Surprise! It’s a double dose of Patience or Panic this week! Wednesday we did Patience or Panic a little differently than in weeks past, evaluating NL teams in the playoff hunt as opposed to individual players. So today we’re going to flip to the other side and evaluate teams that are in the hunt for the AL playoff spots. Just like yesterday’s piece we’ll give each team a score from one to five of how panicked they should be.
Now the thing with evaluating the AL side of the league is that all the divisions are practically wrapped up. The Tampa Bay Rays have a 6.0 game lead over the Boston Red Sox in the AL East, the Chicago White Sox a 10.5 game lead over Cleveland in the Central, and the Houston Astros an 8.0 game lead over the Seattle Mariners.
Although the AL doesn’t have any particularly enticing division races, the Wild Card is a ton of fun. Going into Thursday’s action the Red Sox hold the first Wild Card with a 2.0 game cushion over the New York Yankees, who have a 0.5 game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays. Those three alone make this an incredibly fun race that should come down to the wire. Just for fun, we’ll acknowledge the Seattle Mariners (2.5 games back) and Oakland A’s (3.5 games back). So let’s get to the panic meters.
The Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are in the most favorable position of all the teams in this hunt. They hold the first wild card, have a two-game cushion, and face the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals to close out the season.
However, they first have to host the Yankees for three games at Fenway before getting to those last two series.
The series starts Friday night and the Yankees will be motivated to try and jump Boston and grab that first wild card spot and the chance to have Gerrit Cole on the mound at home in a winner-take-all game.
That would require a sweep by New York though, and the Red Sox enter the series having won seven games in a row. Xander Bogaerts is slashing .412/.525/.765 over the last week, J.D. Martinez .333/.368/.611, and Rafael Devers .364/.364/.455.
Boston controls their destiny, and as long as they can avoid a sweep from the Yankees, they should be able to stroll right to that first wild card spot.
Panic Level: 2
The New York Yankees
Now to their credit, the Yankees have also been playing well, winners of three straight and seven of their last ten. Giancarlo Stanton has a .588 slugging percentage and five home runs in the last 13 games. Gio Urshela is slashing .346/.346/.500 in the last week. Even Gary Sanchez has shown signs of life, with a .286/.412/.714 line over the last week.
Unlike the Red Sox though, the Yankees have tough sledding the rest of the way. After the weekend series in Boston, the Yankees will close out their season with series against Toronto and Tampa Bay. Not ideal, especially given the standings. That makes this upcoming series with the Red Sox all the more important, because if the Yankees falter, the Blue Jays will be salivating hoping for a chance to seize that last playoff spot and bounce their inter-division rivals.
Basically what it comes down to is the Yankees are in even more control of their fate than the Red Sox are, because even if the Yankees falter this weekend, they can bounce back against the Jays and move back into the lead for the second wild card (admittedly not an easy task but you get the point).
Panic Level: 3.5
The Blue Jays are currently on the outside looking in, a half-game out of the second wild card. But opportunity is coming. The Jays will be hosting the lowly Twins while the Red Sox and Yankees battle it out in Boston. The Jays also have four games with Minnesota while their rivals have a three-game series. So By the time Toronto and New York meet, things could be all tied up for the second wild card.
But the fact of the matter is that the Blue Jays currently sit outside the playoff bubble despite having the likely AL Cy Young in Robbie Ray and a man who will finish top-two in the MVP voting with Vlad Guerrero Jr. who by the way is slashing .474/.583/.789 over the past week.
What is working in the Blue Jays favor though is the schedule, let’s say they finish the series with New York still down one game. This would take their destiny out of their own hands, but could still leave the door open. The Yankees close the series against the best team in the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays get to close the season against the pitiful Baltimore Orioles.
But obviously, the ideal situation would be to have control of your fate, and the Blue Jays will be primed to do that once they face the Yankees. You already saw Vlad’s numbers a couple of paragraphs above, but on top of that Bo Bichette is slashing .352/.362/.630 over the last two weeks, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is slashing .353/.421/.706 over the same stretch. That bodes well facing a pitching staff like the Yankees, which has been middling at best outside of Gerrit Cole.
It’s not a great position to be in, but the opportunity should be there in the coming days.
Panic Level: 3
The Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s
All due respect to both these teams, but they are unfortunately stuck behind the behemoth that is the AL East. The Mariners could theoretically sneak in as they’re only 2.5 back and have certainly beaten expectations by even being in the hunt, and Starling Marte has been incredible for the A’s but there just probably isn’t a path for either team. Is it possible? Of course, this is baseball after all. What doesn’t help is that these teams have four games left against each other, then the Mariners close things out against the Angels and the A’s close against the Astros. Valiant efforts but likely too little too late.
Panic Level: 4.5