Run for your money: Handicapping MLB's wild-card races
With more than 150 games down and roughly 10 to go, a handful of major-league teams remain in the hunt for a wild-card berth. The American League race remains one of the most complex in recent years, while the National League playoff chase is more about positioning at this point.
Here's a look at teams from each league that remain in the running of a playoff spot (World Series odds courtesy LVH):
Tampa Bay Rays (83-68, first wild-card spot)
The Rays (20/1 to win the World Series) were challenging the Boston Red Sox for the American League East title not long ago, but a 3-7 tailspin to open the month left the wild card as their only chance at playoff glory. Tampa Bay has a tough road the rest of the way, with a four-game homestand against fellow contender Baltimore leading into a season-ending six-game road trip against the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays.
Texas Rangers (82-69, second wild-card spot)
The Rangers (20/1) have fallen apart over the past two and a half weeks, going 3-13 so far in September - a stretch that includes a seven-game losing streak during which the club was held to two runs or fewer four times. Texas has a much more manageable schedule than the Rays, visiting Kansas City for a three-game set before wrapping up the campaign with seven straight home games against woeful Houston and the underachieving Los Angeles Angels.
Cleveland Indians (82-70, half game back of Texas)
An 11-6 showing for the month has the Indians (30/1) back in the postseason conversation after being all but ruled out three weeks ago. Cleveland has gained four games on the Rangers over the past week and a half, but still has Baltimore (one game back of Texas) and the Yankees and Royals (2.5 back) to contend with. Cleveland has a powder-puff schedule, however, with a six-game homestand against the Astros and White Sox and a four-game trek to Minnesota.
Pittsburgh Pirates (87-65, first wild-card spot)
Barring a collapse by the Pirates (14/1) or a miraculous run by the Washington Nationals (see below), Pittsburgh will end a two-decade playoff drought at the end of the month. But the Pirates have loftier goals, namely catching the Cardinals for top spot in the National League Central. Pittsburgh enters Friday two games off the pace, with six of its final 10 games against the team directly behind it in both the division and wild-card standings (also see below).
Cincinnati Reds (87-66, second wild-card spot)
The aforementioned Reds (16/1) continue to hang around, making the Central the only legitimate division race remaining. Cincinnati has surged into contention with an 11-6 September that includes a road sweep against lowly Houston earlier this week. In addition to having six games against Pittsburgh to close out the regular season, the Reds have the privilege of facing a New York Mets team that is playing out the string.
Washington Nationals (81-71, 5.5 games back of Cincinnati)
It will take a sensational run - and some help - for the Nationals (200/1) to return to the postseason. The division race is all but over - Atlanta has an nine-game lead with 10 to play - and unless either the Reds dominate the Pirates or vice versa, Washington won't be able to make up enough ground for a long winning streak to matter. The Nationals host Miami for four games before finishing up with three games each in Atlanta and Arizona.