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The race to the top: The AL Wild Card

As the trade deadline draws nearer, teams have to determine if they will be buyers or sellers. The separation between the two is pretty evident in the National League (minus the NL Central). But with six teams within two games of the last American League Wild Card spot, the race is wide open. Even so, only two teams make it to the Wild Card game. Let’s take a look at the top four teams vying for the coveted Wild Card berths and determine if they have what it takes to make it to the playoffs.

New York Yankees (44-37)

AL Wild Card
C.C. Sabathia has been a key contributor in the Yankees rotation (Kathy Willens/Associated Press).

Current Wild Card Standing: 1st Wild Card

After spending the majority of the season atop the AL East standings, a rough patch has left them two and a half games back of the Boston Red Sox. Even so, the Bronx Bombers are making a comeback, with an offense that can rival any team in the American League. Just look at the numbers; fourth-best team batting average in the majors (.269), fourth-most home runs (125), and second-best on base percentage (.347). That also included AL MVP front-runner Aaron Judge, who has buoyed the Yankees offense.

The pitching staff has also performed well. With the sixth-best team ERA in the majors (3.93), fifth-best WHIP (1.24), and fourth-best batting average against (.237), the Yankees are a complete team. Even though team ace Masahiro Tanaka has struggled this season with a 5.56 ERA. Jordan Montgomery and C.C. Sabathia have been key contributors for Joe Girardi. And with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman in the ‘pen, the Yankees can hold a lead as well as anyone. Look for them to be a lock for the AL Wild Card and to contend for the AL East for the remainder of the season.

Tampa Bay Rays (43-41)

Current Wild Card Standing: Tied for 2nd Wild Card

AL Wild Card
Corey Dickerson has been an excellent addition to a surprising Rays’ offense (mlb.com).
Even occupying the second Wild Card spot hasn’t been enough to earn the Rays the attention they deserve. But with only one player making the AL All-Star roster (Corey Dickerson), the Rays have relied on timely hitting and clutch pitching so far. The offense’s strength has been power, with the second-most home runs in the majors (128) and seventh-best slugging percentage (.447). Even though the offense has the ability to bludgeon opponents, it hasn’t had to. The pitching staff has done more than hold its own this season.

Ranking in 11th place in the majors in team ERA (4.18), WHIP (1.31) and tied for ninth in batting average against (.250), the pitching staff has given the offense plenty of opportunities to win games. Chris Archer and Alex Cobb have both had average seasons so far, and will need to turn it on down the stretch to ensure the Rays stay in contention. But if rookie Jacob Faria can maintain his 2.23 ERA, the pressure on Archer and Cobb will be vastly diminished. The Rays should hover around the top of the Wild Card standings and could make a run for the top spot.

Kansas City Royals (42-40)

AL Wild Card
Jason Vargas has put up a Cy Young caliber season in Kansas City (mlb.com).

Current Wild Card Standing: Tied for 2nd Wild Card

Of all of the teams in contention for the AL Wild Card, the Royals are the most interesting. Just two years removed from winning the Fall Classic, the majority of the championship roster remains intact. Although the team has a World Series pedigree, the offense has been sub-par. Ranking 20th in the majors in team batting average (.251), 29th in on base percentage (.303) and 22nd in slugging (.414) doesn’t bode well for their playoff hopes. Even strong seasons from Lorenzo Cain and All-Star starter Salvador Perez haven’t been enough to right the offense.

The pitching staff has fared better than the offense, but not by much. With the 13th best team ERA in baseball (4.26), 18th best WHIP (1.37) and 19th best batting average against (.260), the pitching staff has been below league average. The bright spot in the rotation has been Jason Vargas, who is a legitimate AL Cy Young candidate. Vargas and Danny Duffy have carried the pitching staff, but it’s not nearly enough to keep the Royals in contention. With a tough division and even tougher Wild Card race, the Royals don’t have enough to contend. Look for them to be big sellers at the trade deadline and gear up for a long rebuild.

Minnesota Twins (42-40)

Current Wild Card Standing: Tied for 2nd Wild Card

AL Wild Card
Sano has been terrific this season, earning his first All-Star appearance (mlb.com).
After years of rebuilding, the Twins are trying to turn promise into playoffs. But so far, the results have been mixed. Miguel Sano has turned into an All-Star third baseman, while second baseman Brian Dozier has put up an average season. Their contributions have led to the Twins 18th best team batting average in the majors (.252), 10th best on base percentage (.328) and 23rd best slugging percentage (.413). Even with a middling offense, it has driven the team’s success so far, as the pitching staff has struggled.

Ranking in the bottom third of the majors in team ERA (4.88, 27th), WHIP (1.44, 26th) and batting average against (.269, 26th) has kept the Twins from being true contenders in the AL. Even with Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios pitching well, the remainder of the Twins’ staff has let the team down. The Twins are in a precarious position; too young to rebuild but not quite good enough to be serious contenders. They could add a pitcher at the deadline, but it wouldn’t make much difference in a competitive AL Wild Card race. The Twins will ride out the remainder of the season and finish around the .500 mark.

Feature image by John Sleezer, TNS. 

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