This year, the American League Wild Card race is exactly what the big brains in the league’s front office hoped for when they established the current play-in format. There are FIVE teams within three games of the second spot, while the Blue Jays only hold onto the top Wild Card spot by a single game. This race gives me the same feeling I get when I go to a game and get extra innings out of the experience. We’ve got free baseball! Not just baseball, but playoff baseball because of how tight this race is in the AL.
Smell that? Some people say that’s football in the air. To them I reply, No Sir! That’s a pennant race you smell.
I won’t spend time on the division leaders (Red Sox, Indians, and Rangers) I’ll give a full team-by-team breakdown of the playoffs, including power rankings and my picks, once everyone has had their ticket punched.
As the rankings stand, at the start of this day, the 23rd of September, in the year 2016, the AL wildcard looks as follows:
Blue Jays (+1): The absolute wild-card amongst wild cards. This team was built to win with the same attitude that permeated the 90’s. They want to win with homeruns and big plays, so much so that the Blue Jays’ version of small ball consists of occasionally giving the take sign on 3-0 counts. I love their manager, John Gibbons. He’s a total baseball guy – he’s the kind of guy who always has a chaw in and then throws in a few extra leaves for luck in big situations. This is the guy who could have put stress on Canada’s foreign relations with the U.S. because they won a championship in a sport considered America’s past time. Unfortunately, I just don’t think this is the year they’ll do it. This means they probably won’t do it at all because their window will most likely be closed at the end of this year with the expiration of Bautista and Encarnacion’s contracts. Still, this team is good enough to make the playoffs but the question mark after their top two starters makes it hard for me to see them making a serious run.
Tigers (Even): The Motor City could use a little love that does not come from a Chrysler commercial. I’m here for you, Detroit, you’ve got a fan in me. Michael Fulmer, I mean, come on; the kid has had an incredible year, and as a fan of The Game, it’s been fun to watch. Miggy is my guy – I’ll tell my kids about the summer he lit the world on fire and won the Triple Crown. Hell there will be no secrets between us. Full disclosure is I’m a baseball nerd and I still get goosebumps thinking about watching Miggy make history. I am STILL humbled by the greatness I witnessed that summer. So maybe it’s out of some subconscious reverence for that emotion that was invoked in me, but I want nothing more than to see the best pure hitter of our generation make music in October.
Orioles (-.5): The O’s lost their hold on the second wild card spot but still have a schedule that puts them in the enviable position of controlling their own destiny. They finish their season against the D-Backs (a glorified minor league team) and then have the chance to beat the Yankees and the Blue Jays, two other teams hot in the race. To be honest, I’m not really a huge fan of the Orioles’ chances because their staff is questionable and aside from a handful of real standout position players/hitters, their team lacks depth as a whole. We’ll see if they step up to the challenge and execute on their potential but I can’t see a team doing much of anything in the postseason when JJ Hardy is their starting shortstop. I mean sure he’s serviceable. He’s having a good year for himself at the plate and he’s a good defensive shortstop. But just take him as he is and you’ll realize he’s a microcosm of the whole organization.
Astros (-1.5): The Astros… what is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Jose Altuve is arguably the best player in baseball. Whether you’re a numbers guy or a sabermetrics guy you can’t argue that Altuve is unbelievable, but – if you think you can – I’m ready to go to war in the comments section. Correa is a rising star and some would say he’s an already-established star chasing after superstardom. I have a soft spot for el oso blanco aka Evan Gattis. He earned that incredible nickname, the White Bear, while playing winter ball in the Mexican league after taking four years off of baseball and wandering around the Western U.S. If you don’t know his story, go check it out. However, the problem once again lies within their pitching staff. Doug Fister owns the lowest ERA amongst their starters and it’s an unimpressive, if not downright scary, 4.45. The ‘Stros finish up against LAA and Seattle. Aside from pitching, they need role players to perform to get to October – and their middle infield can only do so much.
Mariners (-2): Is Seattle a baseball town? Can Robinson Cano win anything besides a homerun derby? Is the coffee out there really the best? All these questions and after 150+ games, this amateur blogger doesn’t have much of an opinion. My thoughts on the Mariners are as follows: Kyle Seager sure has blossomed; for those of you who don’t know he went from being Dustin Ackley’s sidekick at UNC (Ackley is the best college hitter I’ve ever seen, look that up too), to soaring past Ackley in the Mariner’s farm system and is now the best home grown prospect they’ve had in years. Other than that you know what you’re going to get from Cano, you know what you hope to get from Nelly Cruz, and I still bow down to King Felix so I guess they’ve got a shot? They’ve been tough down the stretch, won a big game the other night thanks to some heroics in the 12th from Cano, but my gut feeling is they just won’t get it done.
The Yankees (-3): I can’t believe I’m writing about the Yankees potentially making the playoffs. For the first time since God delivered onto this planet a young boy who loved nothing more than baseball (that would be me, circa summer of 1994) the Yankees were sellers at the trade deadline! For over twenty years they have been the standard and the one year they decide they’ll “rebuild” they pull an unknown rookie out of the minors who hits 19 HRs in 43 games. What have the Yankees done to deserve this luck? They dismantled their bullpen, opened up the roster by getting rid of over-the-hill superstars, pulled up players not even nerds like me have heard of, and then went on a run that potentially snags them a Wild Card spot. Sorry folks, I’m out. This has “baseball gods” written all over it and I won’t touch them. They could win every game for the rest of the year and sweep the WS or they could lose every game and still be happy with the return they got on their young talent. I don’t mess with destiny. No prediction, let’s just see how this works out for the Bronx.
Once again we’re focusing on the fringe teams, the bubble clubs, the teams that have faced a little more adversity. Adversity could have hit these teams in the form of injuries, untimely slumps, black cats, or simple apathy induced from a 162 game schedule – it doesn’t matter, I want it all. Contrary to the sad NL, this is a gritty race between diverse teams. Some organizations in this race have been a part of The Game’s fabric since the first stitches were laced into a baseball. Other teams were born from expansion and are trying sew their own patch on the colorful quilt. What we get as fans is a race to be excited for. So, if your team isn’t involved, then go ahead and hop on a bandwagon, pick a team you can identify with, sit back and open a few cold ones, ladies and gentleman… let’s play ball.
*Please take a moment out of your day to reflect on the abysmal Chicago White Sox and their joke of a front office, keep the well being of their fans in your thoughts and prayers*