AL Wild-Card Race Comes Down To Wire

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New York Yankees
Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees, Luke Voit #59 of the New York Yankees and Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the New York Yankees high-five teammates after the Yankees defeated the Boston Red Sox in game two of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium on August 17, 2021 in New York City.

Five American League teams are competing for two playoff spots in the last week of the 2021 MLB regular season. All three division winners have essentially been decided, but both wild-card berths are up for grabs.

The New York Yankees sit atop the AL wild-card standings with a one-game lead over the Boston Red Sox. The Toronto Blue Jays are a game behind Boston for the second wild-card spot. The Seattle Mariners trail the Red Sox by two games, and the Oakland Athletics are three games out.

All five teams have six games left on the schedule, including a pair of series that include two wild-card contenders, as the regular season hits the home stretch.

The Yankees jumped ahead of the Red Sox for the top wild-card spot with a weekend sweep at Fenway Park. Giancarlo Stanton led the way with a pair of clutch home runs, becoming just the fourth Yankee with at least three homers and 10 RBI in any three-game span against the Red Sox.



Which two teams have the best chance of meeting in the AL Wild-Card Game? What happens if two, three or even four teams finish with the same record? 

Here's a preview of the AL wild-card race in the final week of the season.

Remaining Schedules

Either the Mariners or A’s will likely be out of the race by Thursday. Seattle hosts Oakland in a three-game series starting Monday. The AL West is the only AL divisional race that hasn’t been officially decided, though the Houston Astros have all but clinched first-place with a five-game edge over the Mariners with six games left to play.

Oakland visits Houston to end the season. The Mariners host the Los Angeles Angels in their final series.

The Yankees host the Blue Jays in a pivotal series from Tuesday through Thursday. New York ends the season with three games at home against the Tampa Bay Rays. Toronto hosts the Baltimore Orioles in its final series.

Boston has the easiest finish to the season with no contenders on the schedule. The Red Sox play six road games against Baltimore and the Washington Nationals, who have lost a combined 198 games. 

Based on opponents’ winning percentage, New York has the most difficult remaining schedule. That doesn’t tell the whole story, however, since Tampa Bay will likely have nothing on the line when they play in the Bronx. The Rays have already clinched the AL East title, and they’ll earn home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs with either one win or an Astros’ loss. 

Tiebreaker Scenarios 

If there is a two-way tie atop the wild-card standings, the team with the better head-to-head record would host the other in the AL-Wild Card Game. If two teams are tied for the second wild-card spot, the team with the better head-to-head record hosts the other in a tiebreak game, and the winner would go on the road in the AL Wild-Card game.

In the event that the top three wild-card teams finish with the exact same record, two extra contests would be played to determine the wild-card matchup. First, two of the teams would face off with the winner earning a spot in the wild-card game. The loser of that contest would visit the third team the following night, and the winner of that game would advance to the wild-card game.



The team with the best head-to-head record gets to decide which route they would have to take to clinch a spot in the wild-card game. For instance, here’s how the scenario would play out if the AL East teams finish in a three-way tie:

The Red Sox would get the first choice since they won the season series against both the Blue Jays and Yankees. Toronto would be up next because it has a winning record against New York.

Boston would likely choose to host the first tiebreak game. If they lose that contest, they’d have one more chance to earn a wild-card spot, even though it would come on the road.

Toronto might choose to visit Boston for two chances to earn a playoff spot. It’s possible that the Blue Jays would rather wait, take the extra day of rest and get ready for one home game to determine their fate.

A four-team tie would introduce an even more complicated scenaro that is very unlikely to take place because of this week's matchups between contenders. has the complete rules for every tiebreaker scenario.

AL Wild-Card Game

The 2021 AL Wild-Card Game is currently scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 5. That would be pushed back if more than two teams finish the regular season tied for the second wild-card spot.

One of the two teams that earns a wild-card spot will face a tough path in the postseason. The winner of the wild-card game gets rewarded with a matchup against the AL’s No. 1 seed, likely the Rays, in the ALDS.

It’s been four years since the winner of the AL Wild-Card Game advanced beyond the ALDS. The Yankees reached Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS as a wild-card team.

Since MLB expanded its playoff format in 2012, no AL wild-card team has won the World Series. The 2014 San Francisco Giants and 2019 Washington Nationals both won the championship after surviving the NL Wild-Card Game.

New York Yankees

Photo: Adam Hunger/Getty Images

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