Tuesday, September 27, 2016 | Updated at 6:23 AM ET


2016 MLB Playoffs Race Standings, Schedules & Key Games: Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles in Division Dogfight, Yankees in Hunt

First Posted: Sep 17, 2016 03:23 PM EDT
Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox

Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox(Photo : Getty)

For years - at least since play-in games were introduced - late-season MLB playoff races have generally snubbed baseball north of the tri-state area.

St. Louis edged Pittsburgh for the NL Central crown each year for the last three years by an average of 2.3 wins. In 2015, Kansas City finished one back of AL Central champion Detroit, but won their play-in game en route to a World Series appearance. Cleveland finished just five games back.

Last season, Texas didn't win the AL West until October by eliminating Los Angeles halfway through their season-ending four-game set. Houston's 86 wins bettered Los Angeles by one.

Television analysts and commentators bloviate the AL East's importance to baseball's playoff picture, if only because the Yankees and Red Sox generate much of the interest these days.

Yet only one division team has advanced past the ALDS since 2013; Boston, following their 97-win campaign. The rest is either nostalgia or hyperbole.

At least it was until this season.

Beasts from the AL East

If the playoffs started this weekend, three of the AL's five teams would come from the east. Boston would visit Cleveland. Baltimore or Toronto would be the odd-man out after their Wild Card game. All the suspense that dissipated through the Rust Belt and east Texas over the last three years worked its way north, flurrying to a photo finish with the intensity of a nor'easter.

When 2016 began, Boston fans hope David Ortiz's farewell tour ended with a ticker-tape parade. The Red Sox were an early-season favorite, especially after the yard sale on 161st Street.

The Yankees all but conceded defeat when they traded Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltrán, and Aroldis Chapman ahead of the trade deadline, not to mention Alex Rodriguez's flummoxing retirement. What General Manager Brian Cashman insinuated was a rebuilding phase turned into a playoff push, and an outside chance at the division title.

Brian McCann took over DH when Beltrán went to Arlington in late July. Rookie catcher Gary Sánchez took McCann's place behind the plate. No one had more wins above replacement (2.4) than Sánchez in August, bettering Kris Bryant (2.3) and Mike Trout (1.6) among the league's younger position players.

Once considered lukewarm contenders, the Orioles cling to home-field advantage on the shoulders of a castaway power hitter and an MVP-caliber closer. Right-hander Zach Britton has yet to blow a save in 43 outings. His 0.61 ERA hovers near Fernando Rodney territory - Rodney record a historic 0.60 ERA in 2012.

Then there's Mark Trumbo, the ex-Angel, ex-Diamondback, ex-Mariner with a Major League-leading 42 homers. There was a point this season when he hit seven straight "Trum-bombs," become one of just 11 players to do so.

Trumbo's never been known for his consistency, or his glove - it's either right field or a DH slot on most nights - but he bring additional power to a team that lives and dies with the home run.

Toronto doesn't carry such luck. They depend on a stalwart five-man rotation led by journeyman J.A. Happ and fledgling starter Aaron Sanchez, both who are on pace for career years.

The 24-year- old Sanchez is 13-2 with a solid 3.17 ERA, though his 173 innings pitched is cause for concern. As a precaution, the Blue Jays sent him down to Class A Dunedin for a few days last month. Not that Sanchez pitched. He just needed to manage his workload ahead of Toronto's playoff run.

Happ is one win away from 20. To put it in perspective, Happ didn't reach his 20th career win until 2010, his fourth year of MLB service.

Season-Ending Series' to Watch

Sept. 19 - 22: Baltimore @ Boston

O's starter Kevin Gausman beat 20-game winner Rick Porcello in a 1-0 win last Wednesday.

Sept. 19 - 21: Toronto @ Seattle

The Mariners were two games back of the Blue Jays for the final Wild Card spot entering the weekend.

Sept. 27 - 29: Baltimore @ Toronto

The Blue Jays have won five-of-seven meeting at Rogers Centre this season.

Sept. 27 - 29: Boston @ New York

Ortiz makes his final Yankee Stadium appearance, save a potential playoff matchup.

Sept. 30 - Oct. 2: Baltimore @ New York

The clubs split all 16 meetings this year.

Sept. 30 - Oct. 2: Boston @ Toronto

The Red Sox outscored Toronto 26-14 in their three-game series earlier this month.

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