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Can Angels edge Astros for final AL wild-card spot?
0:59 | MLB
Can Angels edge Astros for final AL wild-card spot?
Monday September 28th, 2015

With seven days to go in the regular season, six teams have clinched playoff berths, and two more could do so on Monday night, but even so, only two division races have been officially settled. This is what we’ve training for: The chance for chaos to reign. Welcome to Team Entropy, where we root not for individual teams, but for schedule-making mayhem, tiebreaker scenarios more complicated than your tax forms and quad-screen MLB.tv.

At this point, the Royals have clinched the AL Central and the Mets the NL East. The Blue Jays and the three NL Central powerhouses—Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs—have all clinched playoff berths, and both the Yankees and Dodgers can do so in short order. Between the remaining clinchers, the jockeying for seeding and the glorious chance of tiebreaker games, there’s still plenty to be decided, so stock up on snacks and settle into a comfortable chair.

All references to the postseason odds refer to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds, and all references to postseason tiebreaker formats refer to MLB.com’s breakdown, with a nod to ESPN’s Jayson Stark.

MORE MLB: Full playoff standings, postseason odds, magic numbers

AL East

team w-l gb division odds elimination #
Blue Jays 90–65 97.9%
Yankees 86–69 4 2.1% 4

With last week's three-game series win over the Yankees in front of a raucous Rogers Centre crowd, the Blue Jays effectively wrapped up their first division flag since 1993, and over the weekend, they officially clinched a postseason berth, thus ending the majors' longest active playoff drought. For all of that, they haven't officially clinched the division yet; their magic number is four.

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Still, the Jays are sitting pretty in their perch. For the Yankees to wind up with a tie, they would have to go 7–0 while hosting the Red Sox and visiting the Orioles and would need Toronto to go 3–4 on the road against the O's and Rays (or 6–1 for the Yanks and 2–5 for the Jays, or 5–2 and 1–6, etc.); that would produce a one-game playoff in Toronto by dint of its 13–6 season series advantage, with the loser in all likelihood still being the Wild-Card Game host. Sure, the Blue Jays blew the AL East in 1987 by losing their last seven games, but four of those losses came against the team that snatched the flag away, the Tigers; unless that tiebreaker happens, these two combatants are done with the head-to-head. The BP odds come in at just 2.1% for the Yankees somehow stealing the division, though they round to 100% for their overall postseason chances.

Perhaps the larger question is whether the Jays, who come into Monday with a 16–8 record this month on top of their 21–6 August, can wrest the AL's top seed away from the Royals, who are just 10–15 this month. The defending AL champions finish out the regular season on the road, with four games against the White Sox (73–83), and three against the Twins (80–75). If there's a need for a tiebreaker to determine seeding, it's the Blue Jays who own the 4–3 advantage in the season series.

AL West

team w-l gb division odds elimination #
Rangers 84–71 89.2%
Astros 82–74 2 1/2 3.8% 5
Angels 81–74 3 6.9% 5

This one's still somewhat wild thanks to the Astros' rebound on Saturday and Sunday after a three-game losing streak (two against the Angels, one against the Rangers in the series opener) knocked them 4 1/2 back in the division race. On Saturday, they overcame a 3–0 first-inning deficit thanks to a pair of home runs and some nifty base running by Carlos Correa, not to mention the first two-homer game of Jose Altuve's major league career, and homers by Chris Carter and Colby Rasmus. On Sunday, Dallas Keuchel did what aces are supposed to do, holding the Rangers to one run and two hits over seven innings en route to a 4–2 win.

MLB
Astros close gap with Rangers to set up exciting finish to AL West, wild card

Still, Houston's 2 1/2-game deficit will be difficult to make up given that the Astros, who are just 29–46 on the road, have to be nearly perfect in paying visits to the Mariners and Diamondbacks while the Rangers play host to both the Tigers and Angels. Oddly enough, while the BP odds give the Astros just a 3.8% chance of succeeding via that route, they give the Angels—who are just half a game behind them—a 6.9% chance of taking the division. That's because the Halos play host to the lowly Athletics (65–91) for a three-game set in Anaheim, where they're 47–31, and while they have to travel to Texas (which is 39–35 at home, compared to 45–36 on the road) for a season-ending four-game series, they at least control their own destiny, whereas Houston does not.

Let’s talk tiebreakers, because that’s why you’re here. If the Angels and Astros have to play a tiebreaker game for either the division or the wild-card spot, it would be in Houston by dint of their 10–9 season series advantage. Meanwhile, the Angels own the tiebreaker against the Rangers via their 10–5 season series advantage, but the Rangers own the tiebreaker against the Astros thanks to their 13–6 edge. In other words, no one team has the advantage over the other two, so if there's necessity for a three-team tiebreaker to determine the division champion and wild-card winner—and you know that's what we're staying up late to pray for—it comes down to who has the best record against the other two teams. The current standings: Angels (19–15 with four against the Rangers pending), Rangers (18–16 with the four pending), Astros (16–22). Whichever team between the Angels and Rangers finishes with the better record would choose its designation as Club A, B or C, and then the second team would choose its designation. Then A hosts B, with the winner hosting C for the division title; the loser of that game is the wild card.

AL wild card

team w-l gb wc odds elimination #
Yankees 86–69 +4 1/2 97.8%
Astros 82–74 60.6%
Angels 81–74 1/2 23.2% 7
Twins 80–75 1 1/2 7.1% 6
Indians 77–77 4 1.3% 4

With a 4 1/2-game lead for the top spot, it would take a spectacular collapse for the Yankees not to play host for the Wild-Card Game. They could clinch as early as Monday night with a win over the Red Sox and losses by the Twins, Rangers and Angels. That’s a tall order, but winning any two of their remaining seven games does the trick as well.

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At the other end of the spectrum, it would take a Christmas miracle in October for the Indians to overcome their four-game deficit, particularly given their steadfast refusal to maintain a winning record; when they beat the Royals on on Saturday to climb to 77–76, it marked their first day above .500 since April 9. They play host to the Twins for a four-game series that in all likelihood they have to sweep and at the very least have to take three of four in order to have a shred of an iota of a scintilla of a shot heading into their final three-game series hosting the Red Sox. Regarding the Indians' various tiebreaker scenarios: If they’re still in this thing three or four days from now, we’ll worry about the ABCD designation scenarios. For now, it’s enough to note that they’re 6–9 against the Twins but 5–2 against the Astros, 4–2 against the Angels, and 3–3 against the Rangers.

The Twins, who refuse to go away, have a 7.1% chance according to BP. After their series against the Indians, they close with three against the Royals, against whom they’re 7–9 this season. Regarding their various tiebreaker scenarios, put a pin in the fact that they’re 2–5 against the Angels and 3–3 against both the Astros and Rangers.

In order of likelihood that they’ll be the second wild-card team, that leaves us with the Astros (64.4% of making the playoffs overall), Angels (30.1%) and Rangers (97.0%), followed by the Twins and Indians.

NL East/West

team w-l gb division odds elimination #
Dodgers 87–68 99.6%
Giants 81–74 6 0.4% 2

While a certain portion of Mets fans is probably still convinced that a 2007 collapse remains mathematically possible, the Mets have not only clinched the division title, but they also have a two-game lead over the Dodgers for the top seed in the NLDS and own the tiebreaker thanks to a 4–3 season series edge.

The Dodgers’ magic number to clinch the NL West is two, and they face the Giants at AT&T Park over their next four games. One win over their longtime rivals in that series means that the champagne can flow, and they have Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw starting the first two games. Nothing short of a 7–0 record from the Giants and an 0–7 skid by the Dodgers would hand the division back to the defending world champions outright; if the combination is 7–0 and 1–6, the Giants would host the Dodgers for a Game 163 tiebreaker in San Francisco, as they would own a 13–6 season series advantage.

NL Central/wild card

team w-l gb division odds elimination #
Cardinals 98–58 85.9%
Pirates 95–61 3 14.1% 4
Cubs 90–65 7 1/2 0.0% 0

Just about all that’s been settled is that all three teams have clinched playoff berths, but the Cubs can’t win the division. Even running the table in their remaining seven games (one against the Royals at home, then six on the road against the Reds and Brewers) wouldn’t be enough to catch the Cardinals. The Pirates still can, as they host the Redbirds for three starting on Monday night. At the very least, this will settle the season series for purposes of a tiebreaker, since the two teams are split 8–8.

Beyond that, the Cards close with three in Atlanta, while the Bucs close with three against the Reds at PNC Park. If the Pirates and Cubs end up tied for second place, the Wild-Card Game would be at Wrigley Field, since the Cubs own an 11–8 advantage.

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