If the MLB postseason were to start today, the American League West would feature three playoff teams. The Seattle Mariners would win the division, while the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros would grab the last two AL Wild Card spots (each only trailing the M’s by one game).
Texas would be heading to Minnesota to face the Twins, while the Rays would welcome the Astros at Tropicana Field for a three-game set. The Orioles and Mariners would each get a first-round bye and wait for the eventual Wild Card Series victors to travel up their way.
However, with roughly a month left in the schedule, the AL Wild Card is far from finalized. The Toronto Blue Jays are the fourth team in the mix, and they are only out of a playoff spot by 1.5 games.
With so many great teams vying for limited postseason spots and plenty of head-to-head matchups left to play, this will surely be a battle to the very end. Once we get into October, one really good team is going to have their season cut short.
The Battle in the AL West
The level of competition in the AL West took a hit when the Los Angeles Angels threw in the towel, but each team will still play some intradivision series that could have huge playoff implications.
The Mariners will face the Rangers and Astros over the last 10 games of the season (seven against Texas, three against Houston), while the Astros and Rangers will face off three more times starting this Monday.
Considering the Mariners currently hold a slight lead in the division, these intradivision games will have a sizeable impact on the AL West standings, as well as any potential tiebreakers that may be needed to determine who shuffles down to the Wild Card or potentially out of the playoffs entirely.
Out of these three clubs, the Mariners have been the hottest as of late, while the Rangers are trending in the wrong direction; they’ve won only four of their last 10 games, and they fell from the top of the division last week. Should this trend continue, the Rangers’ biggest threat might not come from within the AL West but instead from a familiar playoff foe.
The Blue Jays Aren’t Backing Down
Unless the Boston Red Sox make a shocking comeback here in September, the biggest threat to any teams in the AL West and their playoff aspirations will be the Blue Jays, who have to run their own division gauntlet to finish out the season.
The Rays hold the first Wild Card spot by 6.5 games, so unless they really falter, they will be playing baseball in October. The Orioles are only 2.5 games ahead of the Rays, so there is a chance that the two could swap spots down the stretch, but overall, unless something drastic happens to either club, they are both shaping up to make the postseason in some capacity.
The Blue Jays are the team that can make things most interesting down the stretch, as they are right in the thick of the Wild Card race, sitting just on the outside looking in.
There is a potential scenario in which one of the AL West teams falls behind the Jays by the end of the season. Alternatively, tiebreaker scenarios could be crucial to playoff survival, as the Mariners currently hold the edge over the Jays but the Astros do not, dropping four of seven this season against Toronto.
The Rangers still have an important four-game series later this month against the Blue Jays. Toronto will need to take three of those games to finish with a 4-3 season series record and gain the upper hand. This series will have important implications for each team in the Wild Card race.
FanGraphs currently has the following odds for each team to make the playoffs:
- Houston – 88.5%
- Seattle – 86.3%
- Texas – 67.6%
- Toronto – 51.8%
At the end of the day, the AL West is shaping up to be one of the tightest division races. The three contenders have somewhat similar schedules, although Houston will face a few weaker teams than their divisional counterparts (the Athletics and the Yankees).
The Blue Jays are a team that could shake up the standings as well, considering they are facing some weaker clubs in their schedule (the A’s and the Royals) before they face Texas and their AL East rivals to finish the year.
It’s anybody’s game through the last month of the season. The AL Wild Card race could come down to the very end.