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The A’s and Pirates are making the wild card races far more fun

Tuesday’s Say Hey, Baseball looks at the recent surges by the Athletics and Bucs.

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Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

This year’s playoff races are certainly not bereft of drama, not when two NL East teams are tied for first, not with the Brewers, D-Backs, and Rockies all between 1.5 and 2.5 games of first place in their divisions. However, there is a pretty significant chasm between those contending and those not contending, which has limited our imaginations for postseason possibilities a little bit despite the fact it’s still July.

The Pirates and A’s have been working overtime to help improve that potential problem. Pittsburgh won again on Monday, their 10th victory in a row, and it put them four games back of an NL wild card spot -- ahead of the Giants in the same chase, and closer than the Yankees are to the Red Sox in the AL East. There are now six teams within six games of the second wild card spot in the National League, and the Brewers are just half-a-game up on the Phillies, so just 6.5 games separate the entire eight-team group vying for those two slots.

Meanwhile, in the American League, the A’s have won 24 of 31, and are the only real threat to either of the Yankees or Mariners for a wild card spot. While Oakland sits 6.5 back of the Yankees, holder of the top wild card spot, in the standings, they’re just 2.5 back of the Mariners. The A’s were eight back of Seattle on July 3 after the Mariners rattled off eight wins in a row. The Mariners are just 7-9 in July, though, while the A’s are 12-5, and that difference has begun to close the gap between them.

Considering that the AL East race is down to two teams who are both likely to make the postseason in some fashion, the AL Central is lead by the Indians, who are as far ahead as they are because the rest of their division is embarrassingly awful, and the West is ruled by the defending champion Astros, getting some additional drama thrown into the wild card race was absolutely necessary in the junior circuit.

The Pirates’ entry into the NL wild card field was a little less imperative along the same lines, but still key in that it makes the NL more competitive and enjoyable for another fan base as we approach the final two months of the season. In a season so far defined by tanking and arguments about efficiency and game pacing, more meaningful games played by more competitive teams is inherently a good thing.