Breaking Down the AL Wild Card Race (8/22/17)

By Mark Dankenbring @MarkDank
Breaking Down the AL Wild Card Race

With just a little over a month remaining in the MLB regular season, I'm here to elaborate on our MLB Playoff Probabilities and what they mean for the teams in the thick of the AL Wild Card race. I'll break down the top six teams in the AL Race who aren't currently leading their divisions, as five of them fall within a 10-25% chance of making the playoffs, while the Yankees are almost a sure bet at 90.4%. Just two games separate those five teams for the second wild card spot in the AL, as this might be the first year we have a 163rd game to decide who gets to play in the 1-game, all or nothing wild card battle for playoff life. Without further ado, let's take a look at the six teams vying for the two AL Wild Card positions.

The Yankees can feel somewhat comfortable atop the AL Wild Card race, as they've created some space between them and the field. The Yanks currently sit 2.5 games up on the Twins who are in the second spot, and we project them to extend that lead to six games by season's end. Their moves at the deadline put them in the best position to secure a wild card spot, and they're living up to expectations thus far. Even though they bolstered the starting rotation and bullpen, the Yankees are still waiting for their offense to get hot again. After heading into the All-Star Break third in the majors in runs scored, New York has scored the 4th fewest runs in the second half and sit behind teams like the Phillies, Padres, and Giants. Everyone knows about Aaron Judge's second half struggles, as he's hitting just .169 with a .355 slugging percentage since the break, but he's clearly not the only one who needs to turn things around. Luckily for New York, they have some wiggle room over the next five weeks, but if their pitching has a tough week alongside their ineffectiveness on offense, they could retreat to the pack very quickly.

After reaching seven games above .500 on July 28th for the first time all season, the Royals have gone just 8-14 and find themselves in 5th place in the AL Wild Card. Kansas City activated catcher Salvador Perez off the DL today, which is a huge boost for their lineup as well as the entire pitching staff. Unlike in the Bronx, Kansas City has enjoyed success offensively in the second half, sitting 5th in the majors in runs scored over that span. The issues for them have come on the mound, where they have a 4.89 ERA since the break and have allowed opponents to bat .272 against them. While this Royals team has the second-best chance to reach the 1-game playoff, it's hard to imagine them succeeding in the postseason with their current rotation. It will be exciting to see one last push from a team we've seen succeed in the postseason before they lose some of their core pieces, but a little better than 1/5 chance to make the postseason isn't too promising, and their 0.5% chance to win the World Series is even bleaker.

I have to begin by commending the Twins' players for their resiliency, as the front office decided to give up the 2017 season when they traded closer Brandon Kintzler and flipped Jaime Garcia to the Yankees after just one start. However, since the trade deadline, the Twins are 14-7 and find themselves in sole possession of the 2nd AL Wild Card spot. Their offense has really excelled in the second half, as they are 3rd in the majors in runs scored with 191. Brian Dozier and Eddie Rosario have been murdering baseballs, as they're each batting over .300 and slugging over .600. They've driven in 55 of the Twins 191 runs, good for nearly 30% of Minnesota's overall run production. In contrast to the Royals adding Sal Perez, Miguel Sano just made his way to the 10-day DL with a stress reaction in his left shin, so the Twins lose a big bat in the middle of their order. Therefore, it will be even more critical for the other bats to stay hot, as the pitching staff gets extremely thin after the likes of Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios.

Seattle comes in at #4 in our likelihood of making the postseason, but the margins are ever so slim. The Mariners have made several moves in an effort to bolster their roster, and currently find themselves just one game back of the Twins. Despite the fact their top four starting pitchers are on the DL, Seattle has won 4 of 5 and have newfound confidence. Yonder Alonso is their newest addition, and he's already paid dividends for the club offensively. After going just 1-14 in his first four games, Alonso is 13-30 with a homer and eight RBIs in his last eight games and doubled in the winning run in last night's game against the Braves. His left-handed power bat will add great depth to the lineup, as Seattle now touts one of the strongest lineups in the AL Wild Card race. The ultimate question is how their pitching will hold up down the stretch. James Paxton and Felix Hernandez are still on the ‘playing catch' phase of rehab, so they are at least a few weeks out. That means the likes of Yovani Gallardo, Ariel Miranda, Erasmo Ramirez, Marco Gonzalez, and Andrew Albers will anchor a rotation that needs to pick up at least a game in the standings. If Paxton can return in time to pitch in the 1-game playoff, you have to like the Mariners' chances of advancing to the ALDS for the first time since 2001.

The Angels have arguably been the most consistently average team all season long. If you take a look at their schedule, you'll find that the Angels have been within four games of .500 after every single game except one, when they lost to the Indians to drop to 49-54. Their consistency is remarkably rare for an MLB team, and they find themselves right in the thick of the AL Wild Card race because of it. They're currently on their best run of the season, having won 9 of 12, including sweeping the Mariners in Seattle over a week ago. Despite not having any aces in their starting rotation, the Angels have posted the 5th best team ERA in August at 3.45. Their bullpen has been amazing, leading the majors in WAR in August and holding opponents to a 2.34 ERA and have been striking out batters at a rate of 10.19 K/9. With momentum on their side and perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout at the helm, I wouldn't be surprised if the Angels leapfrogged the three teams ahead of them to land at #2 the next time we run projections.

The Rangers entered this week as the hottest offensive team in baseball, as they feasted on Detroit and Chicago's weak pitching staffs to score 59 runs in seven games. Even with their recent 9-3 stretch, the Rangers remain 6th in the Wild Card race and are two full games behind the Twins. That fact, along with the fact they have the second worst starting rotation in the majors since the All-Star Break, brings them in with the lowest chances of making the playoffs at just 11.8%. Just like the Twins, the Rangers were sellers at the deadline, giving up this season's playoff hopes to put them in a better position down the road. Their offense has single-handedly kept them in the race, however, as they've scored the third most runs in the MLB since the All-Star Break. Joey Gallo leads the team in WAR in that span, as he's clubbed 14 homers and driven in 24 RBIs while maintaining and eye-popping .459 ISO. Texas needs a lot of things to go their way down the stretch if they want any shot at the postseason, which is why they're the lowest on our list, but just like the Mariners, they could go on a nice run if they find any semblance of consistency from their rotation.