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American League playoff race weekly recap: August 2nd-7th

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This new feature will look at how the Yankees and their competition fared in the past week, and what’s ahead as the playoff race heats up.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline has come and gone. Recent acquisitions are settling into their new homes and getting ready for that final stretch run. From all the looks of it 2021 should be a thrilling year in regards to playoff races, and the New York Yankees are clearly right in the middle of the action.

Based on that, we’ll recap everything that’s happened during the week with all of the contending teams that could compete with the Yankees for a playoff spot, whether that is via a division crown or a Wild Card spot. It remains to be seen which one will be the most likely outcome, but with this weekly segment you’ll be able to keep in touch with all things playoff race related and be aware of who gained ground and who fell behind in the face for October baseball.

As a disclaimer, the Chicago White Sox appear to have a firm grip on that AL Central crown; their 10.5-game lead on Cleveland is so overwhelming that it’d be a true shock if they fail to capture the division. Thus, they will not be included in these updates because there is essentially no threat to their playoff spot.

So our initial focus will begin with the following teams:

AL East:

Tampa Bay Rays
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays

AL West:

Houston Astros
Oakland Athletics
Seattle Mariners

One could make an argument to include Los Angeles and Cleveland in the list as possible dark horse Wild Card teams, but for now, we’ll set the threshold at within six games of a playoff spot. Because of that, they’re both out for now, with the caveat that one hot streak could bring them back into it.

Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Tampa Bay Rays (67-44)

Weekly Record: 3-2

The current AL East leaders started the week off with all the momentum in the world after sweeping the Boston Red Sox with plenty of authority. The combined 30-8 score over those three games was a big take-notice moment.

This week had Kevin Cash’s ballclub playing a pair of three game series, first finishing off their homestand going against the Mariners in Tropicana Field then traveling to Baltimore to face the last-place Orioles.

After back-to-back losses on Monday and Tuesday, the Rays managed to bounce back in each of their next three games with come-from-behind victories to wrap up the Mariners series and to begin their next one against the Orioles with two W’s.

Because of Boston’s own woes, that 3-2 record actually increased the Rays’ lead in the East to three games.

After they wrap up in Baltimore, Monday is the travel day kicking off a short road trip for the Rays. They’ll start with what should be three huge games in Fenway Park against the Sox before heading to Minnesota for another three against the Twins.

Boston Red Sox (65-48)

Weekly Record: 2-4

A stop in Detroit was just what the doctor ordered after losing five out of the last six against two division rivals (Blue Jays and Rays) the previous week, right? Not so much.

The powerful Red Sox offense averaged only 2.33 runs per game during the series in Detroit and left with only one win to fly north of the border for the first time since 2019. The series in Toronto is off on the wrong foot with a blowout loss on Friday night (12-4) thanks to current ace Nathan Eovaldi having one of his worst performances in a while. They split a doubleheader yesterday, with Marcus Semien walking off against All-Star closer Matt Barnes in the opener before Boston rebounded to take the nightcap, 2-1.

The Red Sox now look to recapture their first-half form before they return to Fenway for a six-game homestand that will see the Rays and Orioles come to town. They still lead the Wild Card race with a one-game cushion over Oakland in the No. 2 spot, but the surging A’s could soon pass them.

New York Yankees (61-49)

Weekly Record: 5-1

While Andrew Heaney didn’t have the best experience in the world during his debut in pinstripes, the Yankees answered the bell after that 7-1 loss to the O’s at home on Monday with four straight wins, including back-to-back offensive outbursts of 10 or more to finish up Baltimore and open up the series against another Wild Card contender, the Seattle Mariners.

After this busy week with seven games at home, Aaron Boone’s ballclub will be off to face a couple of AL Central teams that find themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum in 2021. First, a three-game set in Kansas City against the 47-62 Royals, and then a date with the AL Central-leading White Sox. Since Tampa also played well, the Yankees couldn’t gain much ground there, but they now trail Oakland in the Wild Card by 1.5 games, and Boston by 2.5 games (just one in the loss column).

Toronto Blue Jays (59-50)

Weekly Record: 5-2

Finally in Toronto, the Blue Jays had a full slate of games at home during the week, four apiece against Cleveland and the Red Sox, including a doubleheader on Saturday. Brad Hand took the L on Monday in his second appearance with his new team, but it was nothing that three straight victories to guarantee the series win plus a blowout W with a crooked number against one of the top pitchers in the AL in 2021 couldn’t fix. They split the aforementioned twin bill with Boston to end the stretch at 5-2.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Blue Jays, who’ll have to travel a long way on Monday for a four-game set against the Los Angeles Angels, and then three to wrap up the week in Seattle. They’re three games back of Oakland for the second Wild Card spot with the Yankees in front of them as well.

Houston Astros (66-45)

Weekly Record: 2-3

An eventful two-game regular season series with the Dodgers ended in a split after the Astros left Chavez Ravine. But at home facing the disappointing Minnesota Twins, things haven’t been as easy as one would have expected heading in. The visitors took each of the first two games and at best, the Astros will get another series split at the end of the week. They did their part by winning on Saturday, 4-0.

Next week, the current AL West frontrunners will see out their homestand with two against the Rockies and then a trip to California once again, now to face the Angels. Their division lead over the A’s has fallen to three games.

Oakland Athletics (63-48)

Weekly Record: 3-1

After a Monday off-day, the A’s lost to Blake Snell and the Padres before rebounding to walk off in back-to-back ballgames. Matt Olson doubled in the 10th to win on Wednesday, and trade deadline acquisition Starling Marte belted a walk-off blast against Texas in the 11th to send A’s fans home happy on Friday. They made affairs much easier yesterday with a decisive 12-3 blowout.

Oakland will travel next week to face Cleveland and Texas once again, both three-game sets. They remain in the second Wild Card spot and with a hot week, could not only pass Boston for the top spot, but also loosen the Astros’ previously tight grip on the AL West crown.

Seattle Mariners (58-54)

Weekly Record: 2-5

The Mariners knew that they had a tough week ahead of them, as they began August on an East Coast swing after dropping their series finale to the Rangers. To their credit, they took two out of three from the AL East-leading Rays. The New York section has been a disaster thus far though, as they’ve dropped all three games to the Yankees.

Up next on the schedule is a homestand, with the Rangers and Blue Jays coming into town. The Mariners better hope that they salvage the Yankees finale and put together a better week because next time around, they might not be mentioned in this roundup.

The M’s now sit a distant 5.5 games behind the A’s for the last Wild Card spot and in fact only have a 1.5-game advantage on the Angels. It’s looking more and more likely that the longest playoff drought in North American sports will move to 20 years at the end of 2021.