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Handicapping the AL wild card: A week later, it's still not clear

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

After a winless week at home, the Rangers are in serious danger of missing October. (USATSI)
After a winless week at home, the Rangers are in serious danger of missing October. (USATSI)

It's not who you're playing. It's how you're playing.

Yeah, right.

The Yankees' season would be in trouble even if they didn't just finish seven games (and six losses) in 11 days against the Red Sox. The Rangers would have their winless week at home even if they'd been playing two last-place teams, instead of two first-place teams.

You sure about that?

Just this past weekend, the three American League wild-card contenders who were matched up against first-place teams went 1-8. The three that were matched up against teams with losing records went 8-2.

So no, the schedule has absolutely nothing to do with it -- or maybe it does, just a little.

Have teams in the past lost because they flopped against last-place teams down the stretch? Sure. But give me a choice between teams that are even in the standings and I'll take the team with the easy schedule.

So with a week's more evidence after the first time we handicapped the AL wild-card race, I'm taking the Indians to win one of the two spots.

A week ago, I didn't even include the Rangers, because it felt like they were still too far ahead of the other contenders, and weren't in danger of losing one of the two spots. With a winless week at home, the Rangers emphatically proved me wrong.

With two weeks to go, the Rangers are still tied with the Rays atop the wild-card standings. They still have a real chance to earn one of the two spots, but it's no longer anything close to guaranteed.

Instead of five teams for one spot, it's six teams for two spots, with three teams holding the inside track and three on the outside but with an outside shot at still getting in.

So let's try this again, a second shot at projecting how it will go as the AL wild-card race goes down to the wire:

1. Indians

Record: 81-68, 1/2 game behind

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (3): Three at Royals

Games vs. non-contenders (10): Four vs. Astros, two vs. White Sox, four at Twins

If they win Monday night, the Indians will move past the loser of the Rangers-Rays game and into one of the two wild-card spots. And since the Indians have already proven that they can beat up on bad teams -- they're 13-2 in their last 15 games against sub-.500 teams -- the finish against the Astros, White Sox and Twins could provide all the wins they need.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 69.9 percent Baseballprospectus.com: 36.7 percent*

CBSSports.com projection: Terry Francona's 2011 Red Sox were such a mess that they couldn't take advantage even when the schedule favored them. Francona's 2013 Indians aren't a mess. If they don't slip up in Kansas City, they could well end up with the first wild-card spot and a chance to host the play-in game and perhaps win a chance to send Francona back to Fenway for the Division Series.

2. Rays

Record: 81-67, tied for the lead

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (11): Four Rangers, four vs. Orioles, three at Yankees.

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

By the numbers, the schedule is tough. But the Rays get the Rangers and the Orioles at home, and perhaps they'll be playing the beat-up Yankees at the right time.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 53.0

Baseballprospectus.com: 78.6*

CBSSports.com projection: The Rays let one get away Sunday in Minnesota, and their lineup still isn't really clicking. But the strong rotation gives them a chance every night, and the guess here is that they win just enough to get in.

3. Rangers

Record: 81-67, tied for the lead

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (7): Four at Rays, three at Royals

Games vs. non-contenders (7): Three vs. Astros, four vs. Angels

Even in their winless week, the Rangers were in every game. But this team has a bad feel about it right now, and it can't be encouraging that in a now-crucial series at Tampa Bay, the Rangers will start the struggling Matt Garza in the first game and use the bullpen to cover the second one.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 56.6

Baseballprospectus.com: 67.0*

CBSSports.com projection: The Rangers look like a team in trouble, and even what seems to be an easy final week might not be enough to save them. Josh Hamilton will be back in Arlington for the final four games of the season, but it's more and more possible that his former team will join his current team on the October sidelines.

4. Royals

Record: 78-71, 3 1/2 games behind

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (6): Three vs. Indians, three vs. Rangers

Games vs. non-contenders (7): Three at Mariners, four at White Sox

They get the six tough games at home, and they get the awful White Sox for four games at the end. And they've stayed alive (just barely) by going 5-4 in a stretch where they faced the Tigers six times and the Indians three.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 8.1

Baseballprospectus.com: 4.6*

CBSSports.com projection: They need a huge week at home against the Indians and Rangers, because they need to pass two of the three teams ahead of them and time is running out. Most likely, time will run out, but the young Royals will have great experience to take into 2014.

5. Yankees

Record: 79-71, 3 games behind

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (3): Three vs. Rays

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

The schedule is in their favor, but the standings aren't. The good news is that they're 8-1 in their last nine games against anyone but the Red Sox, and they don't play the Red Sox again. The bad news is that they look beat up and worn out.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 6.5

Baseballprospectus.com: 6.9*

CBSSports.com projection: Remember when Joe Girardi said he thought the Yankees would need 93 wins? Even if they go 12-0 the rest of the way, they'd end up with 91. As it turns out, 91 might be enough -- but the Yankees won't even get there.

6. Orioles

Record: 79-70, 2 1/2 games behind

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (10): Three at Red Sox, four at Rays, three vs. Red Sox.

Games vs. non-contenders (3): Three vs. Blue Jays

Last year the Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games. This year: 16-28. Last year they won 93 games and made the playoffs. This year they've won 79, and they still have six games left against the Red Sox.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 5.9

Baseballprospectus.com: 3.0*

CBSSports.com projection: They have six of their last 13 games against the Red Sox? They need to make up 2 1/2 games and jump over at least two teams? Not going to happen.

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

 
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