The American League playoff race has came into focus much more so than the National League.
In the National League, only the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves have nearly locked up a playoff birth with 50-55 games to go for most teams. Meanwhile, in the American League the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, and Minnesota Twins have locked up playoff births in 97%+ of scenarios, with only few other contenders.
The Twins have found themselves in a battle with the Cleveland Indians for the American League Central crown, but a combination of having the best record outside of New York and Houston while having the softest schedule down the stretch give them a playoff spot unless they collapse over the next two months.
This leaves the Tampa Bay Rays in a fight with the runner up in the AL Central (Twins or Indians) and the Oakland Athletics for the two wild cards.
Right now the Indians and Rays are in the possession of the two wild cards, but the Athletics are only 0.5 game back.
The Rays six game winning streak has put them in a very good spot, but the Indians have won 8 of their last 11 and the Athletics have won 6 of their last 7. The group has separated themselves from the other competitors for the wild card.
The Boston Red Sox sit 6.0 games behind the Athletics thanks to a eight game losing streak that included a sweep by the Rays.
Current Playoff Odds
At FanGraphs the Rays have a 69.5% chance to make the playoffs. Along with the Indians at 84.1% chance they are favorites to win the two wild cards. The Athletics, despite only being 0.5 game behind the Rays, sit at 32.3% thanks to a much more difficult remaining schedule than the Rays and Indians.
There is still some hope for a dead cat bounce from the Red Sox with 15.9% to make the playoffs, but none of the other eight teams in the American League check in above 0.1%.
Baseball Prospectus’s playoff odds see things playing out mostly the same way. BP has the Rays with a 83.1% and Indians 75.1% as the favorites to win the two wild cards. The Athletics are more of a threat here at 39.8%, but see a recovery by the Red Sox as much less likely at 4.8%.
Baseball Reference sees things as much closer to a three team race for two playoff spots. The Rays (75.2%), Indians (67.6%), and Athletics (55.6%) all are better than a coinflip odds to make the playoffs. The Red Sox at 3.7% and the Texas Rangers at 1.0% own the remaining odds.
Down the Stretch
The Rays own the second easiest schedule in remaining games in the AL behind the Twins. Specifically, the Rays just started their softest stretch of the season.
Beginning with last Saturday’s win against the Miami Marlins, the Rays will play 21 straight games against teams that currently are below .500, with 2 games against the Marlins, 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, 4 against the Baltimore Orioles, and 6 against the Seattle Mariners. The average opponent over this 21 game strength has a .384 win percentage. That would roughly be the winning percentage of a 62-100 team.
The Rays have already gotten off to a good start by taking the first two against the Marlins, and generally have done work, going 33-15 against teams below .500. They are going to have to continue to get the job done, though, as anything less than 14 wins will seem like a missed opportunity.
As Rays fans are well aware a big deficit or lead doesn’t mean you are dead. On September 1, 2011 the Rays found themselves 9.0 games behind the Red Sox with 26 games remaining before passing them in the dramatic Game 162. These situations are the reasons we are fans. Every win and loss means so much. The losses feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach, but without the pain the wins wouldn’t mean so much.
It’s not time to be making travel plans for the playoffs, but the Rays are in the position to take advantage of the schedule and make the playoffs for the first time since 2013.