Three weeks, five teams, two spots.
The American League Wild Card race basically boils down to that formula, with three teams holding a clear edge on the other two.
The Wild Card will almost certainly pit some combination of the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Yankees out of the American League East. But the A's and Mariners remain technically alive in the AL West, so for the purposes of this exercise, we'll include them.
The Mariners have their chance to make noise starting Monday night, when they open a three-game series at home vs. the Red Sox, whom they currently trail by three games. Anything other than a Seattle sweep effectively eliminates the Mariners from contention.
As things stand now, if the season ended today, the rampaging Blue Jays would host the Red Sox in the Wild Card game, with the Yankees on the outside looking in. But a lot can change over the 17-to-19 games each team has remaining, so let's break down what should be a race to the finish.
(Note: Playoff odds and remaining strength of schedule are courtesy of Fangraphs.)
1. Blue Jays (80-63, .5594)
Games back: None
Playoff odds: 66.3 percent
Strength of schedule: .507
Remaining games (19): Rays (3), Twins (3), at Rays (3), at Twins (4), Yankees (3), Orioles (3)
The skinny: In a word, finally. Slumbering giants all season, the Blue Jays are stirring to life with not a moment to spare. After a pair of double-digit blowouts against the Orioles, including Sunday's 22-7 annihilation, they now own the third-best run differential in the American League (plus-167), more than 100 runs better than the Red Sox and only 10 behind the Rays.
The Jays have won 14 of 16 to vault the Red Sox and Yankees, and they're being led by Triple Crown threat Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who has homered eight times in his last 14 games after a slow August.
The Jays still have major bullpen concerns, but their lineup is loaded and the rotation has benefited from the arrival of Jose Berrios (4-2, 3.63 ERA) and the emergence of left-hander Robbie Ray as a dark horse Cy Young candidate.
2. Red Sox (81-64, .5586)
Games back: None
Playoff odds: 76 percent
Strength of schedule: .470
Remaining games (17): at Mariners (3), Orioles (3), Mets (2), Yankees (3), at Orioles (3), at Nationals (3)
The skinny: There's a little bit of Raging Bull to this squad, with the COVID-ridden Red Sox playing the part of Jake LaMotta refusing to go down against Sugar Ray Robinson. Of course, remaining on your feet at the final bell and doing damage are two different animals, and it's hard to picture the Red Sox lasting very long if they're fortunate enough to reach the playoffs.
Of all the contenders, they have the easiest remaining schedule. Once they finish this week's three-game set in Seattle, they're looking at a steady diet of Orioles, Mets, and Nationals, with one series against the reeling Yankees mixed in. The quality of competition practically guarantees the Red Sox will qualify, which is why Fangraphs likes their playoff chances even better than Toronto's.
3. Yankees (79-64, .552)
Games back: 1
Playoff odds: 49.6 percent
Strength of schedule: .494
Remaining games (19): Twins (1), at Orioles (3), Indians (3), Rangers (3), at Red Sox (3), at Blue Jays (3), Rays (3)
The skinny: Some of us saw this coming. As much as the Red Sox may have played over their heads in the first half while racing to first place, the Yankees weren't going to keep playing out of their minds after the trade deadline. From July 30 until Aug. 27, the Yankees went 23-4. After spending most of the season around .500, they weren't that good, and over the last three weeks, they have paid the piper, losing 12 of their last 15.
The Yankees succeeded in the early going because they pitched, but their rotation has since been decimated, with ace Gerrit Cole likely out until next week with a hamstring strain, Jameson Taillon on the injured list with a bad ankle, and Domingo German and Luis Severino sidelined by shoulder ailments. Meanwhile, closer Aroldis Chapman is broken, backup Zack Britton is out for the year, and the rest of the overtaxed bullpen is collapsing.
The Yankees may have already delivered their best shot and found it wasn't enough.
4. A's (77-66, .538)
Games back: 3
Playoff odds: 5.7 percent
Strength of schedule: .512
Remaining games (19): at Royals (3), at Angels (3), Mariners (4), Astros (3), at Mariners (3), at Astros (3)
The skinny: The line of demarcation for the A's season can be drawn pretty starkly. On Aug. 17, ace Chris Bassitt was drilled in the face by a line drive vs. the White Sox. The A's would lose that game, as well as eight of their next 10. They're just 9-15 since. Bassitt hopes to pitch again this season after undergoing surgery to treat fractures of the cheek and jaw, but it may be too late.
Working against the A's is that they finish the season with a bear of a schedule vs. the division-leading Astros and the contending Mariners. Though Oakland has received a massive boost from trade deadline acquisition Starling Marte (23 steals in 23 chances), its bullpen has been atrocious, blowing late leads six times in the last three weeks.
5. Mariners (77-66, .538)
Games back: 3
Playoff odds: 3.2 percent
Strength of schedule: .512
Remaining games (19): Red Sox (3), at Royals (3), at A's (4), at Angels (3), A's (3), Angels (3)
The skinny: For all the talk of the Red Sox clubhouse feeling abandoned at the trade deadline, imagine how July 30 hit Mariners players, who watched the club not only fail to add a significant piece, but in fact trade one away to the division-rival Astros. All-Star closer Kendall Graveman had been the glue at the back of the bullpen, but that didn't stop president of baseball operations Jerry DiPoto from shipping him out for surprisingly effective infielder Abraham Toro and reborn veteran reliever Joe Smith.
Rather than quit, the resilient Mariners have decided to hang tough, though consecutive losses to the last-place Diamondbacks over the weekend hurt their playoff chances. Seattle needs to sweep the Red Sox or face the reality of seven games in the last two weeks against the A's.
Working in Seattle's favor is that even without Graveman, they still clearly possess the best bullpen of any of the remaining Wild Card contenders, led by unheralded closer Drew Steckenrider.