Three games remain in the 2012 regular season, and though have teams that have clinched playoff berths in the American League, the division championships, wild cards and specific seedings are still up for grabs.
The Orioles, Yankees and Rangers are in with their wins Sunday. The Tigers are nearly in -- one more win, or a loss by the White Sox, and Detroit is the A.L. Central champion for the second straight year. The Athletics are very close to clinching a spot in the wild-card game, and still have a chance for a division title as well. The Rays and Angels still hope for a spot in the wild-card game, hanging by the proverbial thread, but they must both win out, and get help from others, to get in.
Here, then, are all the possibilities for each of the eight teams still vying for the five postseason spots.
Yankees: The Yankees must win one more game than the Orioles in order to win the A.L. East outright. If the two teams tie, because winning the division title gets you a pass on the wild-card play-in game, the tie will be broken on the field. The tiebreaker would be played in Baltimore; the O's and Yankees went 9-9 in their season series, so the second tiebreaker (best record in division games) determines home field.
Orioles: Same scenario as the Yankees. However, the O's and A's could still tie for the first wild-card spot at either 92, 93 or 94 wins, even if neither one of them ties for or wins a division title. Such a tiebreaking game would be played in Oakland; the A's won the season series from the O's 5-4.
Tigers: A respite from the confusion. If Detroit wins once, or the White Sox lose once, any time over the next three games, the Tigers are A.L. Central champions. The team that doesn't win that division is out of the playoffs.
White Sox: The only chance for the ChiSox is for them to sweep the Indians, while the Tigers are swept by the Royals. If that happens, a divisional tiebreaker would be played October 4 in Detroit, since the Tigers won the season series from the White Sox 12-6.
Rangers: Texas can go a long way toward eliminating not only the A's, but many of the tiebreaking scenarios if they sweep their series against the A's in Oakland. The Rangers' magic number for division-clinching is two -- if they win Monday night, they are A.L. West champions. The only way Texas doesn't win the A.L. West outright is if they get swept by the A's ... and that leads to:
Athletics: If the A's win one or two of their three-game set against the Rangers, Texas is the A.L. West winner, but Oakland can still make the playoffs at 92 or 93 wins. They would be the first wild-card (meaning they'd host the play-in game) at 93 wins if the Orioles (or Yankees, whoever doesn't win the East) wind up with fewer than 93 wins (meaning both would have been swept). If the A's and the non-East winner wind up with the same number of victories, the A's would host the play-in game (they won the season series over Baltimore 5-4, and have the tiebreaker over the Yankees by virtue of having a better record over the season's final 81 games -- that's the third tiebreaker).
Confused yet? Here are two teams whose chances are clear-cut:
Angels, Rays: Both of these teams must sweep their season-ending series and hope the A's also get swept. For the Rays, since they are playing the Orioles, that would likely clinch the A.L. East for the Yankees -- unless the Yankees also get swept in their final series. If the Angels and Rays and A's wind up tied at 91 wins, the non-winner of the AL East gets the first wild card and the other three teams play off for the second spot in the play-in game this way:
The three teams would be assigned A, B and C designations based on a series of tiebreakers. Team A hosts Team B on Thursday and the winner hosts Team C on Friday. The team that wins the tiebreaker gets to choose its designation: Do you want to play at home or would you rather play one game on the road?
The A's won the season series from both the Angels (10 to 9) and Rays (5 to 4), so they'd get to pick first. The Rays went 9-1 (!) against the Angels, so they get second choice. Which means you'd likely get this scenario: Angels at Rays on Thursday, A's at Angels/Rays on Friday, wild-card game on Saturday. The Angels could end up with this schedule of four games in four days: At Tampa, versus Oakland at home, at Baltimore/New York, back in Anaheim for the Rangers.
Such fun! And the possibility exists that three teams not in the same division (the A's, Orioles and Yankees) could wind up tied at 92 or 93 wins. That one's actually a bit easier:
The Orioles and Yankees would play for the AL East title on Thursday. That game would be played at Baltimore (the Orioles and Yankees tied their season series but the Orioles had a better division record). The loser of that game and the A's would be the two wild-cards. The A's hold the home-field tiebreaker over the Orioles and Yankees.
All of the various combinations for tiebreakers can be found here, although that was written almost two weeks ago and some of those scenarios no longer apply.
Things should be clearer after Monday night's games are in the books. Maybe.