The playoff outlook in the American League underwent a drastic shift this weekend as a result of the Boston Red Sox sweeping their biggest division rival, the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers now find themselves 9.5 games out of first place in the American League East division, an unamiable spot for a team with playoff aspirations on their minds.
Much unlike the National League, the divisional races in the American League are not all that close. The Red Sox and Cleveland Indians both possess a 9.5-game lead over their next closest competition within their respective divisions. The defending World Series Champion Houston Astros, meanwhile, hold a four-game lead over the surging Oakland Athletics in the AL West.
With just under two months left in the regular season, the focus in the American League now shifts to the Wild Card race, which has become more crowded over the last several weeks. The top two Wild Card spots are currently held by the Yankees and Athletics, with the ever-persistent Mariners looming just 2.5 games back of the second spot.
The A’s are a major reason as to why the Wild Card race has become so intense in the AL. They are 38-18 since the start of June, and with the recent additions of players such as Jeurys Familia and Mike Fiers, they figure to remain in the hunt until October.With the AL division races all but locked up, the @Athletics, @Mariners, and @Yankees turn their attention to the coveted Wild Card spots.Click To Tweet
Oakland has undoubtedly been lead by its ace, Sean Manaea, over the balance of the 2018 season. Manaea has gone 10-7 with a 3.38 ERA in 23 starts while also sporting a 98-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio. While the rest of the Athletics’ rotation leaves much to be desired they have been elevated by their fantastic bullpen.
Oakland boasts the fourth-best bullpen ERA in baseball this season, posting a collective 3.31 ERA while holding opposing batters to a .227 batting average. The Athletics’ stellar bullpen has been anchored by their closer, Blake Treinen, who is having the best year of his career by far. Treinen has recorded 28 saves so far this season while posting a microscopic 0.95 ERA and holding opposing hitters to a meager .175 batting average against him.
Oakland’s bullpen was bolstered even further over the trade deadline when the team acquired Jeurys Familia from the Mets for two minor league players. Familia has not allowed a run so far in his first eight innings pitched with his new team.
The Athletics also addressed the weakness in their starting rotation by dealing for Tigers starter, Mike Fiers, in a post-deadline trade. Fiers has been solid thus far in 2018, posting an 8-7 record with a 3.48 ERA in 21 starts. Fiers gives the Athletics a dependable, veteran starts who can pitch deep into ballgames and lend stability to their young rotation.
The Oakland Athletics will have to rely on its powerful offense to continue producing, while also hoping that its bullpen remains sturdy and dependable over the final two months of the season.
Meanwhile, both the Mariners and Yankees are going through similar problems right now. Both teams have struggled since the start of July after strong starts to the season. The Mariners are 11-17 since July 1st, while the Yankees have gone 15-15 during that same span of time. For both of these teams, their problems can be linked to injuries and inconsistent play.
The Yankees have been without sluggers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez due to recent injuries, absences that clearly had a negative impact on them over the weekend against Boston. Players such as Giancarlo Stanton, along with young prospects Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, are being asked to shoulder the load for a Yankees lineup that is missing some serious firepower.
As if the injuries to Judge and Sanchez were not bad enough, the Yankees have also been plagued with inconsistent, poor performances from their starting rotation. Their young ace, Luis Severino, has been the biggest issue recently. Severino was having a Cy Young-caliber season prior to the All-Star break, posting a 14-2 record with an impressive 2.30 ERA in 20 starts. Unfortunately, it has been an entirely different story since then, as he has lost three starts in a row while posting a walloping 9.60 ERA; opponents are hitting .371 against him during that span.
The rest of the Yankees’ rotation has struggled along with Severino, with C.C. Sabathia being unable to pitch deep into any games and Sonny Gray being removed from the rotation due to poor performances. The Yankees cannot afford to wait for Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez to get healthy in order to turn their season around. After a humiliating four-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, this Yankees team must find a catalyst from within or risk falling out further out of the Wild Card race.
Lastly, there is Seattle, who currently find themselves on the outside looking in concerning the Wild Card race. Seattle sits 2.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot, mostly due to the massive second-half surge that their division rivals, the Oakland Athletics, have gone on.
The Mariners, much like the Yankees, are missing the most important member of their lineup, Robinson Cano. The All-Star second baseman was handed an 80-game suspension by the league for testing positive for an illegal substance. Cano’s suspension concludes soon, but the ramifications of it have been felt by the rest of his team during his absence. The Mariners have struggled offensively all season, ranking 22nd in the league while hitting just a cumulative .255 to this point in the season.
While Cano returning to the lineup may help the Mariners, there is a large, looming consequence of his 80-game suspension that could come into play. As a result of the suspension, Cano is not eligible to play in the postseason. This means that if the Mariners are able to secure a Wild Card spot and play in the one-game playoff they will have to do it without Cano on the roster. This ruling could lead to heartbreak for the Mariners and their fans should they manage to fight their way into that one-game playoff. They will have to play that game without their best hitter.
Seattle’s lack of offense is not the only issue plaguing the team, as the once-heralded former Cy Young winner, Felix Hernandez, has struggled mightily this season. Hernandez holds an 8-9 record with a paltry 5.49 ERA in 22 starts so far this season. However, King Felix has been particularly un-kingly since the All-Star break, going 0-2 with an 8.53 ERA and managing just 12.2 innings over 3 starts. Hernandez is the clear weak link in an otherwise strong Seattle rotation, but the team may be left with no choice but to ride it out with him through the remainder of the season.
Seattle could attempt to add a starting pitcher through an August waiver deal, but its options will be extremely limited. This, plus the complications around Cano, will make things extra difficult for the Mariners over the next two months.
Each of these teams involved in the Wild Card race has their own unique strengths and flaws. One thing is for sure: any combination of these teams will make for an exciting Wild Card Game when it is all said and done.