The American League Central often gets dismissed as one of the worst divisions in baseball – a title that’s not underserving – but it seems that writers and fans alike too often use this fact to dismiss the very real chance that an American League Central team could nab one of the Wild Card berths.
A quick look at the standings certainly makes this look possible – Cleveland is currently sixth in the American League, one spot out of the playoffs (or play-in, rather) – but what the standings don’t show is that Cleveland may be one of the favorites for a Wild Card spot based on their remaining schedule.
Here’s the current playoff picture with a projected win total based on current record pace:
4. Baltimore (89) / Boston (95)
1. Tampa Bay (96)
3. Detroit (92)
2. Oakland (96)
But teams don’t play the same type of schedule in August and September that they played in the spring and early summer. They play a much more division-heavy schedule, which is good news for teams like the Tigers and Indians. Using the Log 5 method against each AL team’s rest-of-season schedule (and adding in year-to-date wins), we get a different playoff picture.
4. Cleveland (90) / Boston (95)
1. Oakland (97)
3. Detroit (93)
2. Tampa Bay (96)
Here we see that not only do the Indians have a very real shot at 90 wins, but that the relativele differences in their rest-of-season schedule as compared to that of Baltimore could result in a three-win swing in the Wild Card race. This assumes that to-date winning percentages paint an accurate picture of current and future team strength, but even if we switch from winning percentage based calculations to pythag based calculations, the results only change a litte bit. Here’s the same Log 5 method using each team’s current Pythag pace.
4. Cleveland (89) / Boston (95)
1. Oakland (96)
3. Tampa Bay (95)
2. Detroit (96)*
The only big difference we see here is that the Tigers, who own the AL’s best average run differential, could still be a serious challenger for the top spot in the league.
*These are rounded records; I awarded tiebreakers to the team with the better projected record, not current head-to-head record.
For Tigers fans, these calculations don’t reveal much in the way of new information. The Tigers were always going to be the favorite to win the Central, but perhaps it won’t be quite as comfortable as we once thought. Detroit currently holds a 2.5 game lead on the Indians, but it doesn’t really look like that will ever stretch into the ulta comfortable range. Maybe a six game lead by the end of the year is the most we can expect, and maybe the lead never grows past three.
There’s still two months of baseball to play, so the slightest hot or cold stretch (to say nothing of trades) for any team will change the calculus, but the Central is looking good to send two teams into October.