With about 25 games left for most teams in the season, it appears that the American League playoff picture is nearly settled. We know Anaheim is winning the West. We know the Central division champ is going to be either Chicago or Minnesota. We know that the Eastern division champ is going to be either Boston or Tampa. And we're fairly sure that the loser in the East will be the Wild Card winner since currently Eastern-trailing Boston holds a five game lead over Central-leading Chicago.
So, we have five teams for four spots and we're 95+% sure on three of the four teams getting in. What's left? Well, the other team obviously, but also importantly, the seeding. Baseball playoffs are seeded as follows: the division winners are seeded by record with ties broken* in the first three slots with the Wild Card winner getting the 4th seed. Then, the teams are matched up 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3.
Teams in seeds one and four are from the same division. Then, the match ups are amended to be 1 vs. 3 and 2 vs. 4.
Okay, so what you might be asking. Well, lets map out the various likely seeds. For this I will make an assumption that the Central division champion will have the worst record among division leaders and thus always earn the third seed.
SCENARIO 1: Angels finish with best record, Rays win east.
Angels (1) vs. Red Sox (4)
Rays (2) vs. MIN/CHA (3)
SCENARIO 2: Rays win east, finish with best record.
Rays (1) vs. MIN/CHA (3)
Angels(2) vs. Red Sox (4)
SCENARIO 3: Angels finish with best record, Red Sox win east.
Angels (1) vs. Rays (4)
Red Sox (2) vs. MIN/CHA (3)
SCENARIO 4: Red Sox win east, finish with best record.
Red Sox (1) vs. MIN/CHA (3)
Angels (2) vs. Rays (4)
So, you see, if the Rays hang on in the East and both them and the Angels finish ahead of the Central leader (highly likely) then no matter what, they'll face the Central leader and the Angels and Red Sox will have to face each other. That means that only one of them can advance and it gives the Rays the easiest first round pairing.
If instead the Red Sox come back and take the division, and the above assumption holds, then no matter what, the Rays will have to face the Angels and why I'd still be confident in their chances, it's a tougher opponent and worse, it opens up the door to the possibility of a Boston - Anaheim ALCS.
Keep winning Tampa. It means a lot.
* same record, playoff assured tiebreaking procedure for seeding is as follows:
- Head to head record.
- Best record among intra-league games.
- Best record among last 81 intra-league games.
- Repeat above for last 82 intra-league games. Repeat as needed.
One of those two teams is in the same division as the wild card winner, in which case the other team gets the top seed.