As the summer begins to wind down, the AL Wild Card race is heating up. It has also been shrunk down in quantity with a month and a half before the regular season’s end.
As the standings currently sit the Mariners hold the final spot by half a game over the Blue Jays, and are one and a half games behind the Astros for the second Wild Card slot, with the Red Sox lurking in the background sitting just three games out of the postseason picture.
What was originally a five team race for the final spot over an extensive time period is now down to three. And between Seattle and Toronto it is inevitable that one great team will be left watching from their couches in October.
The Angels And Yankees Have Exited Stage Left
It has been a season to forget for both of these clubs.
The Angels, despite being heavy buyers at the trade deadline to make one last-ditch effort to prove to Shohei Ohtani that they are capable of being a winning organization, are 5-13 since August 1 when the deadline passed.
Lucas Giolito has not been sharp, posting an 8.14 ERA in four starts, allowing three earned runs or more in each of his outings. Randal Grichuk and CJ Cron are not even hitting their weight, and the likes of Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon are still nowhere to be found.
As a result, the Angels are 61-64, now eight games back of the final Wild Card spot, and Ohtani, who continues to string together an unprecedented, Greek God type of season, seems like he is all but out the door in Anaheim.
The Yankees have underwhelmed for a majority of the season and have been a massive disappointment with their 11-22 record out of the All-Star Break. It has pushed them down to a 60-63 record, sitting eight games back of a playoff berth.
The Yankees have dealt with a plethora of injuries this year both in their lineup and rotation, none greater than Aaron Judge missing nearly two months in June and July with a torn ligament in his toe and having to play through the pain since returning from the IL.
They opted to stand pat at the deadline. They did not go out and add bats to augment a scuffling offense. They also did not ship off players such as Gleyber Torres or Clay Homes, two players who could have garnered impactful returns, to help build for 2024 and beyond.
Instead they decided to roll with the roster they have. And it has cost them.
Much like the Angels, New York has been sluggish since the end of the trade deadline, pushing themselves further and further away from contention with each passing day.
The Red Sox Are Not Done Yet
While they were one of the best offenses in baseball throughout the early going, the Red Sox have come back down to earth a little bit with their bats. They now rank 13th in the league as a team in WRC+ (103) and have had a rocky last couple weeks at the plate, putting up just a 90 WRC+ as a unit (22nd in baseball during that time).
All that said, they are still hanging around in the race. While sitting three games back, they have played a little better than .500 ball since the All-Star Break and dismantled the Yankees over the course of the first two contests in their weekend series in the Bronx.
Finding some stability in their rotation with the likes of Brayan Bello, James Paxton and Kutter Crawford (all who hold ERA’s below 3.80) has been a serious difference maker.
Where the issue lies for Boston is not just the ground they have to make up, but the teams that they will have to run through the rest of the way in order to do so. The Red Sox have the second-toughest remaining schedule in baseball, featuring seven games against the Orioles, six against the Astros, five against the Rays, three against the Dodgers, three against the Blue Jays and three against the Rangers.
The only lighter teams the Red Sox have the rest of the way are three against the Royals in Kansas City (who are playing better as of late) and four at home against the Yankees, who, despite their struggles, are not a pushover.
This feels like a steep slope to climb with very few opportunities to slip and fall. The Red Sox are still in the race for now, but to remain there they will have to play their best baseball of the season over the final six weeks with their rotation showing the ability to hold it together.
Down To The Wire In Seattle and Toronto
These two teams don’t appear to be fading anytime soon. The Blue Jays are fierce in all three facets of the game. They rank as a top-10 offense (seventh in WRC+), top-10 rotation (fifth in ERA, seventh in fWAR) and top-10 bullpen group (fourth in ERA and ninth in fWAR).
The Mariners are built on the strength of their pitching and bullpen, both of which are top-five groups, along with an offense that has come alive out of the All-Star break.
Seattle ranks second in WRC+ since July 20, only behind the Braves, and fifth in Slugging Percentage. They have ridden the hot hands of Julio Rodriguez, Cal Raleigh and Ty France, three bats that were expected to be driving forces all season, that have now surged at the perfect time and helped the Mariners put up the best record in baseball since the break.
They are also both the beneficiaries of soft remaining schedules. Per Tankathon, Toronto and Seattle’s strength of schedule the rest of the way ranks 20th and 24th, respectively.
The difference is the Blue Jays remaining games are pretty balanced between contenders and non-contenders. Whereas the Mariners are in the midst of playing 16 of 19 games against the Royals, White Sox, A’s and Mets, but have an absolute gauntlet to maneuver through during the last three and a half weeks. 17 of their final 23 games will be played against the Rays, Dodgers, Rangers and Astros, with their final ten matchups all featuring Texas and Houston.
The Mariners own the tiebreaker over the Blue Jays due to their in-division record, but they could significantly increase their playoff odds by building some cushion in the WC3 spot before that prolonged imposing stretch begins.
There is clearly a talent discrepancy between the American League and National League this season.
In the NL the Diamondbacks are just two games out of the playoff picture despite being just one game over .500. Whereas in the AL there will be one fearsome team that end the regular season feeling empty and gut-wrenched on the inside.
Between Toronto, Seattle and Houston, three teams that as a whole have played excellent baseball this season, may all reach 90 wins, one of them will be denied entry to October. That’s not even to mention the Red Sox, who should at least finish well about .500.
This race will not be decided quickly. It could very well boil down to the final weekend of the regular season, with the pressure looming large every night for the teams in the race.
The question is: who will still be standing?