There are three games left in the 2019 regular season, and the AL Wild Card race is still completely undecided. There are two spots available, and three teams are bunched so tightly that none have yet clinched and none have been fully eliminated.
That could finally change on Friday, though. The A’s magic number to clinch a postseason spot is now down to one, over the Cleveland Indians. In other words, if the A’s win just one of their final three matchups against the Seattle Mariners this weekend, they’re in, one way or other. Even if the A’s lose out, the Indians would have to sweep the Nationals just to force a tie and a Game 163 tiebreaker. The next A’s win or Indians loss will seal the deal for Oakland.
But that’s just to get the A’s into the Wild Card Game, which will be played next Wednesday. In order to host it at the Coliseum they must earn the top spot, for which they have a magic number of two over the Tampa Bay Rays (assuming the Indians fall out of the picture*). That could mean two more A’s wins this weekend, or a win and a Rays loss, or two Rays losses against the Blue Jays. Since Oakland won the season series over Tampa Bay, they get the automatic tiebreaker if the teams end up tied for the two Wild Card spots — when it’s a tie to get into the postseason at all they play it out with an extra Game 163 with elimination at stake, but if they’re both in and just tied for home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game (as would be the case here), that gets settled with the head-to-head record.
* Note that the magic number over Tampa Bay doesn’t preclude the chance of a three-way tie with the Indians. It’s extremely unlikely at this point, but Oakland could satisfy the magic number over Tampa Bay (with two Rays losses) but still not end up clinching, if Cleveland wins out and catches up to them both. A three-way tie would require actual tiebreaker games since postseason elimination would be on the line, so the A’s head-to-head tiebreaker wouldn’t get it done automatically.
So really, the A’s have a “magic number of two over the Rays for home-field, IF the Indians are eliminated from the top Wild Card spot and it becomes a two-team race for that top spot.” In reality, Oakland has a magic number of three over Tampa Bay to just avoid all that and win the top spot outright. If somehow just the A’s and Indians finish tied for the top spot with the Rays left out completely (Indians win out, A’s and Rays lose out), then Oakland also has the head-to-head tiebreaker over Cleveland for home-field.
Here are the standings entering Friday, so you can see for yourself:
- OAK, 96-63, (+1 game up)
- TBR, 95-64, (— postseason cutoff)
- CLE, 93-66, (2 games back)
It’s possible Oakland could clinch their spot before even taking the field for their next game. The Indians are playing on the East Coast today, so they start around 4:00 Pacific Time, whereas the A’s don’t begin until around 7:00 PT in Seattle. If Cleveland loses, then that’s all she wrote and the green and gold are in.
Of course, even if the A’s satisfy their magic number over Cleveland, the Indians could still sneak into the postseason by passing the Rays for the second WC spot, so an Oakland clinch today wouldn’t necessarily mean a full Cleveland elimination. There’s also still the chance of a TB/CLE tie for the second spot that would force them into a Game 163 for the right to play the A’s on Wednesday. Things are dire for the Tribe, but it’s not over yet.
One thing appears to be for sure, though: In the highly likely event that the A’s face the Rays on Wednesday, they’ll go against starter Charlie Morton, reports MLB Network Radio in an interview with Tampa Bay’s manager. That’s a tough task, as Morton faced Oakland twice this year and shut them down both times, allowing just one run (a solo homer by Jurickson Profar) in 13 total innings of work (13 Ks, 4 BB). After breaking out the previous two years for Houston, the All-Star righty had his best season yet this summer for the Rays, with a 3.05 ERA and 2.82 FIP. (Alternately, if Tampa Bay is forced into a Game 163 tiebreaker against Cleveland, then the Rays would surely use Morton for that game instead.)
The possibilities are still nearly endless, but Oakland has the upper hand by far entering these final three games of the regular season. We might finally start to get some answers tonight.
Having said all that, here’s the TL;DR version of what might happen tonight.
- All 3 teams win or all 3 lose: A’s clinch postseason spot, and magic number becomes 1 (over Tampa) for home-field in WCG
- A’s win, Rays win, Indians lose: A’s clinch postseason spot, and magic number becomes 1 (over Tampa) for home-field in WCG, and Indians eliminated entirely
- A’s win, Rays lose: A’s clinch postseason and home-field in WCG (Indians result would be irrelevant to Oakland’s fortunes and would only affect CLE’s race for WC2 spot)
- A’s lose, Rays win, Indians lose: A’s clinch postseason spot, but magic number remains 2 for home-field in WCG (over Tampa), plus Indians would be eliminated
- A’s lose, Rays lose, Indians win: A’s don’t clinch anything, but magic number for everything becomes 1 (separately over each of TB and CLE)
- A’s lose, Rays win, Indians win: Magic numbers stay the same and we do it all over again on Saturday (1 over CLE for postseason; 2 over Tampa for home-field barring a 3-way tie; 3 over Tampa for guaranteed home-field in all scenarios)