With roughly a month to go before the postseason, the most exciting race in baseball is the second wild card spot in the American League. Seven teams are within 3.5 games of that final spot, and each one of them is far from perfect.
With things so bunched up, we asked The Stew crew to try and sort things out. Which team do they think will come out on top when the dust settles? Let’s get to it.
Oh, and for the sake of this argument, we assumed the New York Yankees had the top spot locked up. Is that a good idea? Probably not, but it makes the answers more fun.
MINNESOTA TWINS: CURRENTLY A GAME UP ON THE ORIOLES AND ANGELS
One of the most surprising teams in baseball this year has been the Minnesota Twins. Back in 2016, they finished with the worst record in baseball by nine games. They were 35.5 games back in the AL Central, and 30 games out of the Wild Card.
Fast forward just one year, and the Twins spent the early part of the year at the top of the AL Central, and have spent the second part of the season battling the Cleveland Indians. That’s a major improvement that no one could have predicted, and it’s so exciting. Joe Mauer looks more like his “old” self than he has in years. Byron Buxton is providing speed and top-notch defense. Miguel Sano has the team lead in homers with 28. And Ervin Santana is having the best season of his career.
Despite a few late-season injuries, it feels like everything is coming together. The home stretch won’t be easy — they have a lot of games to play against the Royals, who are nipping at their heels, and the Tigers, who could play spoiler — but they’ve battled the whole season. All they need to secure their first playoff appearance since 2010 is gut it out for 31 more games. (Liz Roscher)
BALTIMORE ORIOLES: CURRENTLY ONE GAME BACK
The AL wild card race will likely come down to which two teams get hot at the right time. With that in mind, it’s possible that the Orioles, who entered Wednesday on a six-game winning streak, are peaking too soon. But I’m starting to think the safer bet is they’ll just keep slugging their way to wins.
Granted, that’s not an ideal way to sustain success in MLB, but when you can boast six 20-home run hitters before September even rolls around then you’re taking slugging to another level. Among that group you’ll find two legitimate MVP candidates in Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop. Another could easily emerge with Adam Jones capable of exploding down the stretch. And we can’t overlook what Trey Mancini is doing to solidify the lineup.
I understand Baltimore has difficult matchups over the final month, which includes seven games against the Yankees and three each against the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians. But they too are dangerous, and they’ll be even more so if Dylan Bundy continues building on his recent success and the rest of the rotation is simply stable.
Starting pitching has long been the Achilles’ heel of this team, but I don’t think it’s weak enough to crush their hopes of getting to the wild card game. Playing deep into the postseason? That would be a different story. (Mark Townsend)
KANSAS CITY ROYALS: CURRENTLY THREE GAMES BACK
I’m not going to act like it’s possible to predict exactly what could happen with the AL wild card because so much could happen. But I’m picking the Royals and I have two legit reasons I think they have a leg up. And one more reason that’s a little emotional.
First off, the Royals have been there before. Give me the experience over some of the unlikely upstarts like the Twins and the Angels. Second, their September schedule looks do-able. While the AL West teams are beating up on each other, the Royals’ final two weeks of the season includes bouts with the Tigers, White Sox, Blue Jays — none of whom are very good. They’ve got the Indians and the Diamondbacks in September too, but the schedule seems at least somewhat favorable.
Finally, the emotion of a last hurrah could propel the Royals. Some of their best players — Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas — are set to be free agents after this season. It’s sorta like the turning point from “Major League.” There’s only one thing to do: Win the whole thing. (Mike Oz)
TEXAS RANGERS: CURRENTLY THREE GAMES BACK
Guess which team is fifth in the AL in run differential? Yep, it’s the Texas Rangers. That’s honestly the main reason I’m going with them. If you outscore your opponent more than you’re outscored, you tend to win more games than you lose.
As the Rangers have shown this year, that’s not always the case. The team’s 31 run differential suggests they should be better than one game under .500, but run differential isn’t infallible. Losing by 12 runs is the same as losing by two, for example, but run differential makes the former seem much worse.
Instead of arguing against myself, I’ll try to point out what’s good about the Rangers. On second thought, maybe that’s a bad idea. The offense is middling, and both the rotation and bullpen rank near the bottom of the league. The relievers will look a lot better if Jake Diekman, Matt Bush and Keone Kela can all make it back from injury soon.
OK, fine, I haven’t sold anyone yet. Hell, I haven’t even sold myself. So, let’s look at it this way. Every team contending for the AL wild card has massive flaws. Run differential tells me the Rangers might be better then their current record. It doesn’t say that about any other team in the race. Time to cross my fingers and hope for the best. (Chris Cwik)
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