The Indians have basically a quarter of their schedule left, and after a horrid stretch in which they lost 7 of 8 and nearly fell out of the race entirely, they rebounded to win their last couple games and keep themselves squarely in the mix for one of the two Wild Card spots. The Wild Card game is a complete crapshoot, but a 50/50 chance of getting into the 'real' playoffs still beats the pants off the 0% chance that comes from finishing with the sixth best record in the league.
It's your constitutional right to hold out hope that the Tigers collapse and the Tribe wins the Central, but a better use of your energies would be following the Wild Card race, and with so many teams in play, it will require a lot of energy to keep up with it all. I'm here to give you an overview of the situation, and let you know what's coming up in the next few days.
WILD CARD STANDINGS
The Rays have lost 6 of their last 7, and it looked like it would be 7 in a row last night, until they staged a 9th inning comeback and ended the losing streak. The last week leaves them 3 games behind Boston for the AL East lead. A division crown is still a realistic possibility for them, but they only have one series with the Red Sox left, so they can't fall too much further back if they want to keep that door open.
Team MVP: Evan Longoria - He continues to be one of the best players in baseball. Also deserving of mention: Wil Myers, who's likely to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award (enjoy the next 13 months with James Shields, Kansas City!), and James Loney, who's having the best season of his career after years of disappointing returns with theDodgers.
4.50 runs per game (7th in AL), 110 wRC+ (3rd in AL)
4.08 runs allowed per game (6th in AL), 99 ERA+ (9th in AL)
They get four more games at home against non-contenders, before a big series in Baltimore that could see them fall out of the top two in the Wild Card race.
The A's have gone just 4-7 in August so far, dropping them out of 1st place in the AL West. They're only 2 games behind Texas there, and with 6 games against the Rangers in September, they've certainly got a shot at winning their second straight division crown. They've just lost two in a row to the lowly Astros though, which has got to sting.
Team MVP: Josh Donaldson - .297/.375/.485 in a pitchers' park. Anyone who says they saw this coming better have documentation.
4.44 runs per game (8th in AL), 100 wRC+ (8th in AL)
3.89 runs allowed per game (3rd in AL), 107 ERA+ (6th in AL)
Upcoming schedule: 1 vs. Astros, 3 vs. Indians, 3 vs. Mariners
The series against the Indians is huge, but more so for Cleveland. After that series against Seattle though, Oakland hits the road for Baltimore and then Detroit, so they may want to stockpile a few wins in the next week.
The Orioles surprised most everyone by making the playoffs last year, but were still picked to finish last by most this season. Instead they've been a better team this year, and could be headed back to the postseason. They just got swept in Arizona, with all three losses coming by just one run, and the last two both going extra innings (after going 16-2 in extra-inning games in 2012).
4.76 runs per game (3rd in AL), 103 wRC+ (6th in AL)
4.44 runs allowed per game (10th in AL), 99 ERA+ (9th in AL)
Upcoming schedule: 3 vs. Rockies, 3 vs. Rays
Another team that should look to take advantage of some home games against a non-contender, because the schedule is about to get much tougher. Thats series against Tampa Bay kicks off 15 straight games against teams with a winning record, 9 of them on the road.
The Indians had won 10 of 11 entering a big series against Detroit, and held a 9th inning lead in the opener of that one, then things fell apart in a hurry. Wins in Minnesota the last two days (including a stunning comeback yesterday afternoon) keep them in the race. Hopefully the bats keep hitting, because they were the real culprit in last week's brutal play.
Team MVP: Jason Kipnis - He's slowed a bit in the second half, but still leads all AL 2B in wRC+ and fWAR.
4.63 runs per game (4th in AL), 106 wRC+ (5th in AL)
4.39 runs allowed per game (9th in AL), 94 ERA+ (11th in AL)
Upcoming schedule: 3 @ Athletics, 3 @ Angels
This weekend's series in Oakland is huge. If the Tribe can win 2 of 3, they'll be in very good shape, because their September schedule doesn't look bad, compared to what other teams here are looking at. On the other hand, even with that schedule, falling 4 or 5 games out, with so many other teams involved, makes for very long odds.
The Royals looked dead in the water at the All-Star break, but came blazing into the second half by winning 19 of their first 24 games, putting them into contention for the first time in a decade. They just dropped their last two games (at home, to the lowly Marlins), and their margin for error at this point is very thin, but it's still been quite a month in Kansas City.
Team MVP: Ervin Santana - Tough call here. He and Shields are awfully close among pitchers, Billy Butler has been the team's best hitter, Alex Gordon is having another good (though not great) year, and Lorenzo Cain actually leads the team in WAR, despite being a below average hitter.
4.03 runs per game (11th in AL), 88 wRC+ (12th in AL)
3.80 runs allowed per game (1st in AL), 117 ERA+ (2nd in AL)
Upcoming schedule: 5 @ Tigers, 3 vs. White Sox
Five games in Detroit could make for a pretty rough weekend. If they could somehow win four of those games, they could even dream about a division crown (especially because even after this weekend they'll still have six games left against Detroit). The more likely outcome seems to be 3 or 4 losses, which would put their playoff chances on life support.
Age seems to have finally caught up with the Yankees, and their offense this season has been the worst they've had in a century. Just when you might have been tempted to write them off though, they went out and won their last four games, scoring a combined 25 in the last two, with Alfonso Soriano hitting two home runs in each of them because what year is it?! I refuse to count them out until them winning is a mathematical impossibility and their head is on a pike somewhere.
Team MVP: Hiroki Kuroda - Second in the league with a 2.33 ERA, and because he's done that in a hitters' park, he leads the league in ERA+, at 174. He ought to be considered a strong contender for the Cy Young Award.
3.92 runs per game (13th in AL), 84 wRC+ (14th in AL)
3.99 runs allowed per game (5th in AL), 107 ERA+ (7th in AL)
Upcoming schedule: 1 vs. Angels, 3 @ Red Sox, 4 vs. Blue Jays
The AL East is the toughest division in baseball, but outside of divisional games, all the Yankees have left on their schedule after today are games against the White Sox, Giants, and Astros. Don't count them out yet.
This weekend it's time to put on the Red Sox, Rockies, and Mariners caps that you almost certainly don't own, and hope those teams can help the Tribe's position. Most of all though, the Indians just need to take care of their own business. If they can win 2 of 3 the rest of the way, they'll find their way into a Wild Card spot. Anything much less than that though, and we'll be watching two other teams play for a spot in the ALDS.