The Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians will battle it out for the last remaining playoff spots over the final week of the season. The american league wildcard race is now the final competitive contest of the regular season. At the time of writing the three teams are within one game, the Athletics and Indians have five games to play while the Rays have four games left.
The Athletics have the narrow advantage of the group, having a 0.5 game lead over the Rays and a one game lead over the Indians. However, Oakland have lost their last two games and the other two teams have won their last two. Two games does not exactly count as a trend but momentum is crucial at this time of year. Every single game is crucial and if one of the three teams can put together a short streak they will guarantee a wildcard spot.
Over the last 10 games the three teams in the race each have a 7-3 record. The contenders are very difficult to split with each team having almost identical records over the short term and the long term. However, the strength of their remaining schedules may decide who makes it into October.
The Oakland Athletics have the easiest schedule with one game against the Los Angeles Angels followed by a four game set against the Mariners. The Cleveland Indians have two games against the White Sox and then three against the Washington Nationals. This would suggest that the Athletics are a lock for one of the two wildcard spots but they lost their first game against the Angels and only scored one run. In a one off baseball game anything can happen and the longer terms trends sometimes go out of the window.
The american league wildcard race is no longer is now a sprint at the end of the marathon that is the regular season. For the Athletics, Rays and Indians the next week will provide a taste of postseason baseball. Every plate appearance, inning and game will carry extra weight. As the only remaining meaningful games this regular season the AL wildcard race will get a lot of attention. Whichever team makes it into the division series, they have a chance to go all the way.
All three teams have been among the best teams in baseball since the all-star break. Their second half winning percentages are .672(Athletics), .621(Rays) and .618(Indians). Momentum can be hugely important in the postseason and each of the teams could beat anyone in a series.