There are three weeks and three days remaining in the 2020 MLB regular season. It feels like the season just started because it did start just six weeks ago, but baseball fans are used to 162-game marathons, not 60-game sprints. This season has been a unique experience and I hope we never have to go through something like this again (for many reasons).

Wednesday night the Rays bested the Yankees (TB 5, NY 2) to increase their AL East least to 4 1/2 games. Here are the updated division standings:

  1. Rays: 26-12
  2. Yankees: 20-15 (4 1/2 GB)
  3. Blue Jays: 19-16 (5 1/2 GB)
  4. Orioles: 16-20 (9 GB)
  5. Red Sox: 12-25 (13 1/2 GB)

The Rays have a 75.9 percent chance to win the AL East title, according to FanGraphs, with the Yankees sitting at 22.9 percent and the Blue Jays at 1.2 percent. All three clubs are in excellent shape to make the expanded postseason field: Tampa’s postseason odds are 100.0 percent, New York is at 98.8 percent, and Toronto is at 76.1 percent.

First- and second-place teams secure berths in the eight-team postseason field. The Tigers could throw a wrench into things, but the AL East is likely to send three teams to the postseason, with the third-place finisher getting one of the two wild-card spots. The three division winners and the second-place team with the best record get home-field advantage in the Wild Card Round.

Here’s outlook for the AL East race sits with a little more than three weeks to go in the regular season.

The Rays control their own destiny

The Rays-Yankees rivalry has been heated this year.
USATSI

Because they are in first place, the Rays don’t have to sweat what any other teams do and can take care of business themselves. Their magic number to clinch the AL East title is 20, so any combination of Rays wins and Yankees losses (or Blue Jays losses should Toronto move into second place) totaling 20 equals a division title for Tampa.

Wednesday’s win was Tampa’s final meeting of the regular season with the Yankees, and they’re done playing the Blue Jays too. The Rays went 8-2 against the Yankees and 6-4 against the Blue Jays, so they hold the tiebreaker over both. Tampa doesn’t have to win the division outright. They can simply tie for first place and win the division by virtue of winning the season series (MLB will not play any tiebreaker games this year).

The Rays have 22 games remaining and only three of those 22 will be against teams that currently have a winning record (Sept. 25-27 vs. Phillies). Any team can beat any other team on any given night in this game, we know that, but Tampa Bay has built a nice AL East cushion and they have the soft part of their schedule coming. If they win their games, it doesn’t matter what the Yankees and Blue Jays do. The Rays control their AL East title destiny.

The Yankees and Blue Jays are about to see a whole lot of each other

There are only three weeks and three days remaining this season and the Yankees and Blue Jays have played a total of zero (0) games. They have all 10 head-to-head games remaining. Here’s their head-to-head schedule:

  • Sept. 7-9: 3 games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo
  • Sept. 15-17: 3 games at Yankee Stadium
  • Sept. 21-24: 4 games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo

Both teams will play 10 of their final 20 games against each other and those 10 games could very well decide which team gets second place in the AL East, and thus potentially home-field advantage in the Wild Card Round. The other will have to settle for third place and a wild-card spot, which ensures a road trip for the Wild Card Round.

The Blue Jays have an impressive young core and they loaded up at the trade deadline. They were the second biggest buyer behind the Padres, adding three starting pitchers (Robbie Ray, Ross Stripling, Taijuan Walker) and a super utility man (Jonathan Villar). The Yankees stood pat and are banking on their injured players (Aaron Judge, James Paxton, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres) providing a lift when they return.

Fair or not, those 10 head-to-head games will be a referendum on the trade deadline. If the Blue Jays push the Yankees around and assume second place, then they’ll look smart for going all-in while the Yankees look complacent. If the Yankees bury the Blue Jays, then they’ll look smart for staying patient while Toronto looks silly for thinking it was ready to compete with the league’s powerhouses. I’m not saying it’ll be right or wrong. I’m just saying the narrative will be easy.

The Rays, it should be noted, are rooting for the Yankees and Blue Jays to split those 10 games right down the middle. Five wins apiece. That keeps both teams at bay and down in the standings. One team winning, say, eight of 10 puts them in better position to challenge for the division title. The Rays want those two clubs to split the 10 games as evenly as possible. 

The Orioles and Red Sox can play spoiler

The Orioles and especially the Red Sox aren’t in position to challenge the Rays for the AL East title but they can be factors in the division race. They have head-to-head games remaining with the three teams ahead of them in the standings and those games are opportunities to make life miserable for their rivals.

Here are their remaining head-to-head games with the top three AL East teams:

ORIOLES

  • Sept. 4-6: 4 games vs. Yankees (at Camden Yards) (includes a doubleheader)
  • Sept. 10-13: 4 games vs. Yankees (at Yankee Stadium)
  • Sept. 17-20: 5 games vs. Rays (at Camden Yards) (includes a doubleheader)
  • Sept. 25-27: 3 games vs Blue Jays (at Sahlen Field in Buffalo)

RED SOX

  • Sept. 3-6: 5 games vs. Blue Jays (at Sahlen Field in Buffalo)
  • Sept. 10-13: 4 games vs. Rays (at Tropicana Field)
  • Sept. 18-20: 3 games vs. Yankees (at Fenway Park)

The Yankees have won 18 consecutive games against the Orioles dating back to last season and those eight remaining head-to-head games have to be comforting. They aren’t guaranteed wins, of course, but they are preferable to playing eight games against, say, NL East contenders during regional play.

To their credit, the Orioles have at least been competitive this season. They play hard and aren’t a pushover. The Red Sox appear to be shamelessly tanking. Their team 6.18 ERA is by far the highest in baseball and their top starter, Nathan Eovaldi, is on the injured list. Maybe they’ll be a headache for opposing teams down the stretch. Based on their play and schedule, the Orioles sure seem to be in much better position to play spoiler than the BoSox.

The final weekend of 2020

As a fan of baseball chaos, I sincerely hope the AL East race comes down to the final weekend, because that would be very fun. I hope every race comes down to the final weekend, really, but I’ll take what I can get. In the event the AL East race does come down to the final weekend, here’s where the three division contenders will be:

  • Blue Jays: 3 games vs. Orioles at Sahlen Field in Buffalo
  • Rays: 3 games vs. Phillies at Tropicana Field
  • Yankees: 3 games vs. Marlins at Yankee Stadium

All three teams are home and hey, the AL East race could impact the NL East race given where the Marlins and Phillies are in the standings. Nothing quite like scoreboard watching on the final day of the regular season. As a reminder, to maximize drama every game will begin at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 27, the final day of the season.

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