Handicapping the AL wild card: Schedule aided the Indians

Joe Flacco (USATSI)
James Loney hits a walk-off HR for the Rays on Monday. (USATSI)

Over the last eight weeks, the Indians have played four series against teams that will be in the playoffs.

They won none of them.

They played the Tigers. They played the A's. They played the Braves. They played 13 games against baseball's elite teams, and won two of them.

That doesn't bode well for how the Indians will fare in October. It won't keep them from getting there.

Because the Indians are 50-18 against teams with losing records, and because their final-week schedule sets them up with six more games against lousy teams (two against the White Sox, four against the Twins), they're the best bet of anyone to be in next week's American League wild-card game.

Heck, there's a real chance they'll host it.

You can argue that it's not fair, as my good friend Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports did in a column posted Monday. The Orioles have played 10 more games against teams with winning records than the Indians have, with three more against the Red Sox coming this week.

Kenny's right. An unbalanced schedule will never be fair to teams competing for the wild card. But it's also much better for fairly determining division winners. You can't have everything.

The only way to make things totally fair would be to have no divisions, no interleague play and a completely balanced schedule. And that's not happening.

The Orioles couldn't overcome the schedule (in part because they've gone just 32-26 against the losers they've played). The Indians have taken advantage of theirs.

And with six games to go in the wild American League wild-card race, we finally have some clarity.

A look at who's in the best position in the final week:

1. Indians

Record: 86-70, 2nd wild card, 1 game behind Rays.

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (0): none.

Games vs. non-contenders (6): Two vs. White Sox, four at Twins.

The Indians are 15-2 against the White Sox. Even Chris Sale hasn't been a problem; he's 0-4 with an 8.61 ERA in four starts against Cleveland. The Indians lose the tie-breaker to the Rays, who won four of six in the season series, so they'd need to finish ahead of the Rays to host the wild-card game. With their schedule, it could happen.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 81.1 percent.

Baseballprospectus.com: 63.3 percent.

CBSSports.com projection: They've beaten up on bad teams all year. No reason they can't do it this week. They should be in.

2. Rays

Record: 87-69, 1st wild card.

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

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

What a weekend for the Rays against the Orioles. Four straight wins, the first in 18 innings and the last on James Loney's walkoff home run early Monday evening. The Rays got another break Monday, when the Yankees announced that a hamstring strain will knock CC Sabathia out of this week's series in New York. The Yankees are nearly done, but they're still a more dangerous opponent than either the White Sox or Twins.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 81.0 percent.

Baseballprospectus.com: 92.6 percent.

CBSSports.com projection: As close as it's been, the Rays have held on in a playoff position every day since July 5. No reason to think it changes this week.

3. Rangers

Record: 85-71, 1 game out.

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (0): none.

Games vs. non-contenders (6): Two vs. Astros, four vs. Angels.

The Rangers' September slide finally dropped them out of a playoff spot over the weekend. They're not done yet, and Monday night's 12-0 win over the Astros left them just one game behind the Indians and two games behind the Rays. The schedule the rest of this week could help, but the Rangers haven't been great at home, and the Angels look more dangerous than their record.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 33.2 percent.

Baseballprospectus.com: 42.2 percent.

CBSSports.com projection: The way this month has gone, there's a better chance that the Rangers go 2-4 than 4-2 the rest of the week. And even 4-2 might not be enough.

4. Royals

Record: 83-73, 3 games out.

Games remaining vs. playoff contenders (0): none

Games vs. non-contenders (6): Two at Mariners, four at White Sox.

They're done, but we're still including them because after two decades without a pennant race, they deserve to be mentioned until officially eliminated.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 3.9 percent.

Baseballprospectus.com: 1.5 percent.

CBSSports.com projection: With the right moves, they're a playoff team in 2014. And the experience of this September will do nothing but help.

5. Yankees

Record: 82-74, 4 games out.

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

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

They're done, but we're still including them because after two decades where they've almost always been in the playoffs, they deserve to be mentioned until officially eliminated.

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: 0.6 percent.

Baseballprospectus.com: 0.3 percent.

CBSSports.com projection: They're missing the playoffs this year, for the first time since 2008 and the second time since the 1994 strike. Better question: When do they make it again?

6. Orioles

Record: 81-75, 5 games out.

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

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

They're done, but we're still including them because they had a nice year (and because we feel so bad about the Manny Machado injury).

Coolstandings.com percentage of winning: less than 0.1 percent.

Baseballprospectus.com: 0 percent.

CBSSports.com projection: The lost weekend against the Rays finished them. There will be no repeat of the 2012 magic.

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