The Wild Card is, as the cliché goes, anybody’s ballgame. The Tampa Bay Rays (83-68) own the coveted first spot to lose. Falling fast are the Texas Rangers (82-69), who just a week ago seemed to have a playoff spot sewn up and were a legitimate threat to the Oakland Athletics in the West. Four teams are within leap-frogging distance, however, as the Cleveland Indians (.5 Game Back), Baltimore Orioles (1GB), New York Yankees (2.5) and Kansas City Royals (3.5) are all vying to dethrone Tampa Bay.
Cleveland, by far, has the easiest schedule, and Baltimore, along with Tampa Bay, has the bumpiest road ahead.
The Yankees are also tough to count on, as their pitching ranks 26th in MLB in ERA since the All-Star break. Also, baseball would have huge karmic issues if Alex Rodriguez managed to make the postseason and have an impact. While Alfonso Soriano has been knocking the ball all over the yard, he only bats around four times per game. But their pitching can’t keep up. The loss of Brett Gardnere, their catalyst, is a high impact injury. Eliminate New York.
Baltimore hasn’t gotten much out of their deadline acquisition of Bud Norris, and their pitching continues to slide since the break as their 20th ranked pitching and Chris Davis’ cooling has corresponded with the team’s slide at the dish. Scoring late to beat Boston at home, the last two nights may have been a fluke. To further the worries, rookie Manny Machado seems to be struggling down the stretch. Though they are only a game out, five straight road games (one against Boston and four in Tampa), as well as six straight at home against Boston and the Toronto Blue Jays (who would love to play a spoiler), makes the trip to October extremely difficult for the Orioles.
The Indians’ hitting and pitching are mediocre, however, and it’s difficult to trust a rotation where the “Ace” is Justin Masterson, and the No. 2 pitcher’s name is Ubaldo Jimenez. Also, their best hitter, Jason Kipnis, is batting .282 and no one on their roster has over 17 dingers. While that all stands true, the Cleveland ball club plays the Houston Astros four times and the Chicago White Sox twice, all at home. Then they take a four-game road trip to play the Minnesota Twins. The average winning-percentage of those teams is .387 – blech. They may sneak into the playoffs purely based off how bad the team they have coming up.
The American League door is open for Kansas City! Choo Choo! You’re going to miss the bandtrain (which has been since updated from the bandwagon, which is so 1850)! Seriously, the last time Kansas City had this many opportunities, the west was still considered “The Frontier.” Kansas City plays sevem of their last 10 contests on the road this season, which is okay because they’ve been better on the road so far than at home in Kaufman Stadium. The league’s hottest team since the break for the midsummer classic, third in pitching and fourth in hitting, they will continue to torch through the American League and win the second Wild Card spot. They also mix their still-up-and-coming-but-not-yet-established young stars like Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Salvador Perez with seasoned veterans Ervin Santana, “Big Game” James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie. Having a 40-save guy in Greg Holland at the end of the bullpen doesn’t hurt either.
The leader, the Rays, have a potent rotation of David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer. Their veteran leader, Evan Longoria, has a big deal with the team and wills his team to win, now. The team is batting .256 (13th in the American League since the All-Star break) and has struggled as of late, but have willed themselves to a 6-4 record in their last 10 games. Their road record during this 2013 campaign sits at a sub-par 34-38 (as opposed to their 44-26 home record), plus they play four more games on the road in September. The season concludes with a tough, six game intra-divisional road trip to conclude the season.
As far as the Texas Rangers go, all signs point up. Elvis Andrus continues to shine and Yu Darvish continues to make batters sit down after striking out. Playing five games on the road (one against the Rays and four against Kansas City) poses a large challenge, but a seven-game homestand to conclude the season against the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim doesn’t seem too tough.
Picks: Cleveland and Kansas City