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Yankees look to make late push for AL East title
0:50 | MLB
Yankees look to make late push for AL East title
Monday September 21st, 2015

We're down to 14 days worth of games remaining in the 2015 season, and while the playoff picture has begun to crystallize in the National League, there's still plenty of chaos to be had in the AL, giving you a chance to climb aboard the "Team Entropy" bandwagon.

To refresh your memory: If you're a die-hard fan of a team trying to secure (or avoid blowing) a playoff spot, rooting for that team generally takes precedence. But if you've embraced the modern day's maximalist menu of options that allow you not just to watch scoreboards but also to view multiple games on multiple gadgets, then you want MORE BASEBALL in the form of down-to-the-wire division and wild-card races, extra innings and tiebreaker scenarios. You want MLB schedule-makers crying "Uncle!' while you go quad screen with MLB.tv. Welcome to Team Entropy, friends.

At this point, there are three division races that are more or less off the boards: the AL Central, NL West and NL East—though you'll never convince a Mets fan still shell shocked by 2007 to concede such a thing, so we'll talk them off the ledge. All references to the postseason odds refer to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds, and all references to schedule strength draw upon those from the Baseball-Reference Expanded Standings' NL and AL flavors.

AL East

team w-L GB DIVISION ODDS Elimination #
Blue Jays 85–64 80.6%
Yankees 82–66 2 1/2 19.4% 12

By taking two out of three from both the Rays—including a stirring comeback on Monday night—and the Mets, the Yankees rebounded from an awful 2–5 week to trim the Blue Jays’ division lead by a game. Via the BP odds, they more than doubled their chances of winning the division, from 8.8% to 19.4%. Even so, they took yet another significant hit, as Masahiro Tanaka suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain running the bases during Saturday’s win, ruling him out of this week’s three-game series in Toronto.

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Accompanied by the loss of Nathan Eovaldi, that means the Yankees will have to try to make up ground with a starting trio of Adam Warren, Luis Severino and Ivan Nova, the last of whom was bounced to the bullpen with a 5.11 ERA and 4.92 FIP earlier this month. Still, it ain’t over, even with the Blue Jays countering with David Price, Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman, the last of whom has allowed four runs in 12 innings over two starts since his accelerated return from a torn ACL. On Toronto’s side, the team has basically ruled out Troy Tulowitzki’s return during the regular season due to a cracked shoulder blade, and the game the Jays lost in the standings owes to a series loss to Boston at the Rogers Centre. The two teams’ schedules are basically even the rest of the way; to match the Jays’ 92-win pace, the Yankees have to go 10–6 against a slate where the other three teams they face—the Red Sox, White Sox and Orioles—are all below .500.

AL Central

team w-L GB DIVISION ODDS Elimination #
Royals 87–62 100.0%
Twins 76–73 11 0.0% 3

The Royals are just 7–12 this month, but their magic number is down to three, meaning that they could clinch as early as Tuesday. They still hold a two-win advantage on Toronto for the No. 1 seed in the postseason, but everybody else is at least five wins behind Kansas City. Move along.

AL West

team w-l gb division odds elimination #
Rangers 80–69 59.7%
Astros 79–71 1 1/2 36.7% 12
Angels 76–73 4 3.6% 10

This one remains wild. Thanks to a 1–7 skid by Houston that included a four-game sweep at the hands of the Rangers in Arlington, the division lead changed hands for the first time since July 27. The Rangers hold a 1 1/2-game lead and a remaining schedule that’s 2 1/2 games easier than their in-state rivals, with an average opponent record of 72–76 versus the Astros’ 75–74; Texas plays lowly Detroit and Oakland squads, while Houston plays Arizona and Seattle, a tougher draw.

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The Astros are reeling because their pitching has hit a wall this month, as the rotation has a 4.54 ERA (including the nine-run torching of Dallas Keuchel last Wednesday), while the bullpen is at a ghastly 6.31. Their odds of winning the division are now less than half of last week’s 77.3%. That leaves the Angels with a slight chance of overcoming their four-game deficit to steal the title away from the two Texas teams. To match the Rangers’ blistering 87-win pace would still require the Halos to go 11–2 the rest of the way, a clip they managed from early to mid-July.

If you’re looking at tiebreakers given the possibility that any two or all three of these teams wind up in an end-of-season pileup—which is to say, if you’re singing Team Entropy’s theme song—this one is tricky, as each team has the upper hand in one but not both season series against their rivals, thus kicking the tiebreaker into cumulative record against the other two. We’ll cross that bridge next week. For the moment, what matters is that the Rangers are 12–4 against the Astros but 5–10 against the Angels, while the Astros hold a 9–7 advantage over Los Angeles. The last matchup is the only one with the season series in doubt; we’ll know more after Houston hosts the Halos for a three-game set starting on Monday night.

AL wild card

team w-l gb wc odds elimination #
Yankees 82–66 80.3%
Astros 79–71 47.8%
Angels 76–73 2 1/2 8.4% 11
Twins 76–73 2 1/2 5.5% 11
Indians 74–74 4 7.8% 10

Three teams are within four games of the Astros for the second spot, which means that as with last week, there are still six teams besides the Blue Jays whose odds can still be seen with the naked eye: the Yankees (99.7% chance overall), Astros (84.5% overall, down about eight points from last week), Rangers (90.2% overall, up about 35 points from last week), Angels (11.9% overall), Indians (7.8%) and Twins (5.5%, down 25 points after a 2–5 week).

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The Indians have alternated wins and losses over their last nine games, refusing to climb above .500 since April 9. Of the teams above, they still have the toughest remaining schedule, with an average opponent record of 77–71 and 10 of their remaining 13 games against the Twins and Royals. The Twins’ average opponent record is 75–72; the separator between them and the Indians is that Minnesota faces Detroit while Cleveland squares off with Boston.

For the Indians to match the Astros’ 86-win pace would require them to go 12–2, which they haven’t managed since September 2013. For the Angels or Twins to do so would require 10–3 runs; both teams have checked that box this year, with the latter as recently as late August/early September.

NL East

team w-l gb division odds elimination #
Mets 84–65 98.8%
Nationals 78–71 6 1.2% 8

It's okay to breathe, Mets fans. While the ball club lost two of three to the crosstown Yankees in Queens this weekend—with a taut pitchers' duel devolving into a reel of Blooper and Fielding Follies after Matt Harvey's prescripted departure—the stakes in that series were vastly different for the two teams. Even with New York slumping to a 3–4 week while Washington went 6–1 against the Phillies and Marlins, the Mets still lead the Nationals by six games with 13 to play.

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While both teams still have the season-ending–three-game series at Citi Field still circled on the calendar, the Mets' next 10 games before facing Bryce Harper and company are against the Braves, Reds and Phillies, who are a collective 90 games below .500. Even if they go a mere 6–4 against that sorry slate, the Nationals would have to go 10–0 just for that final series to still mean something, and then they'd still have to sweep. If the Mets go 5–5 while the Nats run the table, they'd still have to take only one of three in the final series. If they can't manage that, well, they don't deserve to go anywhere.

Looking at it one other way: In 2007, when the Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play, they had already fallen to 2 1/2 up with 13 to play. At the moment, they have a 3 1/2-game cushion over that worst-case scenario.

NL Central/wild card

team w-l gb division odds elimination #
Cardinals 93–56 90.8%
Pirates 89–60 4 8.9% 10
Cubs 87–62 6 0.3% 8

Last week, the Pirates closed to within 2 1/2 games of the Cardinals, but the combination of their 3–4 week against the Cubs and Dodgers and the Redbirds going 4–2 against the Brewers and Cubs severely hurt Pittsburgh's chances of winning the division and re-inflated St. Louis' cushion to four games. What's worse, the Bucs lost Jung Ho Kang to a severe season-ending knee injury last Thursday. To match the 101-win pace of the Cardinals (.624 winning percentage), the Pirates would have to go 12–1 the rest of the way, a clip they haven't managed since July/August 1992—say, can 51-year-old Barry Bonds play shortstop?—and they'd have to do it with an average opponent record that's seven wins better than that of St. Louis (75–73 versus 68–80), owing largely to an upcoming three-game series at Wrigley Field.

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Meanwhile, the Cardinals have already clinched their fifth straight postseason appearance and 12th of the past 16 seasons. They're back to a 90.8% chance of winning the NL Central, with a magic number of 10 to clinch their third straight division title and ninth in that same span. Among their remaining series, only one is against a team above .500—a three-gamer against the Bucs at PNC Park starting next Monday; St. Louis' other three are against the Reds, Brewers and Braves, a trio that is a combined 75 games below .500. The Cardinals may have some bad news awaiting them, however, as Yadier Molina injured his left thumb on Sunday—not the one that cost him 40 games last year due to a torn ligament that required surgery, but a concern nonetheless, particularly given the drop-off to backup Tony Cruz and the 80-game PED suspension of rookie Cody Stanley.

As for the Cubs, they made plenty of noise this past week by going 5–2 against the Pirates and Cardinals while getting involved in a beanball war against the latter. Even so, their odds of winning the division are tiny; not even a 13–0 record would be enough to match that aforementioned 101-win pace. With a win over St. Louis on Sunday and a Pirates loss to the Dodgers, they would have moved into a tie for the top wild-card spot, and as it is, they already own the tiebreaker via a 10–6 head-to-head advantage. That didn't happen, however, and Chicago is two games back, so the team's hopes of getting the upper hand rest with a cushier schedule than the Pirates (by 4 1/2 games) and home-field advantage in this coming weekend's three-game series.

NL West

team w-l gb division odds elimination #
Dodgers 85–63 99.8%
Giants 78–71 7 1/2 0.2% 7

Despite losing two of three to the Pirates this weekend, the Dodgers preserved their 7 1/2-game lead over the Giants over the course of the week, and before they head to AT&T Park for a three-game series next Monday, they host the Diamondbacks and visit the Rockies while the Giants visit the Padres and Athletics. If the Dodgers go 6–8 the rest of the way, the Giants would have to go 13–0 to tie them, though they would at least own the tiebreaker for home-field advantage in the event of a Game 163 play-in, as San Francisco currently has a 9–6 advantage in head-to-head play and would have swept that three-game set as well.

Meanwhile, the Giants (like the Nationals) are nine games back in the NL wild card, odds that don't even round to 0.1%. For either longshot, any combination of five losses and Cubs wins ices their chances.

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