NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Maddon manages one of the best teams in baseball. And the Tampa Bay Rays could wind up going home after one game this postseason.
Then again, winning just one game shouldn’t be too hard for the teams that survive the crowded wild card race. It’s getting there that’s going to be difficult in the second year of baseball’s new playoff format.
“Right now, you look at the American League East, and Boston and Tampa aren’t taking any days off because who wants to win 98 or 99 games and be in a one-game playoff?” said former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who now has the Cleveland Indians in the thick of the wild-card race. “They wanted to stress the importance of the season, which makes sense.”
The Rays are only a game behind Boston for the AL East lead, and if the season ended before Friday’s games, they would make it as one of the wild cards and play Oakland in a one-game, winner-take-all matchup.
With a little more than five weeks left in the regular season, though, the AL wild card race is jammed. The NL is slightly less crowded.
Lurking right behind Tampa Bay is Cleveland, 2½ games back before Friday’s games. Baltimore was 3 games out of the playoffs and the Yankees were 3½ games behind. Even the Royals might have an outside chance to get in. Kansas City is seven games behind Oakland for the second wild card spot and falling fast, having lost five straight and eight of 10.
“Now with the extra wild card, everyone has to be on their toes,” Cleveland’s Jason Giambi said. “GMs have to be into it because they may have to make a trade that can get you over the top, and a lot of teams that would be sellers become buyers.”