The American League Wild Card picture is looking more competitive than previous years

Photo credit:© Brian Bradshaw Seval - USA Today
Veronica Chung
1 month ago
After playing 19 percent of the games in the 2024 MLB season, the Wild Card picture in the American League (AL) is more competitive than ever. While there is an overall consistency in the division and Wild Card Leaders in the AL playoff picture, there are some robust contenders to keep an eye out for as the 2024 season goes into its full swing.
Currently, the American League has been an unforgiving place for many wannabe contenders. With at least three teams recording 19 or more wins and four teams racking up between 17 and 18 wins, the American League’s Wild Card battle is projected to be more intense than before. It also doesn’t help that the teams that are right outside of the Wild Card contention have solid records overall.

One thing to keep in mind is that not every team has faced all of their division rivals and nor have they shared the same strength of schedule. This has had a major impact on the current Wild Card standings so far and the standing will likely look different toward the end of the season. For example, the Boston Red Sox have outperformed their expectations, but they have yet to face any of the AL East opponents. On the other hand, the New York Yankees have already faced all of their rivals in AL East by the end of April. 
With the Chicago White Sox gearing toward an almost complete rebuild, the teams in AL Central are set to benefit the most as they will gain more opportunities to win games probability-wise. That used to be an age-old strategy that worked for the AL East teams when the Baltimore Orioles were rebuilding – the four AL East teams took advantage of games against the Orioles to build their case in the playoff race until Baltimore blew up with young talents in 2022. 
Overall, the AL Central has successfully taken advantage of the youth movement in the division. The Cleveland Guardians are relying on their dominant young pitching and pesky but consistent offence while the Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers are depending on veteran pitching experience on top of younger offensive talents, including Bobby Witt Jr., Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene. Although the Minnesota Twins have not made many moves this offseason compared to their rivals, the team still has a solid offensive and pitching core they can count on despite some injury concerns. 

For AL West, the path to Wild Card may be more challenging as AL Central became stronger over the offseason. The silver lining for this division is that the division lead is up for grabs, which means that any team can take the lead if they put together a red-hot streak consistently. This division has massively underperformed compared to the early projections, and the wild card factor thus far has been the Oakland Athletics’ surprising overperformance at the beginning of the season, along with the Houston Astros’ early struggles. 
However, the Astros will most likely bounce back from their current funk, and the Athletics will gradually sink toward the bottom of the division, given that the team’s front office isn’t actively trying to be aggressive this season. That said, the fight for the division lead will be between the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, and the Houston Astros, much like the 2023 season. 
The Los Angeles Angels are also part of this chaotic division. They do exist in the division on paper, but whether they will be competitive enough to become a nuisance to their division rivals or not is another question entirely. 

The ever-difficult AL East has been off to a hyper-competitive start once again. The Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees will most likely compete for the division lead throughout the 2024 season, barring any unexpected injuries or slumps. This essentially leaves the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays to battle out for one of the three Wild Card spots. Even up until the 2023 season, all three teams could count on at least two AL East teams easily securing the Wild Card spots. But with the recent surge of the AL Central, this quest will become much tougher since at least one of the AL Central teams will also be vying for the Wild Card spot seriously along with one or two AL West teams. 
The key for potential Wild Card contenders in AL East is to win as many games as possible to jump out in the standings and widen the gaps earlier on in the season, ideally. This was a tactic that worked in the past for AL East and is still a possible path if the Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays are able to create harmony between their offence and pitching. Even then, this division won’t be able to guarantee all teams the playoff spot – such is life in a harsh AL East.

Below are three key takeaways from the early AL Wild Card race after thirty-ish games: 
  • Not all teams have played their division rivals yet. 
  • In terms of the strength of schedule, the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, and Cleveland Guardians have had one of the easiest schedules, while the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays have had the most difficult schedules, according to Power Rankings Guru. 
  • The overall surge in the American League Central will complicate the Wild Card race further for many AL teams, especially those in AL East and West. 
The white-hot playoff picture will slowly begin to change as time goes on and more teams face one another. Eighty-one percent of the game hasn’t been played yet, and no teams have faced all 30 teams yet, either. There’s still time for underperforming teams to rewrite their stories and powerful contenders to build onto their already-strong playoff narratives. But you know what they say, baseball will baseball – we’ll see what happens in the end.

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