One month left: What needs to happen (AL edition)

Raphael Soriano and the New York Yankees have no where to hide as their once insurmountable AL East lead dwindles. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

With the month of September left, we finally have a clear picture of which teams should contend for this year’s postseason. Barring any amazing comebacks similar to the 2011 season, there are eight teams in contention for a playoff spot in the American League and seven teams in the National League.

The Diamondbacks are only seven and a half out of a wild card spot, and although I thought they’d make a run in the second half, I just don’t see it happening now.

Let’s take a brief look at the potential playoff contenders, the rest of their schedules and what needs to happen for them to make the postseason.

New York Yankees

Considered, not long ago, to be the runaway favorite to win the AL East, the Yankees find themselves only three games up in the division. Injuries and struggles from CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Mark Teixeira contributed to a recent slide. Sabathia is back and they hope to have Andy Pettitte back for the playoffs. They finish with 17 games against teams below .500 (Blue Jays eight games, Red Sox six and Twins three) and 16 games against winning teams (Orioles seven, Rays six and Athletics three). If they win the games they should, they’ll finish with 92 wins, which will be more than enough to make the playoffs, but fending off the Rays and Orioles could be a bit harder than expected.

Baltimore Orioles

Speaking of the pesky Orioles, just when you thought they were ready to crash and burn, you turn around and they’re on the heels of the Yankees for the division crown. They finish the season with 18 games against winning teams (White Sox two, Yankees seven, Rays six and Athletics six) and 16 games against losing teams (Blue Jays seven, Red Sox six and Mariners three). Not a very favorable schedule, but those seven games against the Yankees will decide if they win the division, while those six games against the Rays will decide if they grab a wild card spot. Sixteen more wins will put them at 87, which might land them on the bubble of a playoff spot.

Tampa Bay Rays

My pick to win the AL East has slipped a bit of late but still finds themselves within four and half games of the division and one and half back of a wild card spot. Another AL East team that has a similar path to the playoffs, they finish with only 13 games against losing teams (Blue Jays seven and Red Sox six) and 20 games against teams above .500 (Rangers four, Yankees six, White Sox four and Orioles six). Again, those Orioles-Rays game could end up deciding at least one wild card spot. Rays face a difficult road, and 13 more wins will put them at 83 and likely out of the playoffs.

Chicago White Sox

Everybody keeps waiting on the White Sox to fade and the Tigers to take over, but they’re holding their own. I recently wrote an article on how they’re getting it done with veteran leadership in the middle of the lineup. They have 16 more games against winning teams (Orioles two, Tigers seven, Angels three and Rays four), while they have 18 more games against teams below .500 (Twins six, Indians six, Royals six). Playing in the soft AL Central will help them pad some wins, but those seven games against the Tigers will be crucial, as I think only one team will come out of this division. Eighteen more wins puts them at 89 on the season, which would put them on the bubble for a wild card spot if they don’t hold on to their two-game division lead.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have made all the right moves to assemble a team that should not only make the playoffs, but contend for a World Series crown. But you have to play the games and, right now, the Tigers sit two back of the White Sox and a wild card spot. The Tigers have 21 games left against teams below .500 (Royals nine, Indians six, Twins six) and 13 against winning teams (White Sox seven, Angels three, Athletics three). Obviously, one of the easiest schedules the rest of the way, there’s no reason they shouldn’t over take the White Sox and win the Central crown. Twenty-one more wins would put them at 90, which should be good enough to win the division or at least gain a wild card spot.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers hold the largest division lead of any AL team — five and a half games up — and should feel comfortable going into the last month of the season. They finish with four against the Rays, six against the Angels and seven against the Athletics. They’ll also face the Indians and Mariners six times, and the Royals four times. With 13 games against division foes chasing them they’ll be able to create space and cruise into the playoffs, or possibly make things interesting. Sixteen more wins would put them at 93 and in the playoffs ­ — more than likely as the AL West champion.

Oakland Athletics

Never thought I’d be writing a playoff article about the Athletics as I picked them to finish last in the AL West with 64 wins, which they’ve already surpassed by seven. I don’t know how real the Athletics are, but they’re at least going to throw a wrench in the Angels’ plan of grabbing a playoff spot. It will be hard for them to get into the playoffs with only 11 games left against losing teams (Indians two, Red Sox three, Mariners six) and 23 against teams above .500 (Angels seven, Rangers seven, Orioles three, Yankees three and Tigers three), including 17 in a row starting September 10. Eleven more wins would put them at 82, which is much better than many expected but out of the playoffs.

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels have been quite disappointing this season and will have to grind their way through the rest of the season if they have any chance of making the playoffs. They really have no hope of winning the division — 10 games back — and are four and a half games behind division foe Athletics for a wild card spot. With only 14 games left against losing teams (Red Sox two, Mariners nine and Royals three), they’ll have to pull some upsets against team above .500 (Athletics seven, Tigers three, Rangers six, White Sox three). They’ll need to win at least five of those games against the Athletics to have a chance. Fourteen more wins would put them at 81 on the season and out of the playoffs.

My predictions

Based on scheduling and personal feelings, I believe the Yankees hold on to win the AL East, the Tigers come back to win the Central and the Rangers easily run away with the West. That leaves two spots up for grabs in the Wild Card. I believe the White Sox’ easy schedule, mixed with difficult schedules for others, will help them land the first wild card spot. The other spot will come from the AL East depending on who wins those six games between the Rays and Orioles. My gut, and preseason predictions, tell me the Rays will end the season hot and take the second wild card spot.

There you have it. I look forward to watching these games and seeing how things play out. Good luck to your respective AL teams the rest of the way.

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