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How Wild Card Could Be Wild These Last 2 Weeks

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Detroit Tigers v Oakland Athletics
Remember Ramon Laureano’s dramatic grand slam at Tampa Bay? It might have gotten the A’s home field advantage in the wild card game.
Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Standings are weird when the teams haven’t all played the same number of games, stranger yet when there are tie-breakers to consider. On September 14th, here sit 3 teams neck and neck for 2 wild card spots and if you needed proof of how confusing it all is consider that the Indians are preparing for a day-night double-header this fine Saturday.

Here are the facts, followed by some of the possibilities and how they affect your Oakland A’s.

Oakland 88-60
Tampa Bay 88-61
Cleveland 86-61

As you probably know, having won the series from both the Rays (4-3) and the Indians (5-1), the A’s win any tie-breakers, giving them an excellent at hosting the wild card if they get there at all.

First observation: The A’s kind of lead the Rays by 0.5 games and kind of lead them by 2 games. What I mean by that is while the standings show just a 12 game separation, in reality the Rays have one more loss than the A’s and if the Indians should drop out of the picture (and I think they should, don’t you?), in order to pass Oakland for home field advantage Tampa Bay needs one fewer loss. So the Rays need a full 2-game swing in the loss column to pass the A’s.

The same is true for Cleveland, with the added hurdle that the Indians have two extra games to play, offering two free opportunities to add a loss to their column. So in this regard, while the A’s are still battling to make it at all, if they do make it their chances of hosting the wild card game are excellent right now.

Second observation: There is a very legitimate possibility that Tampa Bay and Cleveland could end the regular season with the same record, and if the A’s can win even one more game than a tied Rays and Indians, it becomes a veritable bonanza for Oakland.

In this scenario, the A’s sit back and await the winner of a “play-in” game between Tampa Bay and Cleveland. This means the Rays and Indians are forced to throw whomever they deem to be their best starting pitcher (or “opener/follower”), also prepared to empty their bullpen as needed to win the game.

This would result in a wild card game in which the A’s faced their opponent’s #2 SP, not their best, perhaps even a tired closer and/or set up man. This would be more significant with an opponent that had a big drop from #1 to #2, such as if Blake Snell or Corey Kluber had been healthy all season.

As it stands, I’m not entirely sure who these two teams intend to start in a wild card game, but whoever it is they would be tapped for a “play in” game and not available for the wild card game itself.

Third observation: As has been chronicled before, at least on paper the schedule affords the A’s the best chance of pulling away these last 2 weeks. Oakland will not face a winning team going forward — well not unless they lose today and tomorrow to Texas and render them a winning club by the end of the weekend — facing the Rangers, Royals, Rangers, Angels, and Mariners.

In contrast, still ahead for the Rays is that challenging 8-game stretch against the Dodgers (2), Red Sox (4) and Yankees (2). Even a normally decent 4-4 showing could add 4 losses Tampa Bay cannot afford to give.

Cleveland’s remaining schedule is challenging in its own way, featuring not just 3 with the Twins this weekend but now including a double-header following last night’s rainout. The Nationals and Phillies, both currently still gunning hard in the wild card chase, also provide grueling competition to help offset the soft series against the White Sox and Tigers.

All of this to say that while so much can happen in 2 weeks, and right now the A’s aren’t in any way assured of even making the post-season, they are not only odds on favorites to land in the 1st wild card spot, they could potentially do it sitting in the catbird seat watching a depleting “play-in” game to learn who they are facing in Oakland.

Of course all this can change almost literally in a day, what with the A’s facing a legitimate #1 tonight in Mike Minor and the Indians trying to sweep a double-header and make a statement of “Wild card? We’re not going for the wild card!” But as of this moment the A’s are sitting pretty for a club just 0.5 game up on its closest pursuer. Now we watch it all unfold...