There are just 17 days left in the Major League season, yet nine of the 15 teams in the American League are still alive for possible postseason berths. Of those nine, Boston and Detroit are the only ones that appear to be locks, with the division leads they have in the East and the Central.
At this moment, the two coldest teams in the A.L. are holding the two Wild Card slots. Texas holds the first sitting two games up on Tampa Bay. Then you have four teams bunched within two and a half games of the Rays and that second Wild Card position.
Texas has dropped four series in a row though, and opens a criticial three-game set at home on Friday night against an Oakland A's team that they trail by three and a half games in the West.
The Yanks for all their injuries, are just one game back of the Rays heading into a gigantic series at Fenway Park in Boston against the East-leading Red Sox. It's the final series between these two teams this season.
Cleveland is just one-and-a-half back of the Rays as they continue their four-game set against the lowly White Sox at Chicago. Kansas City and Baltimore are in a more precarious position, tied two-and-a-half games back of Tampa Bay. The Royals are at Detroit for three this week, while the Orioles are visiting the Blue Jays.
The Rays have dropped 13 of their last 18, but after a dramatic 4-3 win at home against the Red Sox Thursday night, they have a chance to build some momentum and breathing room with a three-game set at Minnesota this weekend.
Still, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that both Texas and Tampa might let those Wild Card spots slip away, or have them taken away.
The team to watch is Cleveland. Yes, their ace right hander Justin Masterson is still recovering from a strained left oblique muscle, and there is no definitive word on when he is going to return. Having said that, Cleveland is already 7-4 in September and has the most inviting schedule of any of the teams still in the race. 13 of their remaining 16 games are against teams with sub-.500 records including six against the White Sox. The "Tribe" has already gone 12-2 this season against Chicago.
The only contender Cleveland plays is Kansas City in a three-game road set next week.
The Royals' schedule isn't nearly as kind. In addition to Cleveland, they have three with Detroit and three with Texas. They also close out the season with seven straight on the road, albeit against Seattle and the White Sox.
Baltimore has the most difficult schedule down the stretch. All 16 of its games are against the East, including six against Boston and four with Tampa Bay. The Blue Jays could figure in here as well since they have six left against the O's.
The Yankees' schedule at least gives them a chance, if they don't get wiped out in Boston this weekend or stumble at home in the final week against the Rays. They have a three-game set at Rogers Centre against the Blue Jays next week and then follow that up with a three-game home set against the San Francisco Giants. The Yanks close out the campaign on the road with a soft touch four games at Houston.
Bottom line, if Texas and Tammpa Bay continue to falter, my picks to get in are the Yankees and Cleveland. The Yanks have yet another major injury concern though. Brett Gardner, their table-setting, speedy leadoff hitter strained an oblique muscle on a checked swing Thursday night in Baltimore. If he's out any length of time, the Yanks offence could start to sputter.
If Cleveland can somehow get in and get by the sudden-death Wild Card match-up, they would face Boston in the ALDS, which would pit Terry Francona, the former Red Sox manager who led them to two World Series victories, going up against his old pitching coach and the man who replaced him, former Jays skipper John Farrell. What a series that would be!
Remember back in 1992, when Dave Winfield encouraged Jays fans to be more boisterous, and the "Winfield wants Noise" mantra was born? Well something similar happened in Cleveland this week.
Michael Bourn was quoted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer as asking for more fan support, period. Said Bourn, "we'd like to be supported a little bit more, if we could." Who could blame him for the impassioned plea?
Cleveland is coming off a 5-4 homestand and had the two smallest September crowds ever at Progressive Field - 9,794 and 9,962. Their largest crowd of the homestand was just 21,453. On the season, Cleveland has only drawn 1,426,120 or 19,536 per game. That's pretty sad for a team that could be going to the Playoffs. Only Houston and Tampa Bay have drawn less, and the Rays are further disgraced by having the lowest attendance of all in the Majors. On Thursday night at Tropicana Field with a top notch match-up with the Red Sox and so much at stake, the Rays only drew 20,360.
It's no wonder there are rumblings of relocating the Rays, maybe even to Montreal. But that's a story for another day.