MLB: Handicapping the Wild Card Races

by Power Sports

Our monthly look at Major League Baseball will focus on the respective Wild Card races in the American and National Leagues. Over the course of the final month of the regular season, this figures to be where all the intrigue is.

In the AL, it’s safe to say current division leaders Tampa Bay, Chicago & Houston will be involved in the postseason. All three have near 100 percent odds of making the playoffs at this point. Honestly, I’d be shocked if any team out of the trio failed to win its division.

The Wild Card race is pretty wide open though with five teams battling for the two spots. From the East, you’ve got the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays. From the West, the A’s and Mariners are in contention. There will not be a second team from the Central in this postseason.

Those of you that have read any of my previous articles, or followed my picks throughout the year, know that I am completely dismissive of the Mariners’ chances. They are 70-62 but have a -61 run differential. Their expected number of wins, based on that run differential, is 59. They are the only team in baseball that has outperformed its win expectation by more than five games. The Mariners’ good fortune in games decided by one run and extra innings will run out. As of this writing, five of Seattle’s next eight games are against Houston. They lost Monday to the Astros … by one run. 

It feels as if we’ve already seen the “best” from the Yankees, Red Sox and A’s this season. The Yankees recently had a 13-game win streak snapped and have now lost three in a row. The Red Sox were 52-31 on July 2nd. They have gone just 23-27 since. The A’s, like the Yankees, had their own 13-game win streak this season. Theirs came all the way back in April. Take that away and they’ve been a .500 team the rest of the year.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Toronto is the team to keep an eye on. Yes, they trail the three teams I just mentioned. But their run differential (+118) is vastly superior. (Note: I always harp on run differential because I think it’s a better measure of a team’s performance than won-loss record). Ten of the Blue Jays’ final 33 games are against the worst team in baseball, Baltimore, including the last series of the season (and that’s at home). The Jays also have seven games left against another last place team, Minnesota. 

My picks for the two Wild Card spots are the Blue Jays and Yankees. New York has the best record in games decided by two runs or fewer, so they have been a little lucky in 2021. Boston has scored the most runs of the three, but also allowed the most. Oakland really doesn’t do it for me.

Over in the National League, things aren’t nearly as wide-open. The Giants, Dodgers and Brewers are all shoo-ins for the playoffs. Last month, we told you to take note of Atlanta and they’ve seized control of the East. Based on the run differentials in that division, you have to think the Braves are winning it for a fourth straight year.

Whomever doesn’t win the West - the Giants or Dodgers - will obviously be the top Wild Card in the Senior Circuit. The second Wild Card comes down to the likes of the Reds, Padres, Cardinals and Phillies. Look, whoever it ends up being will be a massive ‘dog in the WC game and will probably lose. 

I don’t have particularly strong feelings on this race. It feels like it’s San Diego’s to lose. The fact they’ve lost 13 of their last 17 games but are only one-half game behind Cincinnati tells me that any righting of the ship should guarantee the spot. They have the best run differential of the four teams. The Cardinals and Phillies both have negative run differentials, so I’m skeptical of them. The Padres have a ton of games left vs. the Giants and Dodgers though and an interleague series with Houston. It’s also not good that 20 of the Padres’ final 32 games are on the road. They are 41-29 at home, but below .500 on the road. The Reds have nine games left vs. Pittsburgh plus seven more with the Cubs and Nationals. I think they will make the playoffs. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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