Previewing the American League's big weekend

Patrick McDermott - Getty Images

With four of the A.L.'s five postseason berths still in serious question, this weekend's action will go a long way toward determining who makes it and who doesn't.

A few things you, the informed American League aficionado, probably know already:

  • After winning eight games in a row, the third-place Tampa Bay Rays now have a better run differential than the New York Yankees.
  • After winning eight of their 11, the Baltimore Orioles have almost reached positive run-differential territory for the first time in a while. All they have to do is outscore their opponents by at least two runs over their last six games.
  • The White Sox have lost eight of their last 10 and turned a nifty three-game lead over the Tigers into a two-game deficit.

When you look at the standings, it's mostly about 2's. The White Sox are two games behind the Tigers, the Rays and Angels are both two games behind the A's, and the A's are two games behind the Yankees.

Why does it matter how many games the A's are behind the Yankees? Because the Yankees are just one game ahead of the Orioles in the East. It's far from inconceivable that the Orioles could catch or pass the Yankees in the standings, at which point it becomes far from inconceivable that the Yankees could be the last qualifier for the postseason, leaving them in a one-game playoff in Oakland.

Of course, a lot of things would have to fall into place. There's no point in working through all the math, because one can imagine a lot of crazy things; if the Yankees lose their last six games, three more against the Blue Jays and three against the Red Sox, they could fall out of the postseason completely.

That is highly unlikely.

What's more likely -- though still, of course, unlikely -- is that the Yankees lose (for example) four of six, while both the Orioles and A's win four of six. That would leave the Orioles in first place, and the Yankees and A's tied atop the Wild Card standings.

What would happen then? The Yankees and Athletics split their 10 games this season, which means going to the second tiebreaker, which is record in intra-division games. And the A's would win that one. Which is why the Yankees might have to fly to the Bay Area next Thursday for a Friday playoff.*

* By the way, Major League Baseball is calling the one-game playoff the "Wild Card Game", which makes perfect sense. On the other hand, MLB is sticking with "Division Series" which of course doesn't makes any sense at all. MLB missed a great opportunity to come up with something better.

The Tigers, as my friend Rany Jazayerli pointed out, should send some of their postseason money to the Royals. Just this month, Kansas City's taken four of six from the White Sox and been swept four straight by the Tigers. Maybe the Tigers should wait a few days, though. Because they finish the season with three more games against the Royals, this time in Kansas City. So the White Sox might wind up owing the Royals some money.

The Tigers do finish with six games on the road, first three in Minnesota and then those three in K.C. The White Sox have three more at home against the Rays at home, then finish with three games in Cleveland. I guess it's obvious that the White Sox and Rays won't both make the playoffs, but whichever takes two of these next three games still has a fighting chance.

The Orioles host the Red Sox this weekend, and then head south for what now looks like the most interesting series we've got left: Tampa Bay vs. Baltimore for three games that could mean a great deal to both clubs.

Ah, but that's getting ahead of ourselves. By Sunday afternoon, the whole picture could look quite a bit different.

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