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The American League playoff race: Magic numbers, wild cards, and the A.L. Central

The Orioles can't clinch the A.L. East this weekend, but can put themselves in good position to do so next week.

Patrick Smith

The Baltimore Orioles start a four-game series with the Yankees this weekend, and if all goes well, Derek Jeter's ESPN-broadcast farewell to Baltimore vom fest will also be the day that the Orioles eliminate the Yankees from the A.L. East race. With the magic number at eight, a four-game sweep would just get it done.

Unfortunately, the Orioles also have to deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, who also have an elimination number of eight. The Blue Jays start a three-game in Toronto against the Rays, so even if they are swept (which isn't likely at all), the Orioles cannot clinch the division this weekend. If the O's sweep the Yankees and the Rays sweep the Blue Jays, the Orioles' magic number will be one over the Blue Jays.

That would be the best case scenario, which probably won't happen. The worst case scenario, which also probably won't happen, is that the Orioles are swept by the Yankees and the Blue Jays sweep the Rays. In that case, the magic number on Monday morning will still be eight.

In all likelihood the magic number will be somewhere in the middle, and I'll be feeling good if it's at four after this weekend. That would mean that a series win against the Blue Jays next week would knock them out, and depending on how many wins the O's pick up this weekend against the Yankees, New York could be done at about the same time. My official guess for when the Orioles finally clinch is Friday, with my back up being Wednesday. The Orioles are off next Thursday with the Blue Jays and Yankees playing each other, so there is the possibility that the Orioles could clinch that day without even playing a game. I hope that doesn't happen.

Of course, this is mostly just a formality as both the Blue Jays and Yankees are really just clinging to the hope that they can grab that last spot in the wild card race.

A.L. Wild Card Race Update

The Oakland Athletics are a mess, you guys. They went from comfortable lead in the A.L. West to big lead as the first wild card to barely clinging to a spot in record time. Over the last seven days the A's have lost two out of three to the Astros and three out of four to the White Sox. They still have a hold on the first WC spot but their lead has shrunk to just one game over the Tigers and 1.5 games over the Mariners. And speaking of the Mariners, the A's start a three game series with them tonight.  If the Mariners can sweep they'll pass the A's in the standings and, depending on what the Tigers do, could knock Oakland out of a playoff spot altogether (for the time being, at least).

Detroit starts a three-game series with the Indians, who are currently 3.5 games behind the Tigers in the WC race. They still have a chance, but not a very good one. The Blue Jays are also 3.5 games out and the Yankees are four games out. The Yankees won't get a chance to play the Tigers, Mariners, or A's for the rest of the season, but the Blue Jays have what could be a big four-game series with the Mariners the last week of the season.

A.L. Central

The A.L. Central is the only division in the league still up for grabs. The Tigers may be one game behind the A's for the first WC spot, but they are only 1/2 game behind the Royals for the division lead. The Royals have been clinging to their first-place spot since August 11th and I'm not feeling very confident that they can hang out. While they are in front by 1/2 game, remember that 1/2 game is thanks to a game that was suspended in the ninth inning with the Royals losing by two runs. That game will be finished on September 22nd.

The good news for the Royals is that they get to play the Red Sox at home this weekend. The bad news is that they already lost to them last night. Oops. But still, this is a good chance for them to try and gain a little ground while the Tigers play a team fighting for a playoff spot.

The Tigers and Royals have one more series to play this season, three games next weekend.