As MLB enters the final month of the 2015 regular season, the closest divisional race is taking place in the American League East. While five of the six division leaders have at least a four-game advantage on the second-place teams, the Toronto Blue Jays lead the New York Yankees by just 1.5 games.
A little over a month ago, the Yankees seemed to be a virtual lock to reach the playoffs and possibly win the division. But their seven-game lead in the division on July 28 quickly vanished when the Blue Jays made multiple moves before the trade deadline. Toronto added both shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and ace David Price, who have helped lift them to 24 wins in their last 30 games to top the AL East.
With two wild-card spots up for grabs in the AL, the Yankees are in a good position to reach the postseason. They have a four-game lead on the Texas Rangers, who are No.2 in the wild-card standings. The Minnesota Twins trail the Rangers by one game, and the Los Angeles Angels are eight games behind New York in the loss column.
Toronto is projected to finish ahead of the Yankees, considering they have a +191 run differential compared to New York’s +76 run differential. But New York still has a good chance to win the AL East or a wild-card spot.
The Yankees have suffered some key injuries in the last few weeks that could make it harder for them to reach the playoffs. Mark Teixeira has been the team’s best player, leading New York with 31 home runs and a .906 OPS. But he’s had just three at-bats in the last two weeks, and it’s unknown for how much longer a right leg injury will keep him sidelined.
New York’s rotation has been banged up for much of the season. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda are currently healthy after both spent time on the disabled list. C.C. Sabathia is the latest New York pitcher to go down with an injury. The veteran is working towards getting back on the mound after inflammation in his right knee sent him to the DL, and there’s no guarantee he’ll return in 2015. But Sabathia has been the team’s worst starter with a 5.27 ERA, and keeping him off the field might actually be what’s best for the Yankees.
Most of the Yankees’ games down the stretch will come within the division. They are set to play the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays 18 times. Toronto has a similar schedule, though their games outside of the division differ. The Yankees have three games against the first-place New York Mets, while the Blue Jays will play a series against the Atlanta Braves, who trail the Mets by 19 games. New York will also play the Chicago White Sox (61-68) in a series, and Toronto is finishing up a series with the Cleveland Indians (64-66).
The winner of the division will likely be determined by the seven head-to-head matchups between the two teams. Toronto hasn’t had much trouble with New York, going 8-4 against the Yankees this season, including a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium on the second weekend of August. But the Yankees are the only team that has won a series from the Blue Jays since late July, taking two out of three in Toronto from Aug. 14-Aug. 16.
Texas will play all but five games against teams in their division, including a seven-game set with the Angels. Minnesota’s non-division games will come against the AL West leading Houston Astros and the Angels. A split in the four-game set between the Angels and Twins might be the best case scenario for the Yankees.
Despite their similar records, Toronto is a fairly heavy favorite to win the division. They are the odds-on favorite with -400 betting odds at Bovada.lv, while the Yankees have +190 odds to win the AL East. The Blue Jays are the favorites to win the World Series with +375 championship odds, and the Yankees are tied for sixth in baseball with +1200 odds.
But the betting odds heavily favor the Yankees making the playoffs in some capacity. They have +700 odds to win the AL Pennant, and Twins and Angels, who are the first teams out of the wild-card race, have just +1800 AL pennant odds.