Look around Major League Baseball right now and you will see five teams who have already clinched their division title. The Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers have had this thing sewn up for some time, while the Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers coasted in party due to the lack of a second great team in their central divisions.
Heading into the final week, all that was left to be decided really was the Wild Card races, the AL East and the AL West. The Baltimore Orioles checked one of those boxes of the list though last night, winning each of their first three games this week to secure their first 100-win season in over 40 years and to clinch their AL East title over the Tampa Bay Rays.
This puts the 97-win Rays locked into the first Wild Card spot, with the Blue Jays currently sitting in the second spot with a game lead over the Astros and two game-lead over the Mariners.
All eyes really have to be on the AL West this weekend, as it is the one division in baseball that is not decided. It is also looking to be the division where one great baseball team is going to miss the playoffs.
While it is unlikely that will be the first place Texas Rangers, who have a magic number of 1, if last night proved anything it is that this season is still very much alive.
Can the Seattle Mariners Keep Their Season Alive?
The Rangers are effectively in the driver’s seat to decide the AL playoff picture this weekend. If they win one game, they make the playoffs. The Astros hold the tiebreaker over them in the AL West, so they need a combination of one win and an Astros loss, or two wins to win the division.
For the Mariners, the Rangers are the one team that they don’t have the tiebreaker against, so if they can finish even in the standings with either the Astros or the Blue Jays, they will get a Wild Card spot. The problem however, is that the Rangers have the Mariners number this year and the two teams are playing head-to-head this weekend.
In their first game last night, the Rangers were very close to clinching their playoff berth and putting the Mariners into a deep hole in the Wild Card race.
Jordan Montgomery got the best of Logan Gilbert in a great pitching duel that saw each pitcher go six innings, with Gilbert allowing two solo home runs to Montgomery’s one, putting the Rangers in position to win a tight game to clinch the postseason.
Carrying that 2-1 lead into the ninth, the Rangers put the ball in their closer Aroldis Chapman’s hands to punch their ticket to October and he faltered. Giving up two singles and walking a batter to load the bases before manager Bruce Bochy pulled the hook and got him out of there.
Jonathan Hernandez came into the game and got two big outs, nearly escaping Chapman’s jam to save the game for the Rangers. Then it was J.P. Crawford’s chance to make something happen, and just like he has all season, the Mariners shortstop delivered.
Crawford’ two-run double walked it off for the Mariners, keeping them within a game of the Astros and two games of the Blue Jays in the Wild Card race. Over the weekend, a lot is going to have to go the Mariners way to make it the playoffs, but if they lost last night the odds would have been stacked against them.
We are at a stage in the season where anything can still happen.
The Mariners can sweep this series and still miss the playoffs if the Astros sweep their series against the Diamondbacks, finishing 90-72 compared to the Mariners at 89-73. Since the Rangers have the tiebreaker over the Mariners regardless, they would then get priority in the Wild Card race.
There is also a scenario where all three teams in the AL West finish with 89 wins, in which case, the Mariners actually own the three-way tiebreaker for having the best combined record against all three teams (which they would have to earn by beating the Rangers this weekend anyway). They would get the division title, the Astros would then take the Wild Card priority over the Rangers.
On the other hand, if the Blue Jays ended up in a three-way tie with the Mariners and Rangers, or a four-way tie took place, they would be out of the playoffs and all three AL West teams would make it.
We have really reached the point of the season where teams just have to win every game left and not leave anything to chance. This is what makes the Rangers/Mariners series so compelling cause we have no idea what is going to happen.
Between the Astros playing the Diamondbacks in a series that has implications in both Wild Card races, the Blue Jays playing a division rival in the Rays, who would certainly relish the chance to knock them out of the playoffs and the Rangers/Mariners head-to-head, we have three fantastic series to keep our eyes on this weekend in determining who will in fact make the playoffs.