Yes, the first 5 months was all for show designed mostly to confirm that the Houston Astros will represent the AL West in the ALDS. As for the wild card race? It may as well start on Labor Day, as the regular season ends 4 weeks from today and three teams — Oakland, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland — sit at 58 losses.
First off, if the A’s were to miss the post-season by a game it would be hard to figure out which game cost them the wild card spot. “It was that Sunday game in which we had the lead late and then lost in excruciating fashion.” OK that narrows it down to half the team’s losses. (Fine, I’m exaggerating for effect. It only narrows it down to 28 of the defeats.)
But in the words of Monty Python’s finest knights, “I’m not dead yet!” The A’s have 26 games left (the Indians 25, the Rays 24), and barring Red Sox playing about .700 ball the rest of the way two of these three teams will be invited to the dance.
Here’s a look at the schedule the rest of the way with the caveat that “strength of schedule” means something on paper, less when you play the games and can’t beat the Blue Jays but win the season series against Minnesota, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and New York.
The Rays’ next 7 games are soft on paper: 3 against the Orioles and 4 against the Blue Jays, all at home.
Then comes the “medium” stretch: 3 at the Rangers, 3 at the Angels.
But the Rays would be well advised to jump ahead in the chase by then because next up are the Dodgers (2 in LA), the Red Sox (3), and the Yankees (2).
Tampa Bay finishes up with 3 at Toronto.
What has defined the Indians, and came home to roost this weekend, is that they feast on bad teams, e.g., 15-1 so far vs. Detroit, but don’t beat good teams, e.g., getting swept by the Rays.
Cleveland begins a 4-game series tomorrow at home against the White Sox, missing only one of Chicago’s starting pitchers: Lucas Giolito. Grrr....
Then the 6 of the Indians’ next 9 games are against the Minnesota Twins, with a 3-game series at the Angels in between. The A’s and Rays will become huge fans of the Twins that week.
Unless you believe strongly in the law of averages, you won’t be thrilled to hear that Cleveland’s next opponent is the Tigers (3), but if the Indians aren’t in the catbird seat by then they could be in trouble as they finish up with 3 against the Phillies, 3 at the White Sox, and 3 at the Nationals.
In terms of games against the best teams, the A’s do have the softest schedule the rest of the way.
On the upcoming homestand, the A’s get the Angels for 3 and the Tigers for 4 (including the suspended game).
Then comes the 4-game series at the Astros followed by 3 at the Rangers. Oakland’s last homestand welcomes in the Royals (3) and Rangers (3), before the A’s finish up with 3 at the Angels and 4 at the Mariners.
Currently, fivethirtyeight.com believes the Indians hold a 64% chance of making the post-season, odds buoyed by the 9% shot they are still believed to have at winning the AL Central. The same 64% odds are granted the Rays, while the A’s are given a 69% chance. (The Red Sox, 5 back of these teams in the loss column, are allotted just a 5% shot.)
You can draw one of two conclusions, or both, from these odds: that despite all the “meltdown Sundays” the A’s still have the best shot at the wild card of any of the teams, or that one team will fall short despite having about a 2⁄3 chance.
Either way, each game the rest of the way figures to be exciting, nerve-wracking, and crucial. They don’t call it “loin girding season” for nothing.
At this moment, who do you see missing the post-season?
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