Many people asked me who I was rooting for this weekend between the Yankees and Red Sox. To be honest, I don't really care who wins that series. For the Rays it's more important to keep their eyes on the team in front of them, instead of the team's their chasing. That's because I believe the Rays will make the playoffs with 36 more wins, no matter what the Red Sox and Yankees do.
I know the 1st week of August is a little early to start talking "magic numbers" in baseball. But yesterday, Times writer Marc Topkin said he believes the Rays need to win 40 games to make the playoffs. To me, that number was a little bit high. Forty wins out of the next 54 games would put the Rays at 100-62 for the season. That would mean that either the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, or even another team would've won 99 games. Recent history suggests the wild card threshold isn't that high.
I went back 5 years in AL history and here's what I found:
Wild Card Wins
2008 Boston 95
2007 NY 94
2006 Detroit 95
2005 Boston 95
2004 Boston 98
As you can see, the most wins for a wild card team in the American League in the last 5 years was 98 for the 2004 Boston Red Sox. It averages out to 95.4 wins a year for the wild card. But, the wins for a team doesn't necessarily show the whole picture. It's also important to look at the the wins of the team behind them. This shows a much different picture.
2nd in Wild Card
2008 New York 89
2007 Detroit 88
2006 Chicago 90
2005 Cleveland 93
2004 Oakland 91
As you can see, the threshold becomes even lower. Looking at that, the most games an American League team has had to win to make the playoffs is 94. The 2005 Cleveland Indians had the most wins of any team in that stretch and failed to make the playoffs. The average is 90.2 wins... so, history suggests 91 wins is usually enough to get the wild card.
The most wins ever for an American League wild card berth post-expansion was the 2001 Oakland A's who won 102 games. However, their closest competitor that year was the Minnesota Twins, who won only 86 games.
For the Rays this means if they win 36 games out of their next 54, they should make the playoffs. That means .666 ball from here on out... 2 out of every 3 games. That may sound like a tall order, but last year the Rays played .750 ball in August. A good run over the next couple weeks will go a long way in determining whether the Rays make the playoffs or not.
Rays wins, not what Boston, NY, or Texas do is the key to the playoffs. They need to win the games in front of them and let the race play out. In the end, if the Rays win 96 games and miss the playoffs... all you can do is tip your cap to the Yankees and Red Sox and wish them well.