According to Fangraphs, the odds of losing the division are under 1%. It’s time, as interested fans, to peek at the playoff pecking order. A brief refresher: the wild card teams play a one-game steel cage match on Tuesday October 5th, and then play the #1 seed on Thursday. The 2 and 3 seeds also play on 10/7. There are no tie-breakers for wild card and division, but there are for seeding.
Getting the 2 seed means having home field advantage in the ALDS, no small matter considering that the White Sox are below water (34–36) away from Guaranteed Rate Field. Their next 11 are on the road, where they’ll have to start playing better if they want a chance for the 2 seed. They’ve had one, two-game winning streak this month and are 3 games back of Houston, who holds the tie-breaker. Even if the Astros close the season at 8-8, the White Sox would need to go 12-4 to get the 2-seed.
But what about the 1 seed? The Rays have been scalding in the second half (37-20) and currently sit 4.5 games ahead of Houston. They’re doing playing the Orioles though, against whom they’ve gone 11-1 in the second half. 26-19, in case you’re wondering, is the Rays second-half record against non-Oriole opponents. That’s much less impressive. What does their schedule look like?
They play the next nine games at home, against Detroit (3), Toronto (3), and and Miami (3), before spending the last week @ Houston (3) & NYY (3). The Fangraphs projections have them going 8-7 down the stretch and ending with 98 wins.
The Astros would need to make up 4.5 games against the Rays, which is a lot. It’s not, however, as insurmountable as one might think. Here are some mitigating factors to consider.
First, the Astros are only 4 games back in the loss column, which means in short that the Astros have one more game (16) than the Rays. Teams that win 60% of their games want to have more games.
Second, the Rays are playing two teams fighting for their playoff lives. The second-half Tigers are an above .500 team and they also have to come to Houston. The closest team to a pushover are the Marlins.
Third, they need to win the series in Houston to gain the tie-breaker. The reality for the Astros is that there’s almost no way they drop that series and catch the Rays. For argument’s sake, let’s say the Astros take 2 of 3 against the Rays, giving them the season series and thus the tie-break.
The Astros play Arizona this weekend, and then play 4 @ Anaheim, where Ohtani will not pitch. Meanwhile, after Detroit the Rays host Toronto, who have their scheduled rotation for that series as Berrios, Ray, and Ryu. Odds are, in the next seven days, that the lock on the 2nd seed gets tighter, and the gap between Houston and Tampa narrows. And in the final weekend, the Astros host an Oakland team that will most likely have nothing to play for, and the Rays will travel to New York where the Yankees will likely have their playoff survival in the balance.
After a frustrating stretch, the Astros have gone 7-3 in their last ten games and their team wRC+ is 142 over the last 14 days. If they start to roll, Tampa better sleep with one eye open.