We’re officially into August, everyone. That means NFL fans are knee-deep in Matthew Berry articles and your flat-brim friends are starting to shut up about how boring the summer months are after the NBA Finals finish up. The Wild Card is a beautiful thing for fans of teams that just can’t quite win their division, and the AL Wild Card is looking particularly interesting this year.
In first place, we have the New York Yankees at 59-52, a few games back from the AL East – leading Red Sox (64-49). As of today, the Seattle Mariners hold the second wild card spot, with Kansas City and Tampa Bay right behind. Let’s take a look at some of the top contenders for the American League Wild Card spots.
1. New York Yankees
The winners of the Sonny Gray raffle are also looking like the winners of the first Wild Card spot, assuming they’re unable to make up a five game difference in the AL East. The addition of Gray added a real ace to a starting rotation that hasn’t looked too hot in pinstripes this year. The trade for Todd Frazier allowed them to improve both corner infield positions, freeing up Chase Headley to play first base, which has been ravished by injuries this season.
The arrival of Tyler Clippard also gives the Yankees a strong arm out the ‘pen to pair up with the stellar Dellin Betances and flamethrower Aroldis Chapman. For you fantasy players looking for some extra saves, Clippard has already stepped in several times to close out games and will likely see more opportunities if the Yankees look to preserve Chapman for tighter situations.
In the ultra-competitive AL East and with the weight of pinstripes on their shoulders, the Yankees have all the motivation to push their way into the postseason.
2. Seattle Mariners
If I haven’t made my bias clear in previous articles, I’ll make it clear now: I’m a gigantic Mariners fan. That being said, I’m also a huge baseball fan, so I love a good game no matter where it’s at (except for Boston, New York or Anaheim). That being said, the prospect of the Mariners simply making and possibly losing a one-game wild card playoff fills my heart with inexpressible joy. It’s been sixteen years since 116 wins and playoff baseball in the Northwest and, let me tell ya, we’re tired.
Bias aside, the Mariners legitimately have my pick to hang on and win the second wild card spot. They currently hold the American League’s best record since the All-Star break, and made a move this week to shore up their offense to get the job done. James Paxton’s brilliance in July and really all season gives the Mariners a new ace to lean on, and Edwin Diaz’s resurgence as a solid closer is a great sign for a bullpen that has managed to get the job done.
The Yonder Alonso trade gave the M’s a strong platoon option at first base with Danny Valencia, and Leonys Martin’s return from the minor leagues has given a huge boost to the squad. Ben Gamel continues to be baseball’s best-kept secret with both offensive consistency and defensive audacity. This is a very. Good. Team.
The biggest question marks are at catcher and in the starting rotation. Mike Zunino had the best June anyone’s had in a long time, logging a .308 batting average while smacking 10 homers and driving in 31 RBI. Since then, he’s played more like the Zunino we’ve been accustomed to over the last few years, and currently sits with a .217 average for the season. Veteran backup Carlos Ruiz doesn’t provide much relief on the offensive side of the ball with a .221 average and just one long ball on the year.
The injury bug has really bitten the M’s this year, particularly the starting rotation. At one point, four of the five originally starters were on the DL. Currently, Felix Hernández and Hisashi Iwakuma find themselves on the DL, but the M’s are making it work. If the weak fabric of rookie pitchers they have falls apart, the M’s could lose the Wild Card spot.
However, with a strong offense and a tough presence on the mound, the M’s have all the tools to end their postseason drought.
3. Kansas City Royals
A few years ago my older brother ran a marathon without really training for it. Sure, he was already in great shape and went on runs of eight mile or so pretty regularly, but he basically decided a week ahead of time he was going to do it and he finished it. My other siblings and I still haven’t fully acknowledged it, despite how incredibly impressive it was. The Royals are kind of like that right now; they won it all a few years ago, and it feels like everyone has just kind of forgotten about it, and they’re still an excellent team.
Now, make no mistake, they’re not the team they were a few years ago, but they have most of the pieces of their World Series winning team still in place, and took measures to improve what needed improving at the trade deadline. Melky Cabrera has effectively replaced Jorge Bonifacio, whose average performance was still better than Alex Gordon’s diving average or .197. Gordon is still driving in the runs, but Cabrera’s additional veteran presence and relative consistency at the plate give Royals outfielders a boost.
Trevor Cahill still hasn’t earned a win with KC, although he did notch a no-decision in an eventual win over Seattle. The emergence of Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy has been brilliant for the Royals, and the addition of Cahill bolsters a good starting rotation. The bullpen, outstanding in past years, has faltered this season.
As the next team in, the Royals are ready to hang in the race and perhaps grab a spot before the season ends.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are, perhaps, tied for the biggest surprise team of the year with the Diamondbacks. Nobody could have guessed that guys like Logan Morrison and Corey Dickerson would be essentially fantasy must-haves, or that the Rays would be the team to replace the Blue Jays in the upper echelon of ESPN’s favorite division (Don’t deny it. They LOVE it when the Yankees and Red Sox make the postseason together.)
The Rays have struggled of late, however. Dickerson has cooled off a bit from his all-star caliber first half. Earlier today they were tied for second place in the Wild Card, but they’re looking more and more like they won’t be able to pull off the surprise.
5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
I have to roll my eyes every time I write out that full team name. After the first few months of the season, we should all be shocked the Angels are even in the discussion for postseason baseball. They’re one game below .500, and they’ve played without Mike Trout for six weeks. Albert Pujols continues to be competent in the batter’s box, and they’ve simply made it work.
It would take quite the streak for the Angels, but they’re not that far out from contending for the Wild Card.