The Royals are surging, but the path to October is still not clear.
With a 6-2 victory over Arizona on Thursday, their 12th in 14 games, the Royals pulled a half-game ahead of Toronto for the American League’s second wild-card berth. They also moved within 2 1/2 games of Detroit for the American League Central lead.
A division crown is far preferable to reaching the one-game wild-card playoff. But for the Royals, the most likely route to the playoffs will come through the wild card.
The Angels own a healthy lead for the right to play host to the play-in game, with seven more victories than the Royals.
With fewer than two months to go, here is a breakdown of the competitors for that last wild-card spot.
1. Royals (leaders for second wild card): If the Royals survive a seven-game stretch against San Francisco and Oakland next week, the schedule softens up plenty. An upcoming road trip features stops in Minneapolis, Colorado and Texas. September is more challenging, with a road trip to Yankee Stadium and six more games with Detroit.
2. Seattle (a half-game back ): The Mariners resemble the Royals in many ways. Their offense is lackluster and their pitching is tremendous. But they have played sub-.500 baseball since the All-Star break and still must take road trips to Yankee Stadium, Oakland, Anaheim and Toronto.
3. Yankees (a half-game back): General manager Brian Cashman has rearranged his roster in recent weeks, acquiring infielders Stephen Drew, Chase Headley and Martin Prado, in addition to starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy. The Yankees’ season may depend on the health of pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who is rehabbing an elbow injury in hopes of avoiding Tommy John surgery.
4. Toronto (a half-game back): A recent sweep by the lowly Astros stung. So have injuries to Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind. The Blue Jays face the usual AL East grinder in the season’s final two months, with their only respite a three-game series against the Cubs in September.
5. Cleveland (4 games back): The Indians sold off assets at the deadline, such as shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and starter Justin Masterson. But they still possess the backbone of a team that reached the wild-card round last season, and have a budding star in pitcher Corey Kluber. They play six more games with the Royals, in addition to AL Central fodder like Chicago and Minnesota.