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The Intriguing Spectre Of September 29th

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"Oh, and score occasionally."
"Oh, and score occasionally."
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

September 29th isn't a day we've heard a lot about, or even a day about which a lot we've heard. It's the day in between game 162 and the wild card game and it's reserved for any possible tie-breakers that are needed to establish the playoff spots.

With the A's, Royals, and Mariners all hovering around the same win total it is becoming more and more plausible the regular season could end with two of the teams -- if not all three -- tied. Until Monday it's a bit difficult to parse the standings because on Monday the Royals will complete a game they are trailing the Indians 4-2 going to the bottom of the 10th. But whether or not the Royals come back in that game, the separation amongst Oakland, Seattle, and Kansas City is a great bet to stay "too close to call" over the next week. Nate Silver has nothing on me.

It becomes simpler if the tie is for the first wild card because then both are playoff teams. What gets sticky is if one of the teams should finish with, say, 89 wins while the other two finish with, say, 88. That would force a tie-breaker to determine the second wild card, leaving a "win or go home ... two days in a row" scenario for those two teams.

In a scenario where the teams are still this bunched after 161 games, you cannot hold a pitcher back from game 162. So Sonny Gray is lined up to pitch on September 28th, and will very likely be needed to go on that day. Meanwhile, Jon Lester is ready for September 30th, which leaves the small matter, and by small matter I mean rather large matter, of who is lined up for a possible start on September 29th. It's not Scott Kazmir or Jeff Samardzija, because they are slotted to go on September 26th and 27th. Lester could pitch on September 29th, but that scenario just leaves the A's without any of their top 4 available to start on the 30th.

In other words, if the A's wind up needing to win one-game showdowns on both the 29th and 30th ... enter Jason Hammel. Or Drew Pomeranz. Personally I'd favor Pomeranz but that's probably moot given the likelihood that Hammel would get the ball -- especially since the A's won't be matched up against themselves where throwing a LHP these days seems to mean an auto-win.

So while the A's acquired Lester partly to give them a great shot at getting past a one-game showdown, in fact it is perfectly possible that Oakland will need for Hammel (or Pomeranz) in a one-game showdown to try to get to Lester. Or if the A's throw Lester on first, a Lester win on the 29th will only get the A's to Hammel or Pomeranz to start the wild card game -- same difference.

So as we go into the regular season's final week, remember that:

Finishing ahead of Seattle and Kansas City: Great!
Finishing tied for the first wild card: Pretty darn good (though the A's lose any tie-breaker and play on the road).
Finishing tied for the second wild card: Get ready for Hammel or Pomeranz to start in a one-game playoff.

Obviously there are worse scenarios, such as missing the second wild card altogether, and these post All-Star break A's appear potentially up to the task. Currently, thanks to the failings of the teams chasing them Oakland is still in the catbird seat with the standings:

Oakland 84-70
Kansas City 83-70 most likely going on 83-71
Seattle 83-71

But drop 1 game in the standings and all bets are off. In fact it could lead to the one scenario I haven't expanded upon in this article: A 3-way tie. I'll let someone else parse that one out because it makes me dizzy. Whereas watching the A's play recently has only made me nauseous.