As the Tigers settle in for a calm final 12 games of the season and third consecutive American League Central Division title, we can start to get a better feel for what the MLB playoffs might look like. For instance, the Red Sox look as if they'll wrap up home field advantage -- coupled with the All-Star Game victory that gives them home field all the way through the World Series. The Oakland Athletics have a comfortable lead in the AL West, so they'll join the Tigers in the playoffs yet again -- and yet again the two teams will meet in the ALDS.
Beyond that, it's hard to say much with certainty. The Tigers trail the A's by one loss, so right now they'd travel to Oakland for three of the five possible games, just like last year. But there's plenty of time left in the season for the teams to switch places in the standings. The Tigers have the easier schedule the rest of the way -- opponents have a .408 winning percentage, according to Cool Standings, with A's opponents at .456 -- and the regular season ends in Miami. Detroit and Oakland share two common opponents -- Seattle and Minnesota -- but the A's have five games remaining with the Angels. (They're 9-5 vs. the Angels this year, if you want to get even deeper into your prognostication.) On paper, the Tigers can make up a game. But really, who knows.
Then we've got the Wild Card hunt. This is where the real entertainment can be found.
American League Wild Card Standings
Any two of those six teams could make the playoffs as Wild Cards. The Royals, Orioles and Yankees do have the hardest path, making up 2 or 2.5 games isn't unheard of -- but jumping so many opponents at this point would be difficult.
This week is pretty fun -- the Rays and Rangers are playing, so somebody has to lose. That allows room for the other teams to catch up. But the Indians and Royals are playing each other as well. So that means only one of those teams can make forward progress.
Then we've got those other teams from the East. The Orioles start a series against the Red Sox tonight, making their path more difficult. The Yankees face the Blue Jays, giving them a relatively easier path to catch ... somebody. But their progress will be difficult because two teams above them in the standings are guaranteed to win games.
Looking further into the future, the tea leaves leave a muddled cup. The Rays (.515) and Orioles (.556) have more difficult schedules than the Yankees (.452) and Indians (.410). The Rangers fall in the middle (.475) but have lost seven in a row and nine of their last 10 and seem awful. This being baseball they could turn around and win their next 13 games and who, really, would be surprised? The Indians are the hottest team of the other contenders, having won six of their last 10. The rest fall in the four and five range.
So, who's going to earn Wild Card spots?
On paper, the Indians have the clearest path to the Wild Card, so I'll put them there. The Yankees have a more difficult, but not impossible path. But prudence (and their cushion) makes me pick the Rays as the other AL playoff representative.
Who've you got?