When the second Wild Card was added in each league for the 2012 season, much uproar was created from people who thought it was a way to cheapen the playoff system, much like it happens in other sports. Also, having a play-in game after a 162-contest grind seemed like a cruel way to decide the fate of an unfortunate squad (as it happened to the Braves last year).
Still, the counter-argument pointed out that having a second Wild Card would elevate the pressure to win a division outright, while creating more exciting races down the stretch. While both sides have valid arguments, there is no way to deny that the 2013 season will benefit from a great and suspenseful finish, at least in one of the leagues.
The National League is pretty much set. While the NL Central is still pretty tight, the eventual second and third places in the division are all but assured of earning the Wild Cards; both the East and the West have seen the Braves and Dodgers go on remarkable runs to secure a big lead. The only team with a realistic chance is Arizona, but they would have to overcome a lot of obstacles to dethrone the scorching Dodgers.
On the other hand, most of the AL is wide open. According to CoolStandings, 8 of the 15 teams in the AL have at least an 18% chance of making the playoffs, with 6 teams being within 5 games of the second Wild Card. Today we will examine those teams and their chances of actually making the playoffs.
Red Sox: somewhat unexpectedly Boston has become one of the best teams in baseball, already surpassing their hapless 69-win total of 2012. They are only one of the 2 AL squads with a 90+ percent probability of making the postseason, so they will surely be there come October. The challenge will be to win the division, but the Red Sox are in the driver´s seat.
Rays: 16 of the remaining 44 games in Tampa´s schedule are against Boston, New York and Baltimore, and they could represent their opportunity to make a push in the division or establish their position in the Wild Card. With a rotation in full strength, Joe Maddon and his boys should be able to be there in October.
Orioles: Baltimore stands only a couple of games out of the Wild Card, but their low odds of 31.4% reflect the tough schedule they will face from now on. 29 of their final 42 games are against contending teams, and having what is easily the weakest rotation among their AL foes should leave the Orioles out of it.
Yankees: their odds are below 10%, but history has taught us that it is usually not smart to count out the Yankees. They have 10 make-or-break games against Boston, which could prove the deciding factor if they are to make a run. Logic tells us that the Yankees are toast and should be content with playing spoiler, but with a lineup that is finally healthy again, September could be fun in the Bronx.
Tigers: they have a tight grip on the division, the largest lead in the AL and the best hitter on the planet. Detroit punched its October ticket a long time ago.
Indians: while the division is pretty much out of reach after a recent tailspin, Cleveland has a nice shot of earning a Wild Card. Their remaining calendar is pretty much even, so their best hope is that the teams from the East will beat up on themselves and open up enough room for the Indians to sneak in.
Royals: at 18.4% odds, they are a long shot, but in the year where the Pirates are playoff-bound, it would surely be fun to see Kansas City make a run. Even if they fall short, 2013 could be a stepping stone for a team that is desperate for a winning season. The good news: 17 games against the White Sox, Twins, and Mariners; the bad news: 11 against Detroit (with 8 of them being on the road).
Rangers: their playoff odds plummeted all the way down to 28% on July 28th, but the confluence of winning 14 of their following 16 games and seeing Oakland implode during that span has given Texas a slim division lead and an 86.3% chance to make it back to October. With Yu Darvish tearing the league and a strong lineup, the Rangers have a slight advantage over Oakland to win the West, even as a Wild Card could be their safety net.
A´s: even as Oakland hasn´t played terribly in recent weeks, their slip has been enough for Texas to catch up and pass them in the standings. They still hold the second Wild Card, but their aim must be to win the division outright. 19 of their remaining 43 are against teams featured in this list, but the rest are against the bottom feeders of the AL. My prediction is that Oakland will come out on top.