Two expected titans are letting three expected bottom-feeders hang around in contention. It's a perfect illustration of just how crazy baseball can be in a 60-game sprint that allows eight playoff teams per league.
Heading into the season, the most popular World Series pick was Dodgers vs. Yankees. Many lumped the Astros in with those two to form the trio that was expected to dominate baseball this year. They entered the unusual season as the top three World Series favorites. We even ran a roundtable asking the question on if we'd bet on one of those three teams winning the 2020 title or would we take the field (for the record, in this scenario you still have a good bet in the Dodgers, no matter what transpires the rest of the regular season). That's just how much everyone expected these to be the three best teams in baseball.
By the same token, even with the expanded playoffs, it was pretty well established that the expected non-contending teams would be the Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Mariners, Marlins and Pirates. Let's give a hat-tip to the Marlins on the NL side for being in playoff position at present before we move onto the AL.
The New York Yankees and Houston Astros, in the year 2020, are letting the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners hang around in contention. We have to give credit to the players on the latter three teams for pushing the supposed-titans, of course, but all three front offices sold pieces at the trade deadline instead of adding.
And yet, they persist.
My colleague Mike Axisa laid out in detail the Yankees' struggles and then they lost again on Tuesday. They have now lost 15 of their last 20 games after looking the part of the best team in baseball -- or at least the AL -- for several weeks. I think Luke Voit summed it up best about their incredible lack of swagger these last 20 games.
"I feel like teams aren't really scared of us right now and it's kind of a sad thing because we're the New York Yankees," he said postgame (via NJ.com's Brendan Kuty).
Not to be outdone, the Astros lost six straight before finally breaking through and winning the nightcap of a doubleheader in Oakland on Tuesday. They are in better shape than the Yankees, but not by a big margin.
The Yankees are in third place in the AL East, essentially out of the race for first now with a 6.5-game deficit and only 18 games to play. They are three games behind the surging Blue Jays. They trail whatever team finishes third in the AL Central by a healthy margin, which means they could well be fighting for the eight seed.
Speaking of which, the Orioles pummeled the Mets, 11-2, on Tuesday. The Tigers dominated the Brewers for an 8-3 win (the Brewers tacked on all three of their runs in the ninth). The Orioles have won four in a row and six of eight. The Tigers' run is more modest (just two of three), though they recently won seven straight over the Cubs (two), Twins (four) and Brewers (one).
Meanwhile, out West, the Mariners have won 11 of 15 and are within striking distance of second and also the last Wild Card spot.
Here's where it stands right now for the eight seed in the AL:
8. Yankees, 21-21
9. Orioles, 20-21, 1/2 GB
10. Tigers, 19-21, 1 GB
11. Mariners, 19-23, 2 GB
Back to the AL West, here's where second place stands:
2. Astros, 22-21
3. Mariners, 19-23, 2 1/2 GB
Things looked at lot worse early on Tuesday night. The Mariners broke out to an early lead while the Astros were down 4-0 in the top of the fourth in a seven-inning game. Had those results held, it would've been just a half-game margin.
Also, keep in mind both teams have to be considered in the race for the eight seed as well. It's possible both the Astros and Mariners make it, but it's not possible for both to miss. Thanks to the rule of each division getting two in, it's either both of these teams or one of these teams and one of the Yankees/Orioles/Tigers group.
Here's the remaining schedule for each team in this AL playoff mix.
- Yankees - 1 @ TOR; 4 vs. BAL; 3 vs. TOR; 3 @ BOS; 4 @ TOR; 3 vs. MIA
- Astros - 2 @ OAK; 2 @ LAD; 3 vs. TEX; 3 vs. ARI; 3 @ SEA; 4 @ TEX
- Orioles - 1 @NYM; 4 @ NYY; 3 vs. ATL; 5 vs. TBR; 3 @ BOS; 3 @ TOR
- Mariners - 1 @ SFG; 3 @ ARI; 2 vs. OAK; 2 vs. SFG; 2 vs. SDP; 3 vs. HOU; 4 @ OAK
- Tigers - 1 vs. MIL; 2 @ STL; 3 @ CHW; 2 vs. KCR; 4 vs. CLE; 2 @ MIN; 4 @ KCR
Some big head-to-heads in there. For example, 2 1/2 might not seem that close, but the Mariners get three chances against the Astros at home in the last week.
Who ya got? Surely it's the Astros and Yankees, right? Anything can happen, though, as we've seen so far. No one -- not even their biggest naysayers -- expected either powerhouse team to be fighting for one of eight playoff spots in the American League.