Remember when everyone thought the playoff races were mostly settled? Here is your periodic reminder that the baseball season is long for a reason -- it gives plenty of time for all sorts of madness to happen. The American League Wild Card race is as loopy as any in recent memory. We don’t know who’s going to make it, we don’t know who’s going to host it and we have no idea what’s going to happen. Five teams, within 3 1/2 games of each other ... it could be anyone!
That gives us, of course, 10 possible matchups for the AL Wild Card game, which brings in all sorts of rivalry possibilities and historical intrigue. (You have something like this in the National League as well, with five teams all in the mix, but battling for just one spot: The right to play a Wild Card game on the road in California.) Which of these theoretical AL matchups would be the most fun? The most tumultuous? The silliest?
Here are the 10 possible AL Wild Card matchups, ranked.
1) Red Sox-Yankees
The obvious No. 1. Memories of Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone and Alex Rodriguez slapping the ball away at first base would dominate a one-game playoff between these two teams. It doesn’t really matter where this game is played, but I’ll confess, having it be at Fenway, on a Tuesday night in October, feels appropriately cinematic. The 2018 ALDS, their only postseason matchup since the fated 2004 ALCS, was a bit of a bust. A win-or-go-home between these clubs, particularly if it involves Chris Sale vs. Gerrit Cole, would be must-see.
Oh, how fitting it would be for long-suffering Mariners fans, in their first postseason appearance in 20 years, to face the Yankees -- the franchise that denied their incredible 116-win team the World Series title that virtually everyone thought they were going to get. It might seem cruel to run into the Yankees again, but hey, if the Mariners are going to erase 20 years of pain, you can’t go over or around the wall: You have to go through it. This would be the best Empire vs. Rebels Wild Card matchup one could imagine.
3) Yankees-Blue Jays
When the Blue Jays signed George Springer in the offseason, the whole idea was that they were making a big charge at the Yankees. Here, they would be -- in the Wild Card game. (Those Rays just mess everything up.) The Jays have built part of their comeback this season off dramatic wins over the Yankees, and while this would likely be a Robbie Ray-Gerrit Cole matchup, the idea of these two offenses going against each other is an aesthetically pleasing one. You get the sense there’s no team the young Jays would rather play. They would want this clear changing of the guard.
4) Mariners-Blue Jays
The color schemes alone would be pleasant. But more than anything, this would be the sort of emergent change of pace that fans love: Two young, exciting teams who have had wildly entertaining seasons and are trying to lay down a clear foundation for the future. Of all the games on this list, this is one where there is no clear villain or established favorite.
5) Red Sox-Blue Jays
For as many times as these two have played, and as good teams as they’ve had, they’ve never met in the postseason. There’s plenty of juice in this divisional rivalry, though; they had a testy confrontation involving Hansel Robles and the Blue Jays' bench just last month. (The kids on the Jays didn’t look too intimidated.) The Blue Jays are eager to show they can bum-rush the division over the next half-decade: Sticking it to the Red Sox would be a great way to do it.
This would be a rematch of the 2018 Wild Card game, one the Yankees won, back when they all seemed younger and more exciting. The Yankees have a history of beating the A’s in the playoffs, taking them out in 2000 and 2001 (and 1981, if you want to go back that far), and this is probably the Wild Card matchup the Yankees would want the most.
As far as divisional rivalries go, this isn’t necessarily the most rabid one: They’ve never played in the postseason, and the only time they’ve battled all that hard in a division race was 2000, when the A’s won the AL West by a half-game. This is a fascinating thought experiment, though: Would you rather be the A’s, who have made the playoffs constantly, but suffered incessant pain upon getting there (they’ve made 11 postseasons this century and have made it to the ALCS only once, where they got swept), or the Mariners, who rarely make the playoffs at all?
8) Red Sox-A’s
The A’s lost to the Red Sox in the ALDS back in 2003, the year after the Moneyball season, and these teams, of course, have shared all sorts of front-office staffs over the last two decades. (The drama of Billy Beane again going against the team he turned down, just to watch them win four World Series while he has won none, is sublime enough as is.) This would be a rematch of a truly thrilling July 3 matchup, which went 12 innings and ended with three runs from the A’s in a walk-off victory.
9) Blue Jays-A’s
If you want to point to the moment when everything started going right for the Blue Jays and wrong for the A’s, that Labor Day weekend sweep for Toronto is a good starting point. This would be a fun rematch of the 1992 ALCS. One can only hope for appearances by Joe Carter, Dave Winfield, Harold Baines, Dennis Eckersley, Rickey Henderson and Mark McGwire.
10) Red Sox-Mariners
It’s a team that has made the postseason 10 times since 2001, and won four World Series, against a team that … hasn’t. You don’t have to search far to see how this game might turn out: They’ve split the first two games of a three-game series in Seattle, with the finale this afternoon. Amusingly, if the Mariners played at Fenway, they’d be visiting a venue where they once played -- with Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez -- as the home team in 1994 with The Kingdome unavailable.