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MLB standings: What AL playoff picture looks like heading into weekend

We take a look at the playoff picture in the American League and how the schedule could impact the division and wild card races.

Gio Urshela #29 high-fives Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees after scoring off of a single hit by Anthony Rizzo #48 (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium on September 21, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Only two weekends remain in Major League Baseball’s regular season, but there is still a lot to be decided. Here is a rundown of what lies directly ahead for every contending team in each American League division and the Wild Card.

AL East breakdown

Tampa Bay Rays: 95-59
Boston Red Sox: 88-66, 7.0 GB

The Rays’ magic number to clinch their second consectiuve division title is down to four. They could wrap it up this weekend when they host the Miami Marlins for three games. And don’t sleep on next week’s three games between the Rays and the Astros in Houston next week. Tampa Bay is currently three games up in that race for the best record in the AL.

The Red Sox will open a huge three-game home set against the Yankees tonight, but we’ll talk more about those teams below.

AL Central breakdown

The Chicago White Sox became the first team this season to celebrate a division title when they defeated the Indians on Thursday. They will play three more games in Cleveland this weekend, but since Chicago is all but locked into the No. 3 seed, they are solely focused on getting healthy and prepared for the playoffs.

AL West breakdown

Houston Astros: 91-63
Seattle Mariners: 85-69, 6.0 GB

There’s not much suspense here. The Astros will lock up their fourth AL West title in five years if they sweep the A’s in Oakland this weekend. Their magic number stands at three. The Mariners will visit the Angels, but we’ll talk more about Seattle’s surge in the next section.

AL Wild Card update

Boston Red Sox: 88-66, +1
New York Yankees: 87-67
Toronto Blue Jays: 85-69, 2.0 GB
Seattle Mariners: 85-69, 2.0 GB
Oakland Athletics: 83-71, 4.0 GB

Update — The Yankees defeated the Red Sox on Friday night to move closer to the first Wild Card spot in the AL. The Bronx Bombers also picked up a game on the Blue Jays, who lost to the Twins for a second straight game. New York could get a big enough cushion in the WC before having to face the Jays and Rays to end the season next week.

This is the most bunched-up race in baseball. The Red Sox are in the driver’s seat as they have ripped off seven straight victories. They will host the Yankees this weekend with revenge on their minds; the Yanks swept the Sox when these teams last met. A series victory for Boston would not only improve their own playoff odds but also deal a blow to their arch rival’s chances.

The Yankees squandered their 13-game winning streak from August thanks to a September full of inconsistent play. Now, in order to make the playoffs, they will have to prevail on road trips to Boston and Toronto followed by a home series against the Rays to close the regular season.

The Blue Jays, who have been crushing the baseball this month, have a much easier road than New York, at least on paper. They are in Minnesota this weekend for four games against the bottom-feeding Twins before ending the year with home sets versus the Yanks and the Orioles. However, the Jays dropped the first game against the Twins on Thursday.

The Mariners are the dark horse in this race and they are coming up fast from the back of the pack. Seattle is well within striking distance after it just authored its first four-game sweep of the A’s in Oakland. The Mariners have won five in a row and will try to keep it going against the Angels. That three-game series will conclude with a matchup against Shohei Ohtani on Sunday.

That rough week versus the Mariners probably doomed the Athletics, although it was great to see Chris Bassitt return to the mound Thursday. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Oakland, which will host the Astros this weekend.