AL playoff-race forecast: East could cannibalize itself; Royals have favorable path

Chris Archer and the Rays' pitching staff has a 3.03 ERA since the All-Star break. John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty Image

The Tampa Bay Rays have a firm hold on last place in the American League East, 18 ½ games out of first place as they prepare for the final month of what has been a frustrating season. But their starting pitching has evolved in recent weeks, performing like it had been expected to at the outset of the season, with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi et al. working effectively. In fact, Tampa Bay has the best ERA in the AL since the All-Star break, and the second-best in the majors. Archer won again Sunday.

The worst team in the AL East can go toe to toe in terms of starting pitching quality with any division opponent on any given day in September, and Tampa Bay's next 26 games are all against AL East teams.

Meanwhile, the AL Central is inhabited by the Twins, who have essentially stopped winning and are losing games by an average of more than three runs per game over the past three weeks. And the AL West contenders -- Rangers, Astros and Mariners -- will have the opportunity to feast on two teams that have struggled almost all year, the Athletics and Angels.

No wonder an AL official used this term about what might happen with the AL East playoff contenders down the stretch: cannibalize.