Dynamics of the AL Wildcard Race
AL WILDCARD RACE STILL WIDE OPEN BECAUSE CONTENDERS HAVE TOUGH SCHEDULES
Wednesday's schedule in the American League looks like it was drawn up for maximum drama by the powers that be. This is particularly true for the intense Wildcard race that currently has six legitimate threats fighting for the two playoff spots that don't got to divisional winners. Four of those six teams play each other, and the other two are on the road against probable but vulnerable divisional winners.
Here's the schedule:
1: 05 p.m. ET: Baltimore at the NY Yankees (televised by MLB Network)
The Orioles have righted their ship recently and are still in the thick of the Wildcard picture. It's always tough to try and win in the Bronx. But, New York has been in a slump recently thanks to injuries and general fatigue. It's still too early to think about the Yankees blowing the AL East. They've got plenty of margin for error. Baltimore doesn't, and needs to win right now to stay alive in the Wildcard picture.
3:35 p.m. ET: Tampa Bay at Oakland
Oakland's incredible July has taken them from way off the pace to the front of the Wildcard race! It wouldn't have seemed possible back in June. But this hasn't been a fluke. Oakland has been posting amazing results vs. a tough schedule. Don't forget that they swept both the Yankees and Red Sox at home, then won road series against potential testers Toronto and Baltimore. Tampa Bay has been a disappointment, but still has time to vulture a playoff spot.
7:10 p.m. ET: Detroit at Boston (televised by ESPN)
Just like the game above, we have two Wildcard threats going head-to-head in a game that will have playoff intensity given the stakes. The Tigers have suffered a bit of a chill after a nice run. Boston was supposed to be a force in the AL this year, but has been flirting with the .500 mark all season long. They need to stop that flirting quick or the season is going to get away from them.
8:05 p.m. ET: LA Angels at Texas
You may have watched Monday Night's game on ESPN. You saw a Rangers team that's lost its swagger given pitching woes and the slump of Josh Hamilton. Though, he did start swinging the bat better in that game...which gives Texas hopes for getting things back in gear. The Halos join the O's on the list of Wildcard teams today who can break serve so to speak with road victories against divisional leaders. In the case of the Angels, they can also do some real damage to first place hopes for the Rangers as well. Big game!
What a schedule. As we look forward at how the AL Wildcard race might unfold, let's check on a few indicators. First, here are the standings through the games of Monday Night (because of publication deadlines). You'll see that a team like Boston clearly has a sense of urgency right now.
WILDCARD RACE (through Monday Night)
LA Angels 56-47
Tampa Bay 53-50
Only two Wildcard spots are available. At first glance, it would look like Oakland and the Angels have a cushion because they were 9-10 games over .500 after Monday's action while Baltimore and Detroit were only five games over the .500 mark. But, when you look at the remaining schedules, it's clear that the Tigers can surge up from off the radar.
Here are the average won-lost records for the teams left on each Wildcard contender's schedule as tabulated by the great Baseball-reference website. We'll use the order from above so you can see how the leaders compare to those chasing them.
STRENGTH OF REMAINING SCHEDULE
Oakland's opponents' average: 52-49
LA Angels' opponents' average: 52-50
Baltimore's opponents' average: 52-49
Detroit's opponents' average: 50-51
Tampa Bay's opponents' average: 53-49
Boston's opponents' average: 52-49
The Angels have it a little better than Oakland. But, only Detroit faces a losing slate going forward. That's a nice ace to have up a sleeve isn't it?! Tampa Bay and Boston have to surge from off the pace against a tough schedule. Oakland and LAA at least have the knowledge that only one team from behind them has anything resembling an easy path. Bottom line...these AL Wildcard spots are going to be EARNED.
Are there any bugs in the system we need to account for? Let's check on a few of our favorite stats for clearing out pollution. First...we'll account for any discrepancies in home/road splits with our pet creation Wins Minus Home Games Played. Here we'll go from best to worst.
WINS MINUS HOME GAMES PLAYED
LA Angels +4
Tampa Bay even
Big news there. Detroit's played a few more road games than home games at the moment. That gives them an additional ace in the sleeve because they'll have more home games than anyone else moving forward. Boston is even further off the pace than it seems because they've played a few extra home games. The stage is set for a strong Detroit close to be sure.
We'll wrap it up by erasing the results from everyone's schedule that are most attributed to good or bad luck (one-run games), and focus on what's happened in more one-sided games. This historically has been a very good indicator for quality because it's hard to win all of your nailbiters on purpose. Any team that's had good luck over their first 100 games will often seen that revert back the other direction over the last two months of action.
RECORDS IN GAMES DECIDED BY TWO RUNS OR MORE
LA Angels 49-35
Tampa Bay 36-34
Aren't you glad we did THAT exercise?! The Angels really jump out as a great team here. They've got just 7-12 in one-run games this year. On the other end of the spectrum, Baltimore is an amazing 20-6 in close games. There's just no way they can expect that kind of percentage to hold up over a full season. If not for great luck in close games, the Orioles wouldn't even be seen as a playoff threat. Pencil in a more realistic 13-13, and they fall seven games in the overall standings down to a Seattle-type level.
Let's sum up what we've learned:
LA ANGELS: Better than you realized, and their schedule is similar to most other contenders
OAKLAND: They have a head start like the Angels do, but must worry about Detroit catching them from behind.
DETROIT: Not just one, but TWO aces up their sleeves in terms of easier opposition and more home games moving forward. That gives them a chance to climb back into this thing.
TAMPA BAY AND BOSTON: Twin disappointments from a power division facing very similar tasks the rest of the way.
BALTIMORE: Probably an illusion in the race because they've had such good luck in close games.
Enjoy the big Wednesday slate. If you'd like some help picking day and night winners, you can purchase the best plays on the board from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK right here at the website. Be sure you take care of business EARLY today with all the day action (the sunlight slate also includes CWS/Minnesota, Pittsburgh/Chicago Cubs, and Arizona/Los Angeles Dodgers). If you have any questions about our service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on early-bird football when you call.
Back with you Thursday for more baseball. Looks like that will be a good day to run these same categories for the National League playoff picture. Contenders are in action Thursday afternoon and evening...then Pittsburgh visits Cincinnati for a huge series this weekend (which will be our Showcase Series in the NOTEBOOK on Friday!)
Football coverage resumes this weekend with our previews of the ACC Atlantic (including Florida State and Clemson) and ACC Coastal (including Virginia Tech and North Carolina) divisions. We'll start our NFL Divisional previews on Monday.
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