year early. But the Royals' late run can only be good for a still-developing team, and with a decent offseason, they'll be a more popular pick next year.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 4.9. Baseballprospectus.com: 1.7.

CBSSports.com projection: Meaningful games in September (for the first time in 10 years)! But, alas, no playoff games in October (for the 28th straight year).

*coolstandings.com percentages are through Monday's games. Baseball prospectus percentages are through Sunday.

 
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