As the 2019 Major League Baseball season comes to a close, the tightest race remains to be the American League Wild Card race.
Currently the Oakland Athletics hold a two game lead over the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays who are tied for the second wild card. Each team has nine games remaining over the final week and a half.
In the past couple of week what was seen as nearly three teams having equal odds of winning one of the two playoff spots that has moved to the Athletics having a clear hold on one spot with a 95.2% chance of winning a wild card by FanGraphs and 95.1% by Baseball Prospectus — it would take both the Indians and Rays winning at least two more games than Oakland with only nine games remaining to force them out. If the Athletics go 5-4 that would essentially lock up a playoff spot for them.
The final 9 games, all eyes are on Cleveland and Tampa Bay
The final spot is a race between the Rays and Indians. FanGraphs has the Rays with a slight advantage 54.5% to 50.5% between the two teams.
The Rays have an interesting schedule to finish the year, a tour of the AL East.
On the surface it looks quite difficult, starting with a four game series against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. The Red Sox have under performed this year, though, and have now shut down Chris Sale and David Price. The Rays also avoid the Red Sox best performing starter this year, Eduardo Rodriguez. Meanwhile, star Mookie Betts has missed the last week, but hopes to return sometime during this series.
The Red Sox haven’t officially been eliminated, but they would need to win their final ten games while both the Indians and Rays lose their final nine in order to get in a three way tie for the second wild card. It’s not mathematically impossible, but even calling it improbable odds would be quite generous.
The Rays then take on the New York Yankees for two. The Yankees just clinched the American League East title last night, so the only thing really remaining to play for is the best record in the American League in order to earn home field in the ALCS should they get there. The Yankees are likely focusing on getting their roster healthy and narrowing down their roster for the playoffs. By no means will this be an easy series, but like the Dodgers it won’t be as difficult as it could be.
The final series for the Rays is a trip to Toronto. The Blue Jays have a very young offense that is looking to continue adjusting to the majors. The pitching side is the reason the Blue Jays have continued to pile up losses. The Rays have handled the Blue Jays well this year, going 12-4, and yet they are the team I have more concern about when it comes down to the end of the year.
The Indians start a series against the Philadelphia Phillies tonight. The Phillies are still alive, but their hope is fading. They are currently four games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the second wild card with the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets also in the way. It’s unlikely the Phillies become mathematically eliminated this weekend, so it should be a reasonably tough series for the Indians.
Then come to the Chicago White Sox. This series during the week is similar to the Blue Jays series for the Rays. The team isn’t good, but they have young guys that are looking to continue to prove themselves at the major league level. The Indians are the better team, but overlooking the White Sox would be a mistake.
The final series for the Indians will be in Washington to take on the Nationals. This series could be anything from a very competitive playoff-like atmosphere to one team looking ahead to the Wild Card. The Nationals clearly occupy the top National League Wild Card. They are one game ahead of the Brewers and two ahead of the Cubs. The ideal scenario for the Rays would be that the Nationals need to win these games to even guarantee a spot in the Wild Card game. If they don’t need to win, you could see players get rest and make a much easier path for the Indians.
Every win matters
The good news is that the Rays control their destiny. If they win out nobody stands in their way. The Athletics could still win the first spot by going 7-2 or better, but the Indians could only tie the Rays and force a one game playoff.
In a one game playoff to make the wild card scenario the Rays hold the head to head tie break with the Indians by going 6-1 against them this year and would host a game 163. If the Rays ended up tying the Athletics the game would be in Oakland as the Rays lost four of their seven games against the Athletics.
The focus right now might be on the playoffs, but the Rays are essentially playing playoff baseball right now. If they don’t make it they only have themselves to blame. The situation has been in front of them and going into the final week and a half they have the ability to just win and advance.
The series this weekend against the Red Sox is huge for the Rays. The Red Sox are a solid team. The Rays have gone 9-6 against the Red Sox, but have had difficulties at home. That will have to change.
The Rays, Indians, and Athletics have pushed each other over the past couple of months. 95 wins might not be enough to even get a shot in the wild card game. Whoever get in will have earned it.