The Boston Red Sox lead the AL East by nine games. The Oakland A's are up 6.5 games in the AL West, and the Detroit Tigers lead the AL Central by 6.
That said, nine of the 15 teams in the American League still have legitimate pennant hopes entering play on this, the 17th day of September. Six teams are fighting for the two wild card spots, and all of them are within 2.5 games of each other. This must be exactly what commissioner Bud Selig had in mind when he added that extra wild card position.
Take a look at the wild card standings entering Tuesday's play:
1. Tampa Bay 82-67 (+1.0)
2. Texas 81-68 (-)
3. Cleveland 81-69 (0.5 GB)
4. Baltimore 79-70 (2.0 GB)
5. Kansas City 79-71 (2.5 GB)
6. New York 79-71 (2.5 GB)
Only two of the six can qualify, and for the longest time, it looked like Texas would be one of those teams. No more. If you thought the White Sox were struggling, take a look at what the Rangers have done this month. They are 2-12 in September, and their starting pitchers have gone 1-12 in that time frame. Former Cub Matt Garza was the latest to get knocked around. He lasted only 4.1 innings Monday in a 6-2 Texas loss to Tampa Bay. This is a real critical time for the Rangers. They have three more games in a four-game set with the Rays before heading to Kansas City for a crucial weekend series against the Royals.
Speaking of Kansas City, the Royals got a big game from James Shields (pictured) in a 7-1 victory over Cleveland on Monday night. The Royals and Indians meet again Tuesday and Wednesday in the other big, head-to-head series between wild card contenders. Kansas City will send 22-year-old prospect Yordano Ventura to the mound to make his major league debut Tuesday night. No pressure, kid. Nothing at stake except Kansas City's first legitimate chance to make the playoffs in nearly three decades.
Even with Chicago teams dead and buried, there is still some good baseball left to watch. This AL wild card race could end up as one for the ages.