Don't have a dog in the American League Wild Card fight? That's too bad, because it's the best race going.The Yankees have built a comfortable 3 1/2-game lead for the first spot, but the traffic jam behind them just gets wilder all the time. Entering the weekend, there are eight
Don't have a dog in the American League Wild Card fight? That's too bad, because it's the best race going.
The Yankees have built a comfortable 3 1/2-game lead for the first spot, but the traffic jam behind them just gets wilder all the time. Entering the weekend, there are eight teams within three games of the second spot, including five within 1 1/2 games.
If you don't have a true favorite of your own, pick one and follow them to the end. It'll be fun.
Here's are reasons to root for all nine teams that are in the picture:
Yankees: Aaron Judge (of course)
Outside of Red Sox fans, who doesn't want to see the super-skilled giant right fielder playing games in October? Judge has cooled off significantly in the second half, hitting .179 with seven home runs since winning the Home Run Derby. But it would be fascinating to watch an opponent's game plan against him in an elimination game. Do you challenge a player who can hit the ball 500 feet?
Angels: Michael Trout
It's been three years since baseball's best player has been in the postseason, and that's too long. Even though Trout missed 39 games with the torn ligament in his left thumb, he's probably going to finish first or second in AL Most Valuable Player Award balloting for the sixth year in a row. That's how good he's been. Trout is in the batting race while hitting a home run every 12 at-bats, and since the All-Star break, he has more walks than strikeouts. He has played only three postseason games in his seven-year career. Trout deserves another shot for an extended run.
Royals: Last chance for the core
Because of the impending free agency of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jason Vargas, this is likely the last hurrah for a close team that went to back-to-back World Series in 2014 and '15. They're also trying to win for late teammate Yordano Ventura, the electrifying pitcher who tragically died at age 22 in a January car accident in the Dominican Republic.
Twins: Target Field
One of baseball's neatest stadiums, the downtown Minneapolis gem was the site of two AL Division Series losses to the Yankees in 2010, its first season, but it has sat empty in the postseason since then. It would be fun to see Paul Molitor's team in action there, years ahead of schedule in the rebuild that ownership committed to in hiring Derek Falvey to replace Terry Ryan. Maybe Rod Carew would even feel good enough to stop by to talk about his heart transplant.
Mariners: King Felix
Few fans have loved their best player the way the Mariners have loved Felix Hernandez these past 13 years. He won an AL Cy Young Award and has gone to six All-Star Games, but he hasn't pitched in the postseason (Seattle's last trip was in 2001). Hernandez has been battling bursitis in his right shoulder and is currently sidelined, but he should be back in September. While lefty James Paxton (also currently on the DL, with a strained pectoral muscle) has replaced Hernandez as the Mariners' ace, Felix remains the man.
Rangers: Joey Gallo
If you like monster home runs, you'll like the Rangers' rookie. Gallo is on pace to hit 47 homers, but he has 14 in 91 at-bats since the All-Star break, which suggests he might make a run at 50. Jeff Banister brought Gallo along slowly, hitting him eighth for much of the first half. He's relying on the slugger more lately. Gallo's 1.112 OPS since the All-Star break is the best in the AL (minimum 50 plate appearances). Adrian Beltre remains the Rangers' headliner, but Gallo is the future.
Rays: Chris Archer
Among baseball's most durable starters since he stepped into Tampa Bay's rotation in 2013, Archer has pitched as well in 2016-17 as he did in previous seasons, but it would be fascinating to see how he would ramp up his game for a winner-take-all showdown.
Orioles: Manny Machado
After a slow start, the power-hitting third baseman has been more like himself lately. Machado is a super-talented 25-year-old who is likely to join Bryce Harper at the top of the free-agent class after next season. Why not let him showcase his wares on the October stage? The Orioles face a difficult choice this offseason in whether to trade Machado or hang onto him for one last season, assuming they can't re-sign him.
Blue Jays: John Gibbons
Like the Mets' Terry Collins, Gibbons is an old-school manager whose candor can carry the day in pre- and postgame interviews. He showed his sense of humor by pranking a Toronto sports talk show earlier this season, calling in under the name "John from the Bronx'' to question a host who had been critical of him. Gibbons never seems to get much credit for the job he does -- he hasn't been mentioned on a Manager of the Year ballot since 2005 -- but he guided the Blue Jays to the championship series in both of the past two seasons.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.