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10 Degrees: MLB playoff contenders flush with success and failure as postseason beckons

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

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Will Ron Washington's Rangers quit tanking? (USA Today)

Considering where their season has gone, perhaps the Texas Rangers should consider playing next season at O.co Coliseum.

In a contest of pure rottenness and unadulterated ugliness, nothing in baseball comes within a – gulp – sniff of the sewage problem that keeps turning the Oakland A's home into a toilet bowl. The Rangers are doing their best to catch up.

[Related: Oakland A's repeat atop AL West]

At their peak in the middle of May, they were up seven games on Oakland. As recently as Aug. 23, they held a 3½-game lead in the American League West. After sweeping Seattle in late August, they were 78-55.

They're 6-16 since. They haven't won one of their seven series. In 20 games this month, they've scored 67 runs. Only the Padres and Mets have scored fewer, and they play in perhaps the worst hitters' parks in the big leagues and without the benefit of the designated hitter.

This isn't the '95 Angels or the '07 Mets or the '11 Red Sox. It is a first cousin. After sweeping Seattle, the Rangers had a 95.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to coolstandings.com. After a 4-0 loss Sunday to the Kansas City Royals – all four of those runs coming on one Justin Maxwell swing with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the 10th inning – the Rangers' chances have dwindled to 28.7 percent.

They are almost three-quarters of the way down the commode. And in honor of their epic swirl, along with the A's being 1/30th of a $9 billion business and still not mastering the idea of indoor plumbing, it was only fitting for the final 10 Degrees of the season to rate teams on the 1-to-5 toilet scale, based on just how badly they're flushing their season. It's no surprise the ...

1. Texas Rangers are the full complement. Neither Kohler nor American Standard could get rid of the stench emanating from this team.

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Here's the thing: It's not just the offense. Derek Holland has been a mess this month. Over his last 10 starts, Matt Garza has allowed four or more earned runs seven times. The biggest fears of the Rangers' front office that was pressured by ownership to deal for Garza are proving true: He's nothing close to a frontline starter, and because they can't get draft-pick compensation for him, they're going to rue trading starter C.J. Edwards, whom evaluators absolutely love.

If there is a saving grace for the Rangers, it's their schedule. They headed home Sunday night with salvation staring at them: three games against the Houston Astros, losers of nine straight and 105 on the season. After that, Josh Hamilton and the Los Angeles Angels come to town knowing they can bury the Rangers and perhaps even salvage a .500 season.

Here's the problem: Oakland clinched the division Sunday, the Rangers find themselves 1½ games behind Cleveland for the second wild card and the Indians and the ...

2. Tampa Bay Rays don't seem to want to lose. Tampa Bay rattled off three straight victories against Baltimore and has won eight of its last 11. Just two weeks ago, the Rays seemed as though they were going the route of the Rangers. They stabilized enough to deserve only a pair.

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The Rays control their own destiny. If they win six games – they finish a four-game set with Baltimore on Monday, then go to the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays for three apiece – they lock up a wild-card spot. The pitching matchups against the Yankees are positively awesome, with Matt Moore against Hiroki Kuroda, David Price against CC Sabathia and Alex Cobb against Ivan Nova.

Securing another playoff appearance, their fourth in six years, would further the notion that the Rays are the most underappreciated team in American sports. No, they haven't won a World Series. They do play in a stadium whose only saving grace over O.co is that its toilets work, whose fans still refuse to come out after six straight winning seasons, who operate with a harrowing truth: one bad trade – one could torpedo them. It's not quite as bad with the ...

3. Cleveland Indians, though their 29th-ranked attendance is only 638 higher per game than the Rays. How Cleveland still hasn't bought in to this team – attendance Sunday: 26,168 – shows just how deep the lack of trust between ownership and its fan base truly is.

Considering what the Indians have done this season, and what the Browns did this week, that deserves to thaw.

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The Indians were supposed to be mediocre at best this season, even with Terry Francona coming onboard, and they've managed not only to exceed every palatable expectation but do so with a finishing flourish well worthy of a postseason spot. The Indians had the easiest September schedule in baseball, and they have killed it. They won again Sunday, pushing their record this month to 15-6. They swept four-game series from the White Sox and Astros, which they should've. And now they finish with two more against Chicago and four at the 90-loss Twins.

Like the A's, Cleveland is a team of no superstars. The closest it has is … Jason Kipnis? Ubaldo Jimenez? Carlos Santana? Its most recognizable player is a tossup between Jason Giambi, who is 42, and Nick Swisher, who says "bro" a lot. The only team to solve the Indians this month are the ...

4. Kansas City Royals and their barbecue-sauced, belly-jiggling season of excitement that would be truly exciting if May and/or Ned Yost were not around.

Now: Yost deserves credit, certainly, for keeping Justin Maxwell in Sunday's game to hit that walk-off grand slam, probably the biggest home run by the Royals since Carlos Beltran hit an opening-day walk-off in 2004. Nobody had hit a grand slam to end a game that was tied 0-0 with two outs in extra innings since Sept. 14, 1967. It was a special moment.

[Related: Teammates swarm Royals’ Justin Maxwell after walk-off grand slam]

Still, Yost's blunders throughout the season have lost enough games for the Royals that he and an 8-20 May deserve a toilet apiece.

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The expectations coming into this season weren't just learning to win. To justify giving up 6½ seasons of Wil Myers, the Royals need to make a postseason run. And as easy as their schedule is – three games at Seattle and four at the White Sox – they need to win out and for Cleveland to lose three games or Tampa Bay four to simply force a play-in game to the play-in game. The ...

5. New York Yankees find themselves in an even more dire position, a half-game back of the Royals, 2½ behind Texas, four off Cleveland and 4½ south of Tampa Bay. The coolstandings projections peg their playoff chances at 1.3 percent. And still, the bathrooms at Yankee Stadium are quiet, and it's not because of some fancy million-dollar urinal.

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The simple fact is this: The Yankees have no business being here in the first place. Forget, for a moment, their payroll, which is absurd and bloated with money terribly spent. All season long, Joe Girardi has managed with a flawed roster, and he somehow has coaxed a winning record out of it despite being outscored. Nobody would wish Eduardo Nunez on his worst enemy, and Girardi has needed to use him at the most important position on the field almost all year.

Francona and Red Sox manager John Farrell certainly deserve all the Manager of the Year run they're getting. Kind suggestion to the voters: Don't forget Girardi. While it's true managers can screw up a lot more than they can help, Girardi has deflected all of the Alex Rodriguez nonsense, survived copious injuries and done so without wearing it publicly, save for a few more grays along his hairline. He's a free agent, and an executive this week suggested he should just go elsewhere, with less scrutiny, far fewer everyday stresses.

[Related: Andy Pettitte solid in final start at Yankee Stadium]

Except these are the Yankees, and as grim as the next few years look, with a fairly barren farm system, their descent isn't likely to last. It's why the ...

6. Baltimore Orioles have to look at this season as such a disappointment. Rare are the years in which the Yankees aren't contenders, and in those rare off seasons, teams like Baltimore must take advantage. That noise you hear is a porcelain quintet.

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Between a historic Chris Davis season and all-around excellence from Manny Machado, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters, the Orioles should be better than 81-74, better than sixth in the six-team wild-card race. Alas, the mess that has been their starting pitching – their 4.54 ERA is 27th in the major leagues – torpedoed them, and even if they sweep their remaining seven games, their season is likely done.

Losing eight of your previous 12 games going into the final week will do that. It's not exactly a feeling with which the ...

7. Detroit Tigers are familiar, though they do understand missed opportunity. For one, they frittered away a chance to clinch a playoff spot while at home Sunday. More than that, the Tigers have been unable to turn the second-best run differential in the major leagues into so much as home-field advantage for the first round. Which means for the first two games of their 2013 postseason, they're likely going to the Toilet Bowl in Oakland. That, at very least, deserves a troika of swirling angels.

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The A's are 52-29 at home this season. Somehow they have managed to turn that dump into a place where they love playing. In the movie version of "Moneyball," players joked how it was a pitiful organization because you had to pay for your own soda. The reality: They've always had free soda. Never before have they had sewage coming out of the faucets.

Because they didn't win as many games as they should've, that's where the Tigers have to play. Not at home sweet home. At the crappiest place in baseball. It's a nauseating feeling, one with which the ...

8. Pittsburgh Pirates are becoming increasingly familiar. Because the Pirates started so well, they've all but ensured a playoff spot. Their magic number is two.

Still ...

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On Aug. 8, the Pirates were 70-44. They held a four-game lead in the NL Central. Today, they are 89-67. They are two games back of St. Louis, which has three games against Washington and finishes with three against the Cubs. The Cardinals haven't played great for the last six weeks, and they still were able to gain six games on Pittsburgh because the Pirates have been that bad.

Lost amid the excitement of the winning record, the potential playoff spot, all the things that feel so new, is the exposing of the Pirates' weaknesses. With his stuff lacking, Jason Grilli is back in the closer role because of Mark Melancon's meltdowns. If Pittsburgh doesn't run over the Cubs at Wrigley, they could head to Cincinnati as their final destination all year. The Reds have the inside track for the play-in game against Pittsburgh, and considering where the Pirates once were, it's a tenuous position.

Granted, it's a better one than the ...

9. Miami Marlins, who don't belong anywhere on this list of playoff contenders. With the havoc that's primed to go down there this week, though, they're worth a mention.

Three sources close to the Marlins believe the long-awaited shakeup is happening soon, and when it does, three people could lose their jobs: Larry Beinfest, Mike Hill and, most surprising of all, David Samson.

The three have been aligned in a power struggle with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. His troubles with Samson, the son of his ex-wife, have grown this season, sources said, and were exacerbated by Loria's belief that Samson was a source for the story about Tino Martinez's abuse of players that led to the hitting coach's resignation. Loria being Loria, all of this is subject to change. He planned on firing Beinfest and Hill last season before an about-face. This time, like last, Loria plans on reorganizing his front office around assistant GM Dan Jennings, who already has been given the go-ahead to recruit personnel with whom he'll surround himself, two sources said.

Of course, as long as Loria is Marlins owner, the title of general manager is as much a figurehead role as anything. The depth of Loria's power, as Fox's Ken Rosenthal reported last week, is greater than ever. Which led one source to wonder: "Who the hell would want to work there?"

No organization deserves this more than the Marlins.

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Not even the …

10. Texas Rangers and their merry band of September folders. It's not like this is new. On Sept. 24, 2012, the Rangers held a five-game lead with nine to go. By Oct. 5, their season was over, done in by a 2-7 finish and a one-game playoff collapse.

That was bad. Not making the playoffs at all would be worse, and that's where the Rangers find themselves at the moment. Because history shows that good teams do falter – that the Rays or Indians could very well be one of those teams – all is not lost. But after back-to-back World Series losses, back-to-back regular-season collapses like this would send the organization into serious introspective mode.

For now, the Rangers simply want to survive long enough to get Nelson Cruz back – yup, he's eligible to play if they do make it to October – and remind themselves they're not as bad as they seem. That's on the players in the clubhouse, and it's on the manager, Ron Washington, and it's on everyone who can hear the swirling getting louder, the deluge getting closer, and realize that they need more than a little bit of luck to make it stop.

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