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The Crazy American League Wild-Card Race No One Seems To Want To Win

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We’re down to the wire in both leagues. This one could get really wild.

Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Thursday, I had a look at the National League wild-card race, which at least is somewhat easy to figure out: if the Mets and Giants win out, they’re in.

The American League race? Not so easy, because four teams are still alive for the two wild-card berths, and we might have to see a makeup game Monday before we know where the teams are headed next.

Entering Friday’s action, the Orioles and Blue Jays were tied for the two wild-card spots at 87-72. The Jays had held the top spot until the O’s beat them in the last two games of their just-completed series. Those two wins were important, obviously, for Baltimore, but if those teams win out, they’ll play the A.L. wild-card game in Toronto, because the Jays won the season series from the O’s.

The Blue Jays also won the season series from the Tigers, so if Detroit can somehow pass up Baltimore, that wild-card matchup would also take place in Toronto.

Now it gets complicated. If the Mariners -- still in it after defeating the Athletics late Thursday night — tie with the Blue Jays for the two wild-card spots, the home field for that is still to be determined. The teams split their season series, so the next tiebreaker is record within the team’s own division. Both teams have games remaining and this could go either way.

Here’s a team-by-team look at the remaining games for all four teams, three of whom play their final regular-season series on the road.

Orioles

They’ll play the Yankees in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium. They have split eight games against the Yankees, but are only 2-4 at Yankee Stadium. Again, if they win out, they’re in, and even if they win two of three, they would assure themselves of no worse than a tiebreaker game.

Blue Jays

The Jays finish the regular season at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. Though Boston clinched their division a couple of days ago, they still have something to play for: home-field advantage in the division series and ALCS. Any of the three division champions: Red Sox (92-67), Indians (91-67) or Rangers (94-65) could still be the top seed.

Like the Orioles, if the Jays win out, they’re in, and two of three would assure them of a tiebreaker game. Even if they win only one, or none, they could still get in depending on what the others do.

Tigers

The Tigers and Indians were rained out in Detroit Thursday. If that game means anything — including seeding position for Cleveland -- it would be played Monday afternoon, which could throw the entire AL playoff schedule up for grabs. (It’s likely the N.L. schedule stays the way it is, though, so Cubs playoff dates would not be affected.)

The Tigers finish the year with three games in Atlanta vs. the Braves, and you’re saying, hey, the Tigers will have it easy with a 92-loss team.

Not so! The Braves are 16-9 in September, have won nine of their last 10, and recently swept the Mets in New York. This will not be a cakewalk for the Tigers, not at all. However, the Tigers are 13-4 in interleague play so far this year.

Mariners

The Mariners sneaked back into this race with a 17-9 September. They’ve won six of their last eight, including Thursday’s late-night win over the A’s, who they’ll play again three more times this weekend. The Mariners are 11-5 this year vs. the A’s, but just 2-4 in Seattle, where the teams are meeting. This would seem to give the Mariners a boost, but they have the most losses (74) of any of the four teams, and their elimination number is 2, so if the Jays and O’s win at least two of their three games, Seattle’s out no matter what they do.

Here’s a good article describing the chaos that could happen if three teams tie for the A.L. wild card:

If the outcome of Monday's game means the Tigers are tied for a wild-card spot -- given the late hour and the margin in question, this is entirely possible -- then they'd need to play a tiebreaker on Tuesday. Since Tuesday is the original date for the AL Wild Card Game, this means that the wild-card game would be pushed back to Wednesday. Each ALDS is scheduled to start Thursday.

So consider: The Tigers play at home on Monday and wind up tied for the second wild card. Then they travel to Baltimore or Toronto for the tiebreaker game, since the Orioles and Blue Jays have each earned the right to host a tiebreaker against the Tigers. Assume the Tigers win and earn the second wild-card berth. That means on Wednesday they'd travel to the top wild-card team to play the AL wild-card game. If they get through that, then they'd need to fly to the AL's top seed (almost certainly the Rangers) for Game 1 of the ALDS.

It gets even worse if all four teams tie. That’s not even mentioned in this article about tiebreakers, and you can bet MLB doesn’t really want to see that happen, even though it would be entertaining for fans. The only way that happens is if the Mariners go 3-0, the Tigers go 3-1, and the Blue Jays and Orioles both go 1-2. Possible? Sure, but not likely.

Friday night’s Blue Jays/Red Sox game will air on ESPN2. All of this is certainly entertaining, especially for those of us just watching it from the sidelines.