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AL playoffs: how the race shapes up

AL East Standings

Boston 49 33 .597 0 Lost 1
New York 48 34 .585 1 Lost 1
Tampa Bay 44 39 .530 5.5 Lost 4
Toronto 43 41 .511 7 Won 1
Baltimore 36 47 .433 13.5 Lost 3

(updated 7.7.2009 at 2:20 PM EDT)

The Fourth of July has passed (no more red caps, Thank God!), the halfway point of the schedule is gone, and the All-Star break is rapidly approaching.

That makes this a pretty good time to assess the American League playoff picture. More specifically, exactly where the Yankees stand in that picture.

I reached out to both R.J. Anderson at DRaysBay and Randy Booth at OverTheMonster for some of their thoughts on the race as it shapes up. Before we get to those, though, let's look at the raw numbers.

The Yankees are one game behind the Red Sox in the AL East, having sliced four games off Boston's lead in the last two weeks. Defending American League champion Tampa Bay is lurking 5.5 back. The Blue Jays are 7 games back and fading. Bye, bye, birdies!

In the wild-card picture, Texas is 2.5 behind the Yankees and is fighting Anaheim for the AL West crown. Does anyone really believe the loser of that fight is going to keep pace and make a serious wild-card push? I don't.

Same with the AL Central. Someone is going to win that race. Whoever finishes second is not going to be in the wild-card race. So, that division is of no consequence to the Yankees.

So, in reality it comes down to New York, Boston and Tampa Bay.

Cool Standings, a very cool Web site, lists the Red Sox with a 71.4 percent chance of making the playoffs (46.6 percent chance of winning the division), Yankees with a 61 percent chance of making the playoffs (32.9 percent shot at the division) and the Rays with a 39.4 percent shot at the playoffs and a smallish 17.6 percent chance at a division crown.

Personally, I feel really good about the Yankees right now. The first half of the season included lots of ups and downs. With the exception of a short hitting slump, the Yanks have played well for two months now, going 34-19 (a .642 winning percentage). The bullpen and starting pitching have improved, and Alex Rodriguez has been a huge boost.

There are things to pick at, like Joba Chamberlain's inconsistency, Robbie Cano's inability to drive in a run and Brian Bruney's struggles. In general, though, things are good.

I feel like the Yankees have to beat the Red Sox at least around half the time in the remaining 11 meetings between the two teams, just to even the playing field after starting 0-8 against Boston. In general, though, I feel really good about where this team is. Unless injuries ravage the team in the second half, I see no reason there won't be October baseball in the Bronx.

As for the Rays, here is R.J.'s take.

The biggest concern is the Rays winning 70% of their games in June and still finding themselves a couple of games outside of the playoffs. Outside of simply the amount of wins achieved despite a shaky rotation, the good news is that the Rays have plus defender and offenders at every position but catcher and DH. The rotation has the chance to pull it together, and the bullpen is the best in franchise history, lead by J.P. Howell – probably the second best reliever in the division this season behind Scott Downs.

David Price has been erratic, Matt Garza had an awful June, Pat Burrell still isn’t hitting for power to the extent you would expect, Dioner Navarro is doing nothing, and Evan Longoria is nursing a gimpy hammy. Those are about the only negatives you can find on this team lately. B.J. Upton had a .950 OPS in June and he’s one of the best defenders in center, Carl Crawford is Carl Crawford, and Gabe Gross/Gabe Kapler combine to be a top five right fielder.

As for the playoff chances, I would say they are equal to a coin flip.

I am still waiting to receive something from Randy about the Red Sox. When I get that, I will pass it along. For now, though, I wanted to get this out to you as the Yankees get ready to begin a road trip tonight in Minnesota.

American League Wild Card Standings

New York 48 34 .585 0 Lost 1
Texas 45 36 .555 2.5 Lost 1
Tampa Bay 44 39 .530 4.5 Lost 4
Seattle 43 39 .524 5 Won 1
Minnesota 43 40 .518 5.5 Won 2
Chicago 42 40 .512 6 Lost 2
Toronto 43 41 .511 6 Won 1
Kansas City 36 46 .439 12 Won 3
Baltimore 36 47 .433 12.5 Lost 3
Oakland 35 46 .432 12.5 Won 2
Cleveland 33 50 .397 15.5 Lost 1

(updated 7.7.2009 at 2:21 PM EDT)