As baseball enters the final month of the regular season, playoff races are (mandatory cliché) heating up. Focusing on the American League, all six potential playoff teams have series with major implications starting this weekend. Yes, even the Angels and yes, six means the Yankees are included. With 23 of 29 remaining games against playoff teams, the Toronto Blue Jays are in prime position to be the biggest spoiler in the league. With quite a bit of disparity between schedules, a lot of shuffling of the standings remains.
Note: When using the term “playoff teams” it refers to all six teams potential playoff teams remaining in the hunt. Parentheses for remaining games are ( X home / x Away)
The Rays have 30 games remaining and a 4.5 game lead in the East. Sixteen of their remaining games are against playoff teams, six against both the Yankees (3H/3A) and the Red Sox (3H/3A) and four at home versus the Twins.
Biggest Concern: They close the season playing eighteen games in seventeen days, including their last eight on the road. The silver lining is those eight are against Baltimore and Detroit and the Rays are a combined 11-3 against them.
Potential Spoiler: Baltimore Orioles. Almost a quarter of Tampa’s remaining games are against the Orioles. This season, Baltimore has not won more than a single game in a series against the Rays. The one consistent threat to Tampa has been Aubrey Huff, as he’s been a big part of all three Oriole wins.
Make or Break Stretch: Sep. 15 – 21. Seven game home stand against Boston (3) and Minnesota (4). The Rays will be coming off a nine game road trip, with the final six against Boston and New York. If their lead shrinks it will be heading into this home stand. Their final home stand will be their last games against playoff teams and should solidify their spot in the playoffs.
Verdict: Tampa Bay will win the east, but finish behind the Angels for the best record in the league.
The Red Sox have 29 games remaining, currently trail the Ray by 4.5 games and have a 2.5 game lead in the Wild Card standings. Twelve of their remaining games are against playoff teams, six against the Rays (3H/3A), and three against the White Sox and the Yankees, all at Fenway.
Biggest Concern / Possible Spoiler: Excluding the health of Josh Beckett, it’s their performance against Toronto. They are 4-7 against the Blue Jays this year, with seven games (4H/3A) remaining to be played this season. The good news: Boston will face both A.J. Burnett and Roy Halladayonly one time.
Make or Break Stretch: Sep. 26 – 28. The last weekend of the season, the Red Sox welcome the Yankees to town. If the Red Sox make a push for the division, they’ll need these three games. If the Yankees claw their way back in, they’ll need these three games. If Boston’s going for the wildcard, the Red Sox will need these games to hold off or catch either Central team, both which enjoy easier schedules.
Verdict: It’s hard to pick against the Red Sox, but Beckett’s injury has implications for the rest of the season and beyond. If this was written 48 hours ago, the Red Sox would be the pick, but Boston limps to the line, and out of the playoffs.
The Yankees have 29 games remaining, 10.5 games back in the East and are currently 6 games out of the Wild Card race. Sixteen of their remaining games are against playoff teams, six against Tampa (3H/3A), four at home against the White Sox, and three against the Red Sox and Angels, all away.
Biggest Concern: The hole they’re in. They have the toughest schedule remaining, and will face the tandem of Burnett and Halladay this weekend. They are 6-6 against the Blue Jays so far, but Burnett and Halladay are a combined 6-1 against the Yankees this season.
Possible Spoiler: Toronto again, but in their last 3 game set, the Yankees will avoid Halladay.
Make or Break Stretch: Sep. 12-21. New York may be done before their final home stand ever in Yankee Stadium, but whether they’re dead or still kicking, this set of games will have major implications. They open with three against the Rays, then four against the White Sox, and finally three to close the stadium against Baltimore.
Verdict: Why include the Yankees just to leave them out? If the schedule had broken differently, the Yankees may not have been out, but too many games against too many teams that need wins will leave the Yankees on the outside.
The White Sox have 30 games remaining, 1.5 game lead in the Central, and 1 game back in the Wild Card (if needed). Thirteen of their remaining games are against playoff teams, four at the Yankees, three against each the Red Sox (A), Angels (H), and the Twins (A).
Biggest Concern: Their schedule is second to only the Yankees in terms of toughness. Ten of their remaining games against playoff teams are on the road. They also stand to face Cliff Lee twice, as well as Burnett and Halladay.
Potential Spoiler: Yankees. With a four game set in the last home stand in Yankee Stadium, whether the Yankees are in or out, they’re going to be playing with tremendous pride and fanfare. The White Sox could fall victim to the Pinstripe Lovefest that will be going on.
Make or Break Stretch: Sep. 15-25. Starting with the four game set in the Bronx, this ten game road trip ends with a three game series in Minnesota. This series will likely decide who wins the Central, and could knock either team out of the wildcard picture.
Verdict: The White Sox have been tremendous at home, but mediocre on the road. Unfortunately, with so many big road games this September, they will not win the Central, but will win the Wild Card.
The Twins only have 28 games remaining, trail by 1.5 games in the Central, and 2.5 games in the Wild Card race. They have the second easiest road to the playoffs, with only seven games against playoff teams, four at Tampa and three at home against Chicago.
Biggest Concern: They’re just 3-5 on their current west coast swing. With three more games against Oakland, they need to stay close until they return home on the 5 th.
Potential Spoiler: Kansas City has six games remaining against the Twins, but are 3-9 against them so far.
Make or Break Stretch: Sep 18-25. They have four games in Tampa, followed by three at home against the White Sox. The good news for the Twins is they get a day off in-between. Ideally, they’ll have recaptured the Central lead going into this stretch, otherwise the pressure on each game will ratchet up.
Verdict: Provided they don’t go into a complete tailspin on this current road trip, the Twins schedule sets up well. They get the final series against the White Sox in their building and should be able to claim the Central.
The Angels have 29 games remaining, and have a 16 game lead in the West. They have only six games against playoff teams, three at Chicago and three at home against the Yankees.
Biggest Concern: Home field advantage. With 20 games against the West, the Angels will be playing against the standings not their opponents on many nights.
Make or Break Stretch: Sep 5-10. The last games of note, LA plays Chicago and the Yankees back to back. Expect them to play both series tough, as they are potential playoff matchups.
Potential Spoiler: Texas Rangers. While the Rangers aren’t going to knock the Angels out of the playoffs, with nine remaining games, they could help knock LA out of that top spot. So far, the Angels are 6-4 against Texas.
Verdict: LA wins the west and the top seed in the playoffs. The biggest concern will be that after September 10, they will not play against a team that’s over .500.
Projected Playoff Picture:
Los Angeles Angels v. Chicago White Sox
Tampa Bay Rays v. Minnesota Twins