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The American League horserace: the home stretch begins

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Racing League - Doncaster Racecourse - August 5th Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images

A 162 game season is indeed a marathon, but even marathons reach a point where the finish line is in sight and the best of the competitors need to be able to find that extra final kick.

As we move into mid-August, that point of the baseball season is here.

The Rays are 68-44 and lead the American League East. They have the best record in the American League and trail only the San Francisco Giants in the majors.

Standings

Standings as of 8/10/2021
MLB.com

The Rays have opened up their biggest lead of the season. Thanks to the Boston Red Sox 3-10 run over the last two weeks the Rays hold a 4.0 game lead.

The Red Sox have the second most wins in the division, but their biggest problem is they only have 48 games remaining and they have five more losses than the Rays. The loss column is of most importance as the season dwindles as you can’t make up games you have already lost.

The New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays only trail the Red Sox by one game in the loss column. They have played two and four games fewer respectively, so they will have the opportunity to cut that lead down without the Red Sox being able to answer.

We don’t like to write off teams before their “tragic” number is officially up but.....Baltimore would have to win out to win 90 games. Unfortunately a record 52 game winning streak is likely to propel them to the playoffs.

Playoffs

American League Standings as of 8/10/2021
MLB.com

The Rays find themselves at the top of American League. The Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros lead their divisions.

Unless there is a surprise run by the Seattle Mariners it’s likely that the six playoff spots come from one of these seven teams.

The Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox currently hold Wild Card spots, but the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays are on their tail.

Playoff Odds

Team FG DC FG STD PECOTA BREF COIN FLIP
Team FG DC FG STD PECOTA BREF COIN FLIP
Rays 83.3% 93.8% 91.4% 98.9% 92.9%
White Sox 99.9% 98.7% 93.9% 99.7% 97.7%
Astros 94.2% 94.1% 95.4% 95.5% 83.7%
Athletics 50.1% 30.4% 33.4% 64.0% 65.6%
Red Sox 70.5% 53.5% 53.2% 55.8% 65.8%
Yankees 52.8% 30.4% 66.3% 21.5% 42.1%
Blue Jays 47.3% 60.1% 34.0% 61.6% 30.8%

FG DC is based on FanGraphs Depth Charts projection using their projected playing time based on Steamer and ZiPS projections. FG STD is FanGraphs projections using Season-To-Date stats to project out the rest of the season. PECOTA can be found at Baseball Prospectus using their PECOTA projection system. BREF can be found at Baseball Reference and uses Season-To-Date stats over the last 100 games played by he team to project out the rest of the season. COIN FLIP can be found at FanGraphs and projects the rest of the season giving every team a 50/50 chance of winning a game.

FG DC is the least optimistic about the Rays chances, but still puts the Rays at 83.3% to make the playoffs. That number feels low considering a four game lead but it is the highest in the division.

FG STD and PECOTA project the Rays to have the best chances to make the playoffs in the division coming in over 90%.

BREF views the Rays as a near lock at 98.9%.

COIN FLIP is thrown in to show how much variance still exists with 50 games to go. A four game lead seems substantial if every team should win 50% of their games, and it does show the Rays with a great shot north of 90%. However things can go wrong. The most interesting thing is how often it sees one of the dark horses coming through if every game truly were a coin flip. Seattle (12.1%) has a shot despite being 5.5 games out of the wild card with four teams to jump. Even the Cleveland Indians (4.9%) and Los Angeles Angels (3.8%) have a shot despite being 8.0 games out of the wild card.

Division

Division Odds

Team FG DC FG STD PECOTA BREF COIN FLIP
Team FG DC FG STD PECOTA BREF COIN FLIP
Rays 48.0% 71.3% 61.9% 84.9% 65.8%
Red Sox 26.4% 14.0% 12.2% 7.3% 19.2%
Yankees 14.1% 11.3% 18.7% 1.1% 7.4%
Blue Jays 11.4% 3.5% 7.2% 6.7% 4.8%

Making the playoffs is great, but winning the division is what the Rays should be focused on. Avoiding a winner take all game in order to make the divisional round is huge.

The good news is the Rays are in a good spot having a four game lead. By most of the methods the Rays are favorites. FG DC sees the Rays just under 50% but the other methods see the Rays with two-thirds or better odds with BREF having the Rays sitting just under 85%.

Just under two months remain and it’s going to be fight among four teams that are good. Whoever wins it will have earned it.

Final 50

The Rays would end the season with 93 wins if they go 25-25 over their last 50 games. The Red Sox would need to go 28-20, the Yankees would need to go 31-19, and The Blue Jays would need to go 33-19 in order to tie. They would need to run good to hit one of these marks, but it’s also fairly like at least one would.

It probably takes 96-98 wins to come out on top in the division, so the Rays likely need to go 28-22 to 30-20 to earn their fourth AL East championship.