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American League Wild-Card Preview: 5 Teams, 1 Spot

Kevin McAllister |
September 10, 2013 | 10:53 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Evan Longoria will be a key factor in the Rays' success. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Evan Longoria will be a key factor in the Rays' success. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Nothing says it's time to return to caring about baseball like USC losing to Washington State, and it's a good time to come back. Besides the Rangers, the AL wild-card race is as predictable as Miley Cyrus these days. Five teams currently sit within four games of the last coveted spot, and every single one could seize or blow the lead in these next few weeks. 

The Rays

Let's start with the team that has the best chance of locking up the wild-card spot. The Good? At 78-64, the Rays have looked like a contender for the season's entirety. Despite having only one All-Star in the Mid-Summer Classic, the overall quality of the team has put the Rays in a prime position to clinch that second spot. James Loney, whose play started to slip in late August, has made an about-face at the plate and raised his average five points since the 28th of August. The Bad? Pretty much everything else about this team over the past couple of weeks. The Rays are 4-11 since August 25th thanks to Evan Longoria's .245 August batting average and a pitching staff that had a 4.00 team ERA in August and a 4.30 team ERA so far this month. 

The Rays upcoming schedule includes series against the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers and the Orioles, all of which are potential playoff teams. Tampa Bay is 38-31 in 2013 against those teams, but they're going to need to play a little better than that if they want to be scheduled in October. Bottom line? It's the Rays' race to lose. 

The Indians

The Tribe are on the prowl at 77-66, just a game and a half behind the Rays. The Good? If their upcoming schedule was a test, Lauren Catlin Upton could pass it. With the exception of five remaining games against fellow wild-card hopeful Kansas City, the rest of the teams slated all have records below not just .500, but below .437. The key to the Indians' future success lies in their pitching, which brings us to the bad. The Bad? Justin Masterson is 1-3 in his last six starts, Ubaldo Jimenez is 3-4 since the beginning of August, and Scott Kazmir is 1-3 in his last five outings. 

The Indians might even have a better chance to make the postseason than the Rays simply due to the easy schedule. While the team from Tampa has October-strength teams on their late-September agenda, the Tribe have teams that have already set their first tee times. Bottom line? The Indians are the team to watch. 

The Orioles

The Birds are the second team in the messy AL East vying for the last wild-card spot. The Good? At 77-66, the Orioles have the same record as the Indians thanks to the consistent bats of Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Manny Machado. The Orioles offense has carried this team through their tough stretch in August, and will be the key in their future. The Bad? Much like the Rays, part of the upcoming schedule for Buck Showalter's club begets a collective "gulp" from the city of Baltimore: Two series with the Red Sox, two with the Yankees, and one with the Rays. These games will be especially tough with the state of the O's staff. This season, their pitching as a whole has been nothing to write home about (25th in team ERA, 21st in Batting Average Against), but their performance has continued to slide. Team wins leader Chris Tillman has recorded two of his five losses on the season in his past five starts. 

Unless the Orioles pitching staff can get under control, the Orioles are doomed. While the lumber has carried the team to this position late in the season, pitching wins championships, and the Orioles' staff looks more like Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn than a championship contender. Bottom line? Impossible to count out at only a game-and-a-half back, but it's going to take a lot of quality wins over divisional opponents. 

The Yankees

After a season plagued by injury and controversy, it is a miracle that the Yankees remain only three games out of the wild-card. The Good? Nine games against last place teams. The Giants, Astros and Blue Jays are all on the schedule for the Yankees within the next few weeks. No game is a guaranteed win, but the Astros sure try their hardest to make it one. The Bad? A perfect storm of poor pitching, old age, and past injuries. C.C. Sabathia lost his career-high 12th game last night against fellow contender Baltimore and 41-year-old Andy Pettite isn't doing the weary bullpen any favors by leaving the game after six innings. Moreover with Derek Jeter still hurt, the Yankees are missing the captain who usually pushes them to late-season runs.

It's been one of the worse years of his career for C.C. Sabathia. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
It's been one of the worse years of his career for C.C. Sabathia. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
It is a tricky path for the Yankees, but their most crucial week is this one right now. If they come out of this stretch of divisional opponents alive, their chances will vastly increase due to easy final games. Bottom line? Don't count them out just yet, but certainly don't pencil them in.

The Royals

Last and maybe least are the Royals. The Good? Not much. At 75-69, they are four games behind Tampa Bay, but the chances for the Boys in Blue seem dismal. Currently they are engaged in a make-or-break series with the Indians that could end their playoff chances by the end of the week. The Bad? Even if the Royals manage to win the next two games in the Cleveland series, they have a set with the AL-Central-leading Tigers the following days. The fate of Kansas City will be sealed by Sunday afternoon, and it doesn't look too promising at this point.

Sure the Royals are still playing well (6-4) in their last 10 games, but that includes two contests with the Blue Jays and four with the Mariners. In these last games, Kansas City is playing with the big boys, and it seems like a David vs. Goliath's older brother type of matchup. Bottom line? Keep an eye on them this week, but it probably won't be necessary after that. 

Five teams, one remaining spot. When the MLB decided to include the second wild-card team in 2012, this was their dream. Right now there are definitely frontrunners, but in the end, there's a reason they call it a wild-card: anything can happen.

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