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How the Athletics can make or choke the postseason

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An expanded preview of the final weekend and possible tiebreaker scenarios for the Oakland Athletics. Also, a look back at Thursday's games around the AL Wild Card race and a look ahead to Friday's games.

Jeremy F. Koo

Three games left for the Athletics against the Royals, Tigers, Mariners, and Indians. The magic number to make the postseason is two, the magic number to host the Wild Card game is five. If the A's can win one game, they will be alive until at least Monday. There are a number of ways that could play out over the next three or four or five days, depending on tiebreakers.

Here are the AL Wild Card standings at the end of September 25:

W L GB 9/25
OAK
Magic Number
Head-to-head
W-L
Games remaining
WC1 KC 87 72 +1.0 Win 5 2-5 3 at CWS
WC2 OAK 86 73 -- Loss 3 at TEX
SEA 84 75 2.0 Win 2 9-10 3 vs LAA
CLE 83 76 3.0 Idle 1 4-2 3 vs TB
Division Leaders
West LAA 98 61 Champ Idle 9-10 3 at SEA
East BAL 95 64 Champ Loss 4-2 3 at TOR
Central DET 89 70 +2.0 Win 7 2-5 3 vs MIN

The A's can finish as the first Wild Card or the second Wild Card.

The A's are the first Wild Card and host the Wild Card game Tuesday if...

  • Oakland wins three games and Kansas City loses two games.
  • Oakland wins two games and Kansas City loses three games.

What about the second Wild Card?

The bottom line for the A's to make the postseason without resort to a tiebreaker game against Seattle is that they lose no more than one game more than the Mariners. To get rid of Cleveland, the A's need to win just one game or the Indians have to lose just one game.

How can the A's blow it?

To blow it without a tiebreaker would take a not impossible disaster. The A's would have to be swept by the Texas Rangers (not unheard of) and the Mariners would have to sweep the Los Angeles Angels. The Rangers are playing well under their new manager, the Mariners are sending out their three top pitchers, and the Angels are only going to do enough to keep their bats fresh ahead of the three-day break for division winners.

Friday 9/26 Saturday 9/27 Sunday 9/28
Athletics
at
Rangers
Scott Kazmir (14-9, 3.63) Jeff Samardzija (7-12, 2.88) Sonny Gray (13-10, 3.21)
vs vs vs
Nick Tepesch (5-10, 4.14) Derek Holland (2-0, 1.31) Nick Martinez (5-11, 4.61)
Angels
at
Mariners
Jered Weaver (18-8, 3.52) Cory Rasmus (3-1, 2.38) C.J. Wilson (13-10, 4.61)
vs vs vs
Hisashi Iwakuma (14-9, 3.54) James Paxton (6-4, 3.03) Felix Hernandez (14-6, 2.34)
at
Indians
Chris Archer (10-8, 3.42) Alex Colome (1-0, 3.63) Alex Cobb (10-8, 2.75)
vs vs vs
Corey Kluber (17-9, 2.53) Carlos Carrasco (8-6, 2.64) Danny Salazar (6-8, 4.25)
Royals
at
Jeremy Guthrie (12-11, 4.28) Danny Duffy (9-11, 2.32) Yordano Ventura (14-10, 3.07)
vs vs vs
Hector Noesi (8-11, 4.76) John Danks (10-11, 4.82) Chris Bassitt (1-1, 3.65)
at
Tigers
Anthony Swarzak (3-2, 4.52) Ricky Nolasco (5-12, 5.47) Kyle Gibson (13-11, 4.50)
vs vs vs
Rick Porcello (15-12, 3.31) Kyle Lobstein (1-1, 3.38) David Price (14-12, 3.36)

What about a tie involving the second Wild Card?

I'll first note that Tiebreaker games are only used to resolve division championships and postseason qualification, but never homefield advantage. If there is merely a tie between Kansas City and Oakland at the end of the weekend, Kansas City would host the Wild Card game because they won the head-to-head series 5-2. The same goes for a tie with Detroit, which the Tigers won 5-2 as well.

Now some bad news for #TeamEntropy: A four-way tie involving Detroit is no longer possible, so the longest a tiebreaker will last is two days.

Tiebreaker games are considered an extension of the regular season and statistics count as such. 40-man rosters will be used for such games, though MLB will send six umpires. Let's take some scenarios in order of least complicated to most complicated. In each scenario, the team with priority gets to choose its designation, but I will assume that each team will accept as many chances as possible to advance, or be forced to play as few elimination games as possible.

In the most complex scenario, the A's would be playing, in consecutive days, on the road at Texas, Seattle, Kansas City, and Anaheim.

Oakland and Seattle are tied for the second Wild Card

Oakland would travel to Seattle for a Monday Tiebreaker game because Seattle won the season series 10-9. If Oakland wins, they travel to Kansas City or Detroit for the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday. If Oakland wins that game, they travel most likely to Anaheim to play the Angels starting on Thursday for the start of the ALDS.

Oakland and Cleveland are tied for the second Wild Card

Cleveland would travel to Oakland for a Monday Tiebreaker game because Oakland won the season series 4-2. If Oakland wins, they travel to Kansas City or Detroit for the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday. If Oakland wins that game, they travel most likely to Anaheim to play the Angels starting on Thursday for the start of the ALDS.

Oakland, Seattle, and Cleveland are tied for the second Wild Card

This scenario would require a perfect storm of Cleveland finishing 3-0, Seattle 2-1, and Oakland 0-3. In this case, two elimination games would be played. Because Seattle has won the head-to-head against both Cleveland and Oakland, it would choose to skip the first elimination game and visit the winner of that game in the second elimination game.

Oakland, with its head-to-head advantage over Cleveland, would host the Indians for a Monday tiebreaker game. If Oakland wins that game, it would host the Mariners for a Tuesday tiebreaker game. If Oakland wins that game, it would travel to Kansas City or Detroit for the AL Wild Card game, pushed back to Wednesday. If Oakland wins that game, they travel most likely to Anaheim to play the Angels starting on Thursday for the start of the ALDS.

Oakland, Kansas City, and Seattle are tied for the two Wild Card spots

This scenario would require a perfect storm of Seattle finishing 3-0, Oakland finishing 1-2, and Kansas City finishing 0-3. In this case, two games would be played, and the second is an elimination game. Because Seattle has won the head-to-head against both Kansas City and Oakland, it would choose to host the first game. Kansas City, having won the head-to-head against Oakland, would choose to visit Seattle in the first game, to be played on Monday. The winner of this game would be the first Wild Card.

Oakland will get to host the loser of the game between Seattle and Kansas City for a game on Tuesday. If Oakland wins that game, they are the second Wild Card and travel to the winner of the first game for the AL Wild Card Game, pushed back to Wednesday. If Oakland wins that game, they travel most likely to Anaheim to play the Angels starting on Thursday for the start of the ALDS.

How did this happen?

Four teams that might be in the Wild Card played yesterday, and all but the Athletics won.

AL Wild Card Contenders

Mariners 7, Blue Jays 5

From Nathan Bishop of Lookout Landing:

But 83-75 doesn't tell you about yesterday, or the day before, or the day before, or the day before, or the day before. We're ok with 83-75 until you're told wait they were just 83-70 last week, and that a few weeks ago they were a clutch hit against the Houston Astros from being 80-64. A last weekend scoreboard watching with a chance for the playoffs is a dream come true until you place it in context of where this team, however improbably, was over the last 3-4 weeks.

Tigers 4, Twins 2

From Catherine Slonksnis of Bless You Boys:

In a bizarre turn of events, Joe Nathan not only locked down the ninth, he left no room for debate for a night. Nathan threw eight pitches, all of them for strikes and he struck out two batters on three pitches each. Interestingly, Nathan wasn't sure of the status of his "stuff."

"Today was smooth," Nathan said. "The results worked out. Was it my best stuff? I don't know about that. I threw pretty good."

Royals 6, White Sox 3

From Kevin Ruprecht of Royals Review:

On a night when the Royals could have given up ground in the battle for Grass Creek (Seattle won 7-5), they instead held their ground by defeating the Chicago White Sox 6-3. The night wasn't without its perils.

Friday's games to watch

It looks like MLB.tv will be free for the rest of the year, meaning you can watch the games that matter to you for the rest of the year. We get started at four o'clock, with Cleveland needing to win to survive for at least a few hours more. Also at four, the Tigers have a magic number of 2 to win the AL Central Division and face the Minnesota Twins.

At five o'clock, two more games, your A's against the Rangers and the Royals and White Sox.

Finally, at seven o'clock, A's fans can watch the Mariners take on the Angels. Will the A's be watching for their chance to clinch their ticket to the postseason or hoping for help to stave off a terrible collapse?

Time (PT) Starting Pitcher Notes
4:05 PM Rays Chris Archer (10-8, 3.42)
Indians Corey Kluber (17-9, 2.53) M# vs CLE = 1
4:08 PM Twins Anthony Swarzak (3-2, 4.52)
Tigers Rick Porcello (15-12, 3.31) M# vs DET = 7
5:05 PM Athletics Scott Kazmir (14-9, 3.63)
Rangers Nick Tepesch (5-10, 4.14)
5:10 PM Royals Jeremy Guthrie (12-11, 4.28) M# vs KC = 5
White Sox Hector Noesi (8-11, 4.76)
7:10 PM Angels Jered Weaver (18-8, 3.52)
Mariners Hisashi Iwakuma (14-9, 3.54) M# vs SEA = 2