Ten teams make the playoffs in baseball. Nine of those spots have been decided. But the final AL Wild Card spot is still up for grabs.
Nobody – and I mean nobody – predicted back in April that the three teams vying for the final spot would be the Astros, Twins and Angels. But the beauty of baseball is its unpredictability. And that's exactly where we find ourselves with three games to go.
Here are the current Wild Card Standings in the American League:
NYY +3 (x)
(x – The Yankees have clinched one of the two Wild Card spots, though technically, Houston could still catch them for the first spot, and therefore host the AL Wild Card Game.)
So the math could be very simple. If Houston wins out, they're in. But if they lose a game or two, things could get complex in a hurry.
If you go by opponents record, Houston also has the easiest path over their final three games. Here's how the three teams finish:
Houston at Arizona (78-81)
Minnesota vs. Kansas City (92-67)
Los Angeles at Texas (87-72)
But that evaluation isn't all that simple either. Houston is 31-47 on the road. Combine that with the loss of the DH in a National League park and maybe that makes things tough on the Astros. Although to be fair, they are 14-3 in Interleague Play this season, so maybe it doesn't.
Los Angeles has already lost the opener of their 4-game series with Texas. One more win for Texas (or an Astros loss) will clinch the AL West for Texas locking them in as the 3rd seed among division winners and will be on the road for their AL Division Series match-up regardless of whether they play Kansas City or Toronto.
The Twins hoped to have a “resting” Royals club come to town this weekend. Alas, Kansas City is in a dogfight with Toronto for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (y). So instead of the Royals trying to set up their rotation for the Division Series, they're scheduled to throw Chris Young, Yordano Ventura and Johnny Cueto at Minnesota over the weekend.
(y- Toronto and Kansas City are currently tied at 92-67, and with the AL having won the All-Star Game – don't get me started – whomever comes out on top between them would have home-field advantage not only through the AL playoffs, but also in the World Series.)
Then, of course, there are the tie-breaker scenarios.
If Houston and Minnesota tie, they'd play a Game 163 at Target Field on Monday. If Los Angeles and Minnesota tie, they'd play a Game 163 at Angel Stadium on Monday. If Houston and Los Angeles tie (z), they'd play a Game 163 at Minute Maid Park on Monday. The winner of those games would go on to play the Yankees on Tuesday in New York.
(z- Since you're likely a Twins fan, you probably don't care about this scenario, but in the interest of fairness, it's been included.)
If all three teams tie? While that's never happened in the Wild Card era, there IS a procedure in place that would determine things. Since Los Angeles has the best combined record against the other two teams, they'd have the choice of hosting two tie-breaker games, or they could play a single game on the road. And since no team in their right mind would force themselves to win two games instead of one, the likelihood is that the Twins would host the Astros on Monday, with the winner of that game hosting the Angels on Tuesday, with Tuesday's scheduled AL Wild Card Game (Yankees vs. TBD) being bumped to Wednesday.
Got all that? Take an aspirin, clear your head. It'll all sort itself out.
The bottom line for the Twins is: just keep winning. They don't control their own destiny. They'll need help from Arizona. But as long as they keep winning games, they have a shot.
For Twins fans? Well it doesn't get a whole lot more fun than this. After four consecutive 90+ loss seasons, being this close to a post-season berth is baseball-nirvana (the Buddhist state-of-mind, not the band... though the band was awesome too).
The tension, the drama, the excitement – this is why people love sports so much. Sunday could be a day of elation at Target Field, or it could be a total buzz-kill. You just don't know. Which is what makes the ride so enjoyable.
It's supposed to be near-perfect Fall weather all weekend long. So grab a light jacket (and even a blanket if you're prone to the chills), head on out to Target Field and partake in some of the best drama baseball has to offer.
Oh, and maybe have a “personal day” on standby for Monday... just in case!