The Crazy AL Wild Card Race

From 3-way ties to AL East dominance, the AL Wild Card race is proving to be high drama in 2021. As it sits on the morning of September 17th, it is a a battle between the Toronto Blue Jays (82-64), the Boston Red Sox (83-65) and the New York Yankees (82-65, 0.5 games back), with the Oakland Athletics (79-67, 3 games back) and the Seattle Mariners (78-68, 4 games back) hoping for a slip from the teams above. With between 14-16 games remaining for every team, the final 2 weeks are absolute must-watch baseball every night.

As a Red Sox fan, it’s frustrating that the team is even in this position fighting for a playoff spot. Putting that aside, let’s take a closer look at the race, see what the next few weeks will look like for the 3 AL East teams, and make some predictions on the outcome.

Toronto Blue Jays

Playoff Odds: 84.0%

The Blue Jays have the 2nd best run differential in the AL and 4th best in the MLB this season. They have been on an absolute tear the last month or so, going 16-3 over their last 19 games, including an 8-game winning streak and a 4-game sweep of the New York Yankees about a week ago to make this race even more interesting. Their surge has been marked by tremendous offensive production. In the 15 games so far in September (13-2), the Blue Jays have scored fewer than 5 runs just twice, and have scored 10+ runs in 5 games. If they continue scoring at this same level, it will be incredibly hard to see them not getting one of the 2 wild card spots in 2 weeks. They will also be a very difficult out in the wild card game if they can continue to score in bunches.

Their schedule going forward isn’t terribly difficult, but has a few potential hurdles. They face the 64-83, 5th place in the AL Central Minnesota Twins 7 times in the final 16 games, including a 4-game set on the road at Target Field and a 3-game set to end the season at home against the lowly Baltimore Orioles. They do have 3 games at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay against the Rays and a huge 3-game set at home against the New York Yankees, but overall that’s a fairly light schedule for the highly potent Blue Jays offense. Overall, I think the remaining games are favorable for Toronto assuming they can beat the teams they are supposed to beat and not get swept by the Rays or Yankees. Their playoff odds have jumped a massive 42.5% in 30 days and it’s looking better and better for the team north of the border.

Boston Red Sox

Playoff Odds: 71%

The strange rollercoaster of a season continues in Boston. The most dominant and surprising team early on in the year is now in the mix to miss the playoffs all together with 2 weeks remaining. The Red Sox went from first place on July 30th to 8 games back tied for 2nd as of writing this, which is amazingly and improvement after spending 19 games in 3rd place in the end of August and into September. The September schedule for the Red Sox has been tough, with all but 3 of the 14 games against above .500 teams and the other 3 games were against Cleveland who are 71-73 and 2nd in the AL Central. The Red Sox went 8-6, which while not amazing, has kept them in the hunt for a wild card spot.

The good news for Red Sox fans is their schedule. They face the lowly Baltimore Orioles 6 times (3 at home, 3 on the road), the New York Mets 2 times at home, and the Washington Nationals for 3 on the road to end the season. The biggest three games in the middle are a homestand with the New York Yankees. If the Red Sox can win the majority of the games they are supposed to win against lesser opponents, they may have a chance to sink the Yankees chances with a series win at Fenway September 24-26. The Red Sox are 21-12 against their remaining opponents (they haven’t play the Nationals yet) and have the most favorable schedule of the 3 AL East teams fighting for the 2 wild card spots.

New York Yankees

Playoff Odds: 36.4%

After an incredibly hot August, the Yankees are struggling in a big way in September. In August the Yankees went 21-8 and climbed as close as 4 games back in the division race and 2 games up in the top wild card spot on August 27th. Now 15 games into September, the Yankees have fallen to 9 games back in the division and are 0.5 games back of even the 2nd wild card spot. According to Baseball Reference, over the last 30 days the Yankees playoff odds have dropped 12%, which is a tough spot to be in with 2 weeks remaining. That being said, if they get hot and start rolling, they have a reasonable shot at the 2nd wild card position and even the top spot if Toronto and Boston falter.

The upcoming schedule is really tough for the Yankees. On one hand, they have the opportunity to face the Blue Jays and Red Sox head-to-head which could change the race dramatically, but on the other hand, they finish the season with 6 of 9 on the road and all 9 against teams in the division fighting for a playoff spot. This season, the Yankees have been outscored in games on the road (322-321) despite a 41-34 record and more importantly, they are 19-29 against the Rays, Blue Jays, and Red Sox combined. If the Yankees want to put themselves in a better position, they need to take care of business at home against the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers over the next 6 games. Both teams are under .500, although Cleveland just barely, and the Yankees have gone 6-2 against the 2 clubs so far this season. The wild card will likely be decided in games 154-159 on the road in Boston and Toronto.


Prediction

  • 1st Wild Card – Toronto Blue Jays
  • 2nd Wild Card – Boston Red Sox
  • Wild Card winner – Toronto Blue Jays

While I think this will be a battle until the bitter end, the Blue Jays and Red Sox have the advantage going into the final few weeks. The Yankees are more than capable of making a run and stealing a spot from one of the 2 teams, but the way they have been playing and their schedule will make it a tough task. When it comes to the actual Wild Card game, I give the advantage to the Blue Jays regardless of location, but an even more significant advantage if they are playing in the Rogers Centre. If the game were to be at Fenway, it would be a closer call for me, but I always favor the hotter team and it’s hard to find a team with more momentum (as of today) than the Blue Jays. With all that said, a LOT can happen in two weeks of baseball and the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners are not going to sit back and watch the battle in front of them passively.

*All playoff odds are from Baseball Reference.

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