With one week remaining in the 2013 regular season, it is still possible that six teams could wind up in a tie for the two American League wild-card spots at 88 wins.
Having said that, "possible" is really all it is, in a mathematical sense. Realistically, the Orioles and Yankees eliminated themselves in all but that mathematical sense with losses Sunday (and Baltimore has now lost four in a row), and here's why the 88-win scenario I posited last week isn't going to happen.
The Cleveland Indians have won eight of their last 10 games to move from the fourth spot in the overall wild-card mashup to second; if they can move into the top spot, they'd host the wild-card game. Here's why they're likely to do exactly that: their six remaining games are against the White Sox and Twins. Cleveland has a combined 24-8 record against those teams. It would be a monumental collapse for the Tribe to go 2-4 this week. Most likely, they go 4-2 or 5-1 and wind up with 90 or 91 wins, a terrific turnaround for a club that lost 94 games a year ago.
So the five- or six-way tie probably isn't going to happen. Could we still have a tie, either two or three teams, for the second spot, the right to play the Indians in that wild-card game?
Sure we can, and here's how it could happen at 89 wins; for a three-way tie, it'll require the Royals to run the table (and they could do it), but a Rangers/Rays tie is quite feasible.
Tampa Bay Rays, 86-69, seven games remaining: lose to Orioles (Monday afternoon), win one of three from Yankees, win two of three from Blue Jays. The Rays' last six are on the road, where they are 36-39 this year.
Texas Rangers, 84-71, seven games remaining: sweep Astros, split four-game series with Angels. All of Texas' remaining games are at home, although the Rangers have a better road record than home record this year.
Kansas City Royals, 82-73, seven games remaining: to get to 89 wins, they'd have to win all of them, and all on the road. They've got three games at Seattle, and are 3-1 against the Mariners so far this year. Then they have four games at the Cell against the White Sox; they're just 7-8 against the White Sox this year, but swept them there the last time they played there in late July, and that was before the White Sox made their deadline deals. It's a tough road, but not impossible. Even if they don't make it, the Royals have had a nice turnaround year and should be well positioned for the future.
Admittedly, it's a long shot for all this to go down this way, even for a two-way tie for that second spot, which would require a tiebreaker game to be played Monday. But to have six teams in contention for two playoff spots this far into the season -- one week remaining -- is quite remarkable.
Incidentally, if the Rangers and Rays do wind up in a two-way tie, the Rays would have to play in Toronto Sunday and then fly to Texas to play the tiebreaker game Monday. If they win that, they'd then have to fly to Cleveland to play the wild-card game Wednesday, then, if they defeat the Indians, fly to either Boston or Oakland (whoever winds up as the No. 1 seed) to start the division series Friday.
And then there's the three teams bunched at the top of the National League Central, two of them (Pirates and Reds) trailing the Cardinals by two games with six to go. If those teams all wind up tied, they'd have to play a two-day tournament to decide the division title, and then the other two clubs would play again in the wild-card game.
Hang on. This last week should be quite a ride, and the Cubs, with all their remaining games against Pittsburgh and St. Louis, could have a say.