Home > Baseball > The Wild, Wild, Wild Card…

The Wild, Wild, Wild Card…

This is it, mark this day on your calendar… May 21st 2011.  The end of days, the day that everything we’ve known that is good and pure will come to an end.  The beginning of the end for all… The last day that the Boston Red Sox will not be the atop the American League East.  Ok, ok, I jest; surely it’s possible that the Rays defeat their Florida neighbors to hold off the Sox for another day and I guess it’s somewhat (albeit far less) plausible that the Cubs actually defeat the Sox, but you don’t need to scour the bible and use complicated mathematics to see that the Sox are finally performing as we thought they would and that the AL East is theirs for the taking.

As for the Jays, for a season in which they’ve lost Bautista for 8 games, Lind for 12,  Hill for 17, Jayson Nix for 20(ish), and in which Halladay has yet to pitch for them (what? Some people think the moon landing was staged, I can’t conveniently forget that Doc was traded?), you have to be happy to see them sitting only 2.5 out.  As I said above, I think the Sox are about to grab the East crown from the Rays’ head and run away with it.  Like a big brother bullying his little sister, I expect that the Sox are going to run farther, faster, leaving everyone else in the division standing in the mud crying for Mom.  What the Jays can hold out hope for, is that the Wild Card looks to be exceptionally winnable this year.

Here are the Wild Card standings through last night’s games:

American League
Boston 24 20 .545 15-9 9-11 201 194 +7 Won 7 8-2
NY Yankees 23 20 .535 .5 13-12 10-8 219 179 +40 Lost 1 3-7
Detroit 22 22 .500 2 11-8 11-14 193 192 +1 Lost 4 6-4
Kansas City 22 22 .500 2 17-11 5-11 200 206 -6 Won 2 4-6
LA Angels 23 23 .500 2 10-10 13-13 181 177 +4 Won 1 3-7
Toronto 22 22 .500 2 10-10 12-12 199 189 +10 Lost 1 7-3
Oakland 22 23 .489 2.5 11-12 11-11 165 157 +8 Lost 3 4-6
Seattle 20 24 .455 4 11-12 9-12 153 171 -18 Won 3 4-6
Baltimore 19 24 .442 4.5 10-14 9-10 171 218 -47 Lost 4 5-5
Chicago Sox 20 26 .435 5 8-13 12-13 177 197 -20 Lost 1 6-4
Minnesota 15 28 .349 8.5 4-11 11-17 145 227 -82 Lost 1 3-7

Every team in the American League, save the surprisingly atrocious Twins, is within five games of the playoffs.  That’s remarkable.  Last year for instance, only three teams on May 21st were within five games of the Wild Card leading Yankees.  In the last decade, only 2004 and 2008 had anywhere near as many hopeful teams on this date.  In 2004 the White Sox, Yankees, Twins and Rangers were all tied for the Wild Card lead, with Oakland, Detroit and Baltimore all within four games.  Of course, by season’s end, the Yanks and Twins had won their divisions, the Red Sox had won 98 games to take the Wild Card in a walk and the A’s (7 games back) Rangers (9), White Sox (15), Orioles (20), and Tigers (26) were all left wanting.

2008 was less dramatic, the Rays led Baltimore by a game and a half, Oakland by 2.5, the Twins by 3.5 and Minnesota, Texas, the Jays, and Cleveland by 4.5.  By season’s end, the Rays had pulled off the decade’s most shocking upset, the Sox were again the Wild Card, and the fast starting Orioles were once again more than 20 games out (26).

Of course, the difference between those years and this year?  Well, in 2004 the Red Sox and Yankees were absolute, no doubt about it, great teams.  In 2008 the same could be said for the defending champion Sox and – even if we didn’t know it at the time – the Rays.  This year?  Who’s great this year?  If we look at those Wild Card standings and replace the Sox with the Rays, then tell me who is going to run away with the Wild Card?

I don’t expect there to be nine teams within five games of the WC by year’s end: The Royals’ bubble is about to burst; the Orioles are better, but not that much better; the Mariners intrigue me because they can defend and in King Felix, Michael Pineda and Erik Bedard (if he’s healthy) they have the arms, but… come on?  They’ve hit Adam Kennedy cleanup three times this year (and Miguel Olivio cleanup 17 times… I can’t decide which is worse); all of which leaves the Rays, Yanks, Tigers, Angels, A’s and White Sox.  Are any of those teams capable of winning 65% of their games the rest of the way to approach 95 plus wins?  I don’t think so.

As we all saw last weekend, the Yanks have started their long, slow decline and it’s not going to be pretty.  The names that made them great: Jeter, ARod, and Posada are showing the signs of age (the exception of course is Rivera, but we can’t predict exactly how he’ll age, aliens might have longer lifespans than humans).  If you thought the Posada debacle was ugly, just wait until Jeter’s On Base Percentage is still mired around .313 in July… Plus, it’s hard to see the Yanks as a juggernaut when their starting rotation is: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia.  Baseball’s a funny game, but if those five pitchers are the backbone of a 95 win team, then Arnold Schwarzenegger’s an upstanding gentleman.

The Rays are obviously very well managed (both on the field and in the front office) and today they would be my guess to win the Wild Card, but they do have a sketchy bullpen, Johnny Damon batting 3rd and Matt Joyce hitting about a 100 points better than anyone could reasonably expect.  They will be there at the end, but I doubt that end is the 96 games they won last year.

As for the other teams, the Angels acutally thought it was a good idea to pickup all of Vernon Wells’ contract and he’s rewarding them with a .527 OPS (Nobody predicted that one… cough-sarcasm-cough).  The Tigers are being hauled to .500 by the shear greatness of Justin Verlander, but they look very much like a 85-87 win team (which might ultimately win the AL Central, sorry Tribe fans).  The White Sox are hard to predict, because Kenny Williams is so proactive that you never know when he’ll pull off a deal for Hanley Ramirez, but the problem with parity is that nobody’s selling off assets if they think that they can contend.  And the A’s, well the A’s are like a glorified version of the Mariners.  They have better arms, which is what keeps them in the conversation, but Josh Willingham is their cleanup hitter.  I think National fans can tell you how that works out.

All of which brings me back to the Jays.  Right now, it looks as though 90 wins might actually take the Wild Card, are the Jays capable of winning 90?  Well, no probably not.  To get to 90, they would have to win 68 of their remaining 118 games, or 57%.  Since they are exactly .500 today, that’s a tall order, but then if Lind were to get healthy, Hill start hitting the ball over the fence, Brett Lawrie come up from AAA and perform like the young star he is, well… Like I said, baseball’s a funny game.  I don’t think the Jays are truly in contention, but I also wouldn’t be terribly surprised if in the middle of July they were only 3.5 out, and at that point, well at that point it only takes one really good run; one stretch of games where every bloop hit finds a hole, where every line drive off the opposing team’s bat hits leather, where every hitter starts to feel good and every pitcher’s locked into the zone.  A stretch of games where you rattle off 15 wins in 17 games, or 17 wins in 23, or something that propels you from booking exotic holidays in October to playing meaningful September ball.  It’s possible.  It might be almost as surprising as the World ending today, but it’s possible.

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