Last season, the AL Wildcard race down the stretch was essentially between two teams for the final spot with the Baltimore Orioles outlasting the Tampa Bay Rays to secure their first playoff berth since 1997. This season there are six teams vying for the two wildcard spots and the race is extremely tight, but the top two have enabled this race to be tight.
Currently the Texas Rangers and the Rays hold the two wildcard spots with the Rangers (81-63) holding the top spot and the Rays (78-65) holding the second spot.
Chasing closely behind are a group of four teams, all of which are within three games of the second spot and 5 1/2 games of the top wildcard spot. The O's and Indians are each 1 1/2 games back of the second spot with the New York Yankees close behind at two games back and the Kansas City Royals just three games back.
Over the past ten games, both the Rangers and the Rays had a chance to really separate themselves from the pack, but they have picked the wrong time to go on a bad run.
Texas, who is also battling with the Oakland A's for the AL West division title, has gone 3-7 over their last ten games and have gone from leading the AL West to now trailing the A's by two games and find themselves having to scoreboard watch in regards to the Wildcard as it is no certainty that they are in the playoffs. Texas wasted a golden opportunity to essentially clinch a playoff spot over the past ten games as if they had just gone 5-5 over their last ten, the Rangers would have found themselves six games clear of the third place team in the wildcard standings with 18 or so games remaining.
Tampa Bay, much like Texas, has also dwindled a golden opportunity over the past ten games as they too have gone 3-7 over their last ten games. The Rays are in the midst of a much bigger downfall as on July 29th, Tampa led the AL East by a half game and now find themselves 8 1/2 games behind the Red Sox with no shot at winning the division.
On the flip side, Tampa's downfall has now tightened the wildcard race to the point that four teams are within three games of taking their playoff spot from them. Even worse? Tampa's remaining schedule is no walk in the park as they have two games with the Red Sox, three with the Twins, four with the Rangers, four with the O's, four with the Yankees and three with the Blue Jays.
If you caught it during the list of Tampa's remaining games, the Rays and Rangers are going to square off for four games next week and this is going to provide an opportunity for the four trailing teams to gain ground every night on one of the two, so the race is going to get even tighter. On the flip side, if either Tampa or Texas could win three of four or even sweep the series, they will have the opportunity to perhaps pull away from the pack and secure their playoff berth.
It is going to be an exciting final three weeks of the season and the possibility of a play in game to play in the play in game is a real possibility with so many teams in the race and how exciting would that be? Of course it would be more exciting if the Orioles are a part of it.
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