When MLB added a second wild-card spot for each league in 2012, this is exactly what it wanted.

Less than two weeks remain before the 2016 regular season ends, but all four bids in the American League and National League Wild Card Games are still up for grabs. While three teams fight furiously for a shot at the NL play-in game, multiple teams still lurk in the AL picture.

If any ties occur, clubs might need to break the stalemate with an elimination game before the postseason elimination game. A three-team AL tie would especially prove problematic, as the Wild Card Game is scheduled for Oct. 4—two days after the season ends.

All six division leaders will likely clinch with time to spare, so let’s focus on the chaotic wild-card races. Playoff probabilities are courtesy of Baseball Prospectus


American League

Let’s make this easier and assume the Boston Red Sox wrap up the AL East. While there’s enough time to squander a five-game lead, they boast baseball’s best offense and an AL-best plus-186 run differential.

That leaves the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles vying for wild-card bids, both of which they control. Each club faces a tough closing schedule, which includes a three-game series against each other next week.

Although buoyed by their star sluggers, the Blue Jays’ starting rotation leads the AL in ERA. Despite a strong second half from Kevin Gausman, the Orioles would rank last if not for the putrid Minnesota Twins.

Solid starting staff aside, the Blue Jays would love to get Jose Bautista going. The veteran slugger is hitting .230/.358/.437 during an injury-infested season, but he has reached base in 29 straight games. He didn’t loiter there long on Wednesday, hitting a game-tying home run in the ninth against the Seattle Mariners, who won in extra innings.

Seattle looked down for the count before rattling off eight consecutive wins earlier this month. Dropping two of three to the Houston Astros and Blue Jays greatly derailed its playoff chances. Now the Astros and Detroit Tigers represent bigger threats.

Detroit has the most favorable schedule of the bunch, especially if the Cleveland Indians take it easy with the AL Central well in hand. The Tigers have also, however, played the last two games without Ian Kinsler (concussion) and Victor Martinez (knee). 

The catalyst to Detroit’s offense, Kinsler has hit 26 homers with an .804 OPS and 106 runs scored. He commented on his concussion to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.

“It’s something where you feel a little pressure maybe,” he said. “It’s just not normal. You don’t feel normal.” 

Even while facing the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves, the top-heavy Tigers need all hands on deck to mount a comeback. Also hurting their cause, rookie Michael Fulmer has regressed from an unsustainable hot start, notching a 4.00 second-half ERA. 

The Astros are situated to poach the second spot. They play seven of their final 10 games against the Los Angeles Angels, whom they have defeated 11 of 12 times this season. Although they probably won’t go much further without Dallas Keuchel, look for them to escape the scrum and face Toronto in the Wild Card Game.


National League

At a quick glance, the New York Mets appear in the worst shape among the trio competing to survive the wild-card frenzy. Their plus-20 run differential unfitting of an 80-72 team trails the San Francisco Giants (+59) and St. Louis Cardinals (+60) considerably. Not having David Wright, Neil Walker, Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom also hurts.

Fortunately for last year’s NL champs, their schedule since Aug. 25 has consisted of all but six games—which they split against the NL East-leading Washington Nationals—against anyone with a winning record. They have capitalized, since righting a sinking ship with a 16-7 record.

Alas, they hit a roadblock, getting swept by the Atlanta Braves. They have 10 games to heat up against the Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins, and Marlins ace Jose Fernandez is not scheduled to start any of their three matchups.

New York’s comeback received a helping hand from the Giants’ collapse. Entering the All-Star break at an MLB-best 57-33, San Francisco has since gone 23-39.

The Giants are still dangerous if they can make the Wild Card Game or even force a three-team tie. Their bullpen has pitched well during their second-half collapse, but it receives the blame as a result of stumbling in key spots. While those 12 blown saves have sparked the free-fall, a Giants offense gone terribly sour has scored the fewest runs since the All-Star break. 

San Francisco can’t point to any major injuries like the Mets and Cardinals—who are currently without Lance Lynn and Matt Holliday and missed Matt Carpenter, Aledmys Diaz and Michael Wacha for chunks of the season. The Giants are remarkably healthy, but they still stink.

“The first-half Giants were the [Chicago] Cubs, the second-half Giants are the Twins, and they’re essentially the exact same team,” Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan wrote. “This does not make any sense.”

After getting demolished by the Colorado Rockies, the Cardinals must hope the Cubs don’t care about ousting their division foes. With the division and home-field advantage firmly wrapped up, they have nothing on the line but pride.

As the rest of the rotation struggles, St. Louis needs two big outings from Alex Reyes. The highly touted rookie tossed seven shutout frames in Sunday’s enormous win over San Francisco. That was his third career start.

In the event of a three-team tie, the Cardinals would currently host the Mets—determined by inner-division records since they split their head-to-head encounters—for the first spot. The loser would then face San Francisco for the second ticket into the NL Wild Card Game.

Even though they’re baseball’s best team on the road, this scenario bodes well for the Cardinals. Yet look for the Mets to exploit a Phillies-heavy schedule to outright claim one spot, while the Giants save the season with strong showings against the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies.

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