Thursday's morning's Wild Card table in the Junior Circuit:
Okay sports fans, this shit's getting real. Six teams for only two slots, and just two games separating five of those teams.*
Even better? Those five teams have essentially the same run differentials, right around +40 on the season. The only exception is the Yankees, who've actually been outscored by a run. But nobody really believes they're that bad, right? Now that Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson are back in the lineup, and Alfonso Soriano's patrolling left field and Mark Reynolds around to crush lefties?
Granted, if you want to be a killjoy, you can reference Baseball Prospectus's second-order wins, which results in a huge spread between the five clubs: 84-60 for the Rays, and somehow just 66-80 for the Yankees.
Yeah. Fun with statistics. Except it's not so much fun if you're a Yankees fan. So let's ignore those pesky second-order wins and just assume for the moment that everyone's the same. Which, in the context of just two weeks, they essentially are.
So how to handicap the race? Well, let's revisit the schedules once more ...
- Rays - After one more game against the powerful Red Sox, the Rays travel to Minnesota for three against the Twins (.438), host the Rangers (.559) and the Orioles (.531), and finish up against the Yankees (.534) and the Blue Jays (.462);
- Yankees - After one more game against the Orioles, the Yankees play in Boston (.605) and Toronto (.462), host the Giants (.452) and the Rays (.542), and finish the season in Houston (.342);
- Indians - They visit the White Sox (.400) and the Royals (.527), host the Astros (.342) and White Sox (.400), and finish with four games in Minnesota (.438);
- Orioles - After the Yankees tonight, the Orioles visit Toronto (.462) and Boston (.605) and Tampa Bay (.542) before coming home to host the Blue Jays and the Red Sox;
- Royals - They visit Detroit (.575) this weekend before heading home to host the Indians (.531) and Rangers (.559), and finish the season with three games in Seattle (.445) and four in Chicago against the White Sox (.400).
Got all that? It sure looks to me like the Indians have the easiest remaining schedule. By a lot. While the Orioles have the toughest. And yes, I did leave the Rangers out. Why? Because of that 3½-game lead over the Yankees and their superior run differential. The Rangers might blow it. But it's highly unlikely.
Otherwise I like the Rays because they've got the slim lead, and the Indians because of their favorable schedule. But the wonderful thing is that all of this might change completely in the space of just one weekend. The math is interesting. But it's just moderately interesting because it can change so bloody fast.
Alas, none of the wild-card contenders are facing off directly this weekend. For that, we'll have to wait until Monday when the Royals and Indians and Rangers and Rays get all tangled up in death matches.