Which AL teams will make the MLB playoffs? 6 teams are competing for 4 spots in a (wild) wild card game

If there’s one thing Major League Baseball can learn from its first year of expanded playoffs, it’s this: You can never make them big enough to drain all the tension from the final weeks of the season.

In Year One of the third wild card, fears of a sub-.500 team sneaking into the field have subsided. And while the drama of the National League playoffs may come down to which of the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres will struggle the least in the division, it’s a different story in the American League.

Six teams will duke it out for the four remaining slots in the wake of the Houston Astros and New York Yankees paces.

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Either the Cleveland Guardians or the Minnesota Twins will win the AL Central, with the others tussling with the East’s Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles and the West Seattle Mariners for the wild-card spots.

With around 35 games left for each team, the permutations remain seemingly endless. However, we will aim for clarity, anyway.

Here’s a look at the six contenders for the four spots, ranked by winning percentage through Monday, and an updated projection of how they’ll finish on Oct. 5:

Tampa Bay Rays (70-57)

Rays players celebrate a blowout win against the Angels on August 24th.

Rays players celebrate a blowout win against the Angels on August 24th.

Standing: First in AL wild card, second in AL East

There are games left: 16 house, 19 street

Remaining Opponent Win Percentage (Entering Monday): .550

Record against teams .500 or better: 32-33

Record since the All Star break: 19-16

Make-or-break moment: A five-game series at third-place Toronto, Sept. 12-15. The Rays have the toughest remaining schedule among our contenders, but they can afford short games against the Yankees and Astros if they take care of their closest wild-card challenger.

Forecast: No. 1 wild card. The Rays are a playoff-proven group, and their 3.33 rotation ERA is third in the AL and nearly half a run better than Seattle, the next best in that group.

Seattle Mariners (70-58)

Julio Rodriguez celebrates at home against the Guardians on August 27.

Julio Rodriguez celebrates at home against the Guardians on August 27.

Standing: Second in AL wild card, second in AL West

There are games left: 18 house, 16 street

Remaining opponent win percentage: .449

Record against teams .500 or better: 33-35

Record since the All Star break: 19-16

Make-or-break moment: A three-game series in Cleveland, Friday-Sunday. One more win would clinch the season series and essentially add another game to Seattle’s lead over one of its chasers. It’s also their last series against an AL opponent with a winning record.

Forecast: No. 3 wild card. Conditions are ripe for moderate fading. For one, super rookie Julio Rodriguez’s OPS in the second half is .694, compared to .814 in the first half. But the remaining schedule is so soft — the last 20 games against the Angels, A’s, Royals, Rangers and Tigers — that the specter of two decades of season-ending bad luck can’t stand in the way of their first playoff berth since 2001 .

Toronto Blue Jays (69-58)

The Blue Jays scattered Beau Bisset before Monday's game against the Cubs.

The Blue Jays scattered Beau Bisset before Monday’s game against the Cubs.

Standing: Third in AL wild card, third in AL East

There are games left: 17 house, 19 street

Remaining opponent win percentage: .512

Record against teams .500 or better: 30-39

Record since the All Star break: 19-15

Make-or-break moment: Right now, with nine of their next 12 games against the Cubs, Pirates and Rangers. The Blue Jays need to pick up some wins before a treacherous final month that includes 18 games against Tampa Bay and Baltimore.

Forecast: Out of the playoffs. Just too many question marks in a Jose Berrios 5.28 ERA rotation, hoping for the best from Mitch White, hoping that Alek Manoah who has already exceeded his career workload by nearly 30 innings doesn’t come into the game, that Ross Stripling’s joy will continue. Too many what-ifs with some punishing opponents in the deck.

Cleveland Guardians (67-59)

Shortstop Amed Rosario and second baseman Andres Gimenez were both acquired in the trade that sent Francisco Lindor to the Mets.

Shortstop Amed Rosario and second baseman Andres Gimenez were both acquired in the trade that sent Francisco Lindor to the Mets.

Standing: First in the AL Central, fourth-best record among wild-card contenders

There are games left: 24 house, 12 street

Remaining opponent win percentage: .479

Record against teams .500 or better: 25-23

Record since the All Star break: 21-15

Make-or-break moment: Sept. 15-22, with nine games in eight days against division rivals Chicago and Minnesota. The White Sox look like a dead team walking, and the Guardians have to treat them as such, and just hold serve against a Twins team that starts this stretch in a two-game hole.

Forecast: AL Central Champions. Cleveland is 32-25 at home and won’t leave Cuyahoga County for the final nine games of the season, including a special six-game lockout against Kansas City to end it.

Baltimore Orioles (67-60)

Anthony Santander celebrates a home run against the White Sox with Adley Rutschman.

Anthony Santander celebrates a home run against the White Sox with Adley Rutschman.

Standing: Fourth in AL East, fourth in AL wild card

There are games left: 20 house, 15 street

Remaining opponent win percentage: .506

Record against teams .500 or better: 30-39

Record since the All Star break: 21-14

Make-or-break moment: Sept. 5-7, when they host the Blue Jays for four games. A fun story can turn into a playoff reality with their goal right across the field.

Forecast: No. 2 wild card. With their starts suddenly lasting deeper into games, they’ll only have to prop up a bullpen that was the league’s best in the second half. And forget the overall record: The Orioles are 51-36 since calling up Adley Rutschman in May and could get a boost in September from starters Gunnar Henderson, DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez.

Minnesota Twins (66-61)

Standing: Second in AL Central, fifth in AL wild card

There are games left: 14 house, 21 street

Remaining opponent win percentage: .485

Record against teams .500 or better: 24-34

Record since the All Star break: 16-17

Make-or-break moment: Sept. 17-20, a five-game series in Cleveland. Holding serve probably won’t be enough, but can the slim twins hold up in Cleveland in five games in four days?

Forecast: Out of the playoffs. Byron Buxton’s uncertain availability further jeopardizes the tight margin the Twins are operating with. Too many teams are playing really well and there are fewer AL Central games these days, reducing one of the Twins’ few advantages.

This article originally appeared in USA TODAY: AL wild card standings: Mariners, Rays in position to make playoffs?

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