Which AL teams will reach MLB playoffs? 6 teams fight for 4 spots in (wild) wild card race

 Which AL teams will reach MLB playoffs?  6 teams fight for 4 spots in (wild) wild card race

If there’s anything Major League Baseball might learn from its first year of expanded playoffs, it’s this: You can never make them big enough to drain all the tension from the season’s final weeks.

In Year One of the third wild card, fears of a sub.-500 team sneaking into the field have subsided. And while the National League’s playoff drama may be reduced to which of the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres will struggle less down the stretch, it’s a different story in the American League.

Six teams will slug it out for the four slots that remain in the wake of the pace-setting Houston Astros and New York Yankees.

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Either the Cleveland Guardians or Minnesota Twins will win the AL Central, with the other left to tangle with the East’s Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles and the West’s Seattle Mariners for the wild card berths.

With roughly 35 games remaining for each team, the permutations remain seemingly endless. Yet we will seek clarity, anyway.

A look at the six contenders for the four spots, ordered by winning percentage through Monday, and an educated projection for how they’ll finish come Oct. 5:

Tampa Bay Rays (70-57)

Rays players celebrate a walk-off win against the Angels on Aug. 24.

standing: First in AL wild card, second in AL East

Games remaining: 16 home, 19 road

Remaining opponent winning percentage (entering Monday): .550

Record against .500 or better teams: 32-33

Record since All Star break: 19-16

Make or break moment: A five-game series at third-place Toronto, Sept. 12-15. The Rays have the most challenging remaining schedule among our contenders but can afford brief struggles against the Yankees and Astros if they take care of their closest wild card challenger.

prognosis: No. 1 wild card. The Rays are a playoff-tested group and their rotation ERA of 3.33 is third in the AL and nearly a half-run better than Seattle, the next best in this group.

Seattle Mariners (70-58)

Julio Rodriguez celebrates a home run against the Guardians on Aug. 27.

Julio Rodriguez celebrates a home run against the Guardians on Aug. 27.

standing: Second in AL wild card, second in AL West

Games remaining: 18 home, 16 road

Remaining opponent winning percentage: .449

Record against .500 or better teams: 33-35

Record since All Star break: 19-16

Make or break moment: A three-game series at Cleveland, Friday-Sunday. One more win will clinch the season series and effectively add another game to Seattle’s lead over one of its pursuers. It’s also their last series against an AL opponent with a winning record.

prognosis: No. 3 wild cards. Conditions are ripe for a moderate fade; for one, super rookie Julio Rodriguez’s second-half OPS is .694, compared to .814 in the first half. But the remaining schedule is so soft – the last 20 games coming against the Angels, A’s, Royals, Rangers and Tigers – that the specter of two decades of season-ending misfortune can’t prevent their first playoff berth since 2001.

Toronto Blue Jays (69-58)

Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette before Monday's game against the Cubs.

Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette before Monday’s game against the Cubs.

standing: Third in AL wild card, third in AL East

Games remaining: 17 home, 19 road

Remaining opponent winning percentage: .512

Record against .500 or better teams: 30-39

Record since All Star break: 19-15

Make or break moment: Right now, with nine of their next 12 games against the Cubs, Pirates and Rangers. The Blue Jays need to bank some wins before a treacherous final month, which includes 18 games against Tampa Bay and Baltimore.

prognosis: Out of playoffs. Just too many question marks in a rotation toting Jose Berrios’ 5.28 ERA, that’s hoping for the best from Mitch White, that hopes Alek Manoah already topping his career workload by nearly 30 innings won’t come into play, that Ross Stripling’s joyride will continue . Too many what-ifs with some punishing opponents on deck.

Cleveland Guardians (67-59)

Shortstop Amed Rosario and second baseman Andres Gimenez were both acquired in the trade that sent Francisco Lindor to the Mets.

Shortstop Amed Rosario and second baseman Andres Gimenez were both acquired in the trade that sent Francisco Lindor to the Mets.

standing: First in AL Central, fourth-best record among wild-card hopefuls

Games remaining: 24 home, 12 road

Remaining opponent winning percentage: .479

Record against .500 or better teams: 25-23

Record since All Star break: 21-15

Make or break moment: Sept. 15-22, with nine games in eight days against division rivals Chicago and Minnesota. The White Sox look like a dead team walking and the Guardians must treat them as such, and merely hold serve against a Twins team that begins this stretch in a two-game hole.

prognosis: AL Central champs. Cleveland is 32-25 at home and won’t leave Cuyahoga County for the last nine games of the season, including a six-game lockout special against Kansas City to end it.

Baltimore Orioles (67-60)

Anthony Santander celebrates a home run against the White Sox with Adleyrutschman.

Anthony Santander celebrates a home run against the White Sox with Adleyrutschman.

standing: Fourth in AL East, fourth in AL wild card

Games remaining: 20 home, 15 road

Remaining opponent winning percentage: .506

Record against .500 or better teams: 30-39

Record since All Star break: 21-14

Make or break moment: Sept 5-7, when they host the Blue Jays for four games. A fun story can turn into playoff reality with their target right across the field.

prognosis: No. 2 wild cards. With their starters suddenly lasting deeper into games, it should only prop up a bullpen that’s been the league’s best in the second half. And forget the overall record: The Orioles are 51-36 since calling up Adleyrutschman in May and could get a September push from top prospects Gunnar Henderson, DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez.

Minnesota Twins (66-61)

standing: Second in AL Central, fifth in AL wild card

Games remaining: 14 home, 21 road

Remaining opponent winning percentage: .485

Record against .500 or better teams: 24-34

Record since All Star break: 16-17

Make or break moment: Sept. 17-20, a five-game series at Cleveland. Holding serve probably won’t be enough, but can the pitching-thin Twins stand up to Cleveland in five games over four days?

prognosis: Out of playoffs. Byron Buxton’s uncertain availability further imperils the thin margin upon which the Twins operate. Too many teams playing too well, and there are fewer AL Central gimme games these days, blunting one of the Twins’ few advantages.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: AL wild card standings: Mariners, Rays in position to make playoffs?