American League Contenders Remaining Schedules and Playoff Scenarios

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This is not about playoff possibilities as in a team losing the last seven games of the season with the team pursuing them winning the last seven to forge an inexplicable comeback. Nor is it about unrealistic scenarios. It’s about evenhanded reality and viable opportunity.

Let’s take a look.

New York Yankees

Schedule: 4 games at Blue Jays in Toronto, Sept. 23, 24, 25, 26; 3 games vs Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, Oct. 1, 2, 3

How they’re playing: The Yankees righted the ship after the beginning of September when a collapse looked imminent. If the Yankees somehow fall out of the division lead or the playoffs entirely, it won’t be due to a prototypical collapse as we saw with the Red Sox last season.

What they need: 5 wins would pretty much guarantee the division title. They do not want to find themselves looking at the scoreboard on Monday and wondering what the Angels, A’s, Rangers, Orioles and whoever are doing.

What will happen: The Blue Jays want to get the season over with and are playing like it. They showed nothing against the Yankees last week and the only reason they won two games against the Orioles this week was because the Orioles didn’t capitalize on what the Blue Jays were repeatedly handing to them.

CC Sabathia is pitching well and the Yankees were able to rest Rafael Soriano and David Robertson.

The Yankees are going to the playoffs, but could still blow the division and it wouldn’t be due to a collapse.

Baltimore Orioles

Schedule: 3 games vs Red Sox in Baltimore, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games at Rays in Tampa Bay, Oct. 1, 2, 3

What they need: To have a chance at the division title, they’ll have to go 5-1 and hope the Blue Jays and Red Sox want to stick it to the Yankees and show up to the games trying to win and not get them over with so they can go home, and that the Red Sox and Rays would also like to stick it to the Yankees to the point that they don’t go all out against the Orioles.

All possible I suppose, but unlikely.

4 out of 6 wins should get them in.

What will happen: The Orioles will take care of business against the Red Sox and Rays and get at least those 4 wins and hope the nightmare scenario that I’m going to discuss doesn’t happen in the AL West. If they’re eliminated, the Rays may not even pitch their main starters in those last three games and if the Orioles lose 1 or 2, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves. The nightmare scenario affects the Yankees as well.

Tampa Bay Rays

Schedule: 3 games at White Sox in Chicago, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games vs Orioles at Tampa Bay, Oct. 1, 2, 3

What they need: The Rays have won 7 straight, have to sweep the White Sox—who are fighting for their division title—and hope they’re still alive when they get to Monday against the Orioles. Very, very difficult.

What will happen: The Rays will be done by Monday and have to decide how hard to push to keep up the “integrity” of the pennant race in those last three games. I have a hunch Joe Maddon will play to win without overstressing his young arms.


The Nightmare Scenario

I’ll examine the AL West all at once.

Texas Rangers

Schedule: 1 game vs Athletics in Texas, Sept. 27; 3 games vs Angels in Texas, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games vs Athletics in Oakland, Oct. 1, 2, 3

Oakland Athletics

Schedule: 1 game vs Rangers in Texas, Sept, 27; 3 games vs Mariners in Oakland, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games vs Rangers in Oakland, Oct. 1, 2 ,3

Los Angeles Angels

Schedule: 1 game vs Mariners in Anaheim, Sept. 27; 3 games vs Rangers in Texas, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games vs Mariners in Seattle, Oct. 1, 2, 3

The Rangers are leading the American League in wins with 91, but their division lead is now at 3 games over the A’s and 5 over the Angels. Their problem is that they’re playing two teams that are chasing them. The A’s and Angels have a sense of urgency that I don’t get the impression that the Rangers have had recently. Their playoff spot is not assured as the division winner or as the Wild Card. For them it would take a collapse to miss the playoffs, but it could happen.

Let’s say the A’s win today over the Rangers then beat on the Mariners this weekend. And let’s say that the desperate Angels who are taking every game like a playoff game and have 4 remaining with the playing-out-the-string Mariners win 6 of 7 including 2 of 3 vs the Rangers.

What if we get to Monday and the A’s are either tied with the Rangers or a game behind and the Angels are 2 out with 3 to play? There’s a possibility that the Rangers will enter Monday with 92 wins; the A’s with 91; and the Angels with 89. What if the A’s sweep the Rangers and the Angels sweep the Mariners? The Rangers and Angels would be tied. What if the Rangers sweep the A’s and the Angels sweep the Mariners? The A’s would be either out or hoping that the Yankees or Orioles came undone.

Because the AL West will simultaneously be beating on each other and the Mariners when they’re not beating on each other, the Yankees and Orioles are relatively assured of at least a playoff spot and have to determine who’s going to win the division. But the Rangers could very easily find themselves on the outside looking in with the A’s and Angels either passing them entirely or face the hell of a one-game playoff prior to the Wild Card play-in game.

What will happen: The Rangers will survive and hold onto the division. What will be most interesting will be how they try to manipulate which teams are in the playoffs. Of all their potential playoff opponents, the last ones they want to see are the Angels. If the Angels somehow make it in—relieved to have salvaged a season that looked shot in August and on a blazing hot streak with a deep starting rotation and star bats—they could conceivably make the playoffs and blow everyone away.

The team the Rangers presumably fear least is the Yankees when considering that they’ve beaten them before, the Yankees have rotation questions, and worry as to whether Soriano can handle the post-season. But the Angels have massive obstacles to overcome and it might be too late.

The most probable scenario: The Yankees win the AL East; the Orioles and Athletics take the Wild Cards; the Rangers win the AL West.

Of course, as the last day of the 2011 season showed, this is all subject to change at the whim of the Baseball Gods, closers who can’t close, non-contending teams that want to have company in their misery (see the Red Sox of Boston) and massive managerial blunders.

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American League Contenders Remaining Schedules—Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles

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The Rays were expected to be here and the Orioles weren’t. Yesterday I looked at the Yankees schedule, now here are their two competitors in the AL East.

Tampa Bay Rays

Rays vs Orioles, Sept. 11-13 at Tampa; Oct. 1-3 at Baltimore

This is being seen as a benefit for the Yankees because the two teams in hot pursuit are playing one another six times while the Yankees supposedly have the “weakest” schedule of all the contenders. On paper, that may be so, but this Yankees team isn’t very good. They’re playing Steve Pearce at first base for the next two weeks (and I suspect that the “good” news on Mark Teixeira was a best case scenario; I doubt we’ll see Teixeira again as anything other than a pinch hitter this season). They’ve made a big show of recalling prospect Melky Mesa. Mesa is 25 and batted .230 in 33 games in Triple A. This is your savior. They’re anticipating the return of Andy Pettitte with the memories of 15 years ago swimming in their panicky heads. If the Yankees were at full strength, the weakness of schedule would be relevant, but they’re not, so it’s mitigated to a large degree.

As for the Rays and Orioles, one of the teams is going to win at least 2 of the 3 games this week. If it’s the Rays, they’ll come into Yankee Stadium this weekend looking to overtake the Yankees; if it’s the Orioles, they’ll still be right on the Yankees’ heels or will have caught them.

The Rays and Orioles have split their 12 games against one another so far. The Rays have a decided pitching advantage and the Orioles are trying to piece their offense together after losing Nick Markakis to a broken thumb. Their starting pitching is short. The Rays are going to pass the Orioles by the time the season is over.

Rays vs Yankees, Sept. 14-16 at Yankee Stadium

The Rays have their pitching set up for this weekend. David Price will pitch against CC Sabathia (whose diminished fastball was the impetus for the dustup between Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Joel Sherman of the NY Post). I would expect Pettitte to pitch Saturday against James Shields, and Alex Cobb will go against Hiroki Kuroda on Sunday.

By Sunday night, the Rays could be in first place in the AL East with the Yankees tied with the Orioles and Angels for the second Wild Card spot and behind the Athletics.

Rays vs Red Sox, Sept. 17-20 in Tampa; Sept. 25-26 at Boston

I’m not accusing the Red Sox of laying down for the Rays and Orioles and playing hard against the Yankees, but the players who remain from the Yankees-Red Sox wars from so long ago know that if they’re able to significantly damage the Yankees’ playoff hopes—and everyone had better understand that if the Yankees don’t win the division, they’re not making the playoffs—they’re going to do everything possible to make it happen. The compromised Red Sox are an awful team, but they haven’t forgotten that the Yankees didn’t play their regulars in their final series with the Rays in 2011 and that contributed to the Red Sox being bounced from the post-season and sent them into this downward spiral.

Put it this way: the Red Sox would prefer to see anyone other than the Yankees in the playoffs this season and their play will reflect it. The front office would prefer it as well.

Rays vs Blue Jays, Sept. 21-23 in Tampa

The Blue Jays are playing hard down the stretch and the two clubs split a four-game series in Toronto a week-and-a-half ago.

The Blue Jays record is bad, but they can hit the ball out of the park and have two talented starters in Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero, plus Carlos Villanueva who should’ve been in the starting rotation from the beginning of the season. This isn’t a gimme series.

Rays vs White Sox, Sept. 27-30 at Chicago

Either the White Sox or the Tigers are going to win the AL Central and neither team—barring a catastrophe on the East or West Coasts—is making it to the Wild Card play-in game. The Tigers have shown zero consistency in 2012, but they have a weak schedule through the end of the season. It may not matter though. If they don’t run off a winning streak, the AL Central race could be over by the time the Rays come to Chicago to play the White Sox. Then the Yankees are going to be really desperate. No one in baseball wants to help them and they’re increasingly incapable of helping themselves.

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Baltimore Orioles

The two series against the Rays are discussed above.

Orioles vs Athletics, Sept. 14-16 at Oakland

The A’s are continuing their run toward the playoffs. It’s at least as surprising as that of the Orioles, if not more. They have a deeper starting rotation, a good bullpen, and can score with the Orioles. The A’s are now ahead of the Yankees, Orioles, and Rays. They’re currently playing the Angels, who’ve launched themselves back into contention as well.

There’s an opportunity for the Orioles to make up ground on the Yankees and/or Rays and the Athletics this weekend.

Orioles vs Mariners, Sept. 17-19 at Seattle

The Mariners can’t hit, but they have a lot of starting pitching and would like to finish the season at .500. That said, I would expect the Orioles to go into Seattle and take at least two games.

Orioles vs Red Sox, Sept. 21-23 at Boston; Sept. 28-30 in Baltimore

The Red Sox don’t like the Orioles, but they hate the Yankees. We might see a lot of young players getting a “look” vs the Orioles that won’t get a “look” vs the Yankees.

All’s fair.

Orioles vs Blue Jays, Sept. 24 (doubleheader)-26 in Baltimore

That’s four games. The Orioles are 9-5 against the Blue Jays this season and the Blue Jays also wouldn’t mind whacking the Yankees out of the playoffs. They might choose to “look” at some youngsters just like the Red Sox.

The team in the driver’s seat here is the Rays. If they have a record of say, 16-6, they’re going to win the AL East. For the Orioles, they’ll have to win 13 games and I don’t know if they’re going to. 11-11 is more likely and if that’s the case, that would mean that they didn’t help the Yankees against the Rays or the A’s.

Either way, the schedule that’s being portrayed as the Yankees’ lifeline, is anything but.

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