Updated American League Playoff Picture
Last week, we provided readers with an update on the National League playoff picture. This week, we’ll jump on over to the American League and go through the same drill. If you missed last week’s post, you can read it here.
As I was preparing to write this week’s post, one thing stuck out above all else. The American League playoff picture is significantly more complex then the National League. Eight teams have a legitimate shot at post-season play; all three divisions are still up for grabs; which ultimately means there are numerous possible outcomes.
Two teams are tied for first in the AL East (Yankees & Orioles) with the Rays four games back, the White Sox have a single game lead on the Tigers in the AL Central and the Rangers hold a three game lead over the Athletics with the Angels only 3.5 games out of the Wild Card slot. So yeah – it’s going to be a wild finish.
Below is a division-by-division breakdown with my playoff projections and analysis. Of course, as I stated last week, because it’s baseball, anything can happen. Let’s dive in:
Projected Division Winner – Baltimore Orioles
Can the Baltimore Orioles finish off what has been an amazing season to win the division? I think they can. Pundits have been waiting for them to fade down the stretch, but the Orioles refuse to go away. They recently just took four of seven games from the Yankees and completed a three-game home sweep against the Rays. That shows me this team has the mettle needed to pull off the improbable. A critical nine game road trip through Oakland, Seattle and Boston begins this weekend. If they can go 6-3 or even 5-4, I really like their chances to win their first division title since 1997.
Projected Wild Card #1 – New York Yankees
New York has dealt with injury after injury all season, yet somehow, they have remained at the top or near the top of the division. With the Yankees, we know they have plenty of offense to carry them to the playoffs, but I think getting C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte back in the starting rotation is what will make the difference. These guys know how to pitch in huge games and will deliver when it’s on the line. It doesn’t hurt that 13 of their final 19 games will be against sub .500 teams either.
On the Outside – Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are a solid team up-and-down and made a great run in August to get back into the playoff race. But they have lost five of their last seven and travel this weekend to New York in what I believe is a make-or-break series. Because they are four games back in the Wild Card, their best chance to make the playoffs is to win the division, and I just don’t see them leaping over the Orioles and Yankees.
Projected Division Winner – Detroit Tigers
The AL Central may end up being the most interesting to watch down the stretch, as whatever team doesn’t win the division (Tigers or White Sox) will be watching the playoffs from home. The Tigers final 16 of 19 games are against the Indians (3 games), Royals (7 games) and the Twins (6 games). Their only real challenge is a three game home series against the Athletics. Of course, the Indians, Royals and Twins will be trying to play the spoiler role. But with Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder leading the way, I’m picking them to finish a top the division.
On the Outside – Chicago White Sox
The White Sox start a critical nine-game road trip this weekend that will take them through Minnesota, Kansas City and Anaheim. There are certainly winnable games on this road trip, but with arguably their most valuable player Adam Dunn (.208, 38 HR, 88 RBI) out of the lineup with no return in sight, I question whether they will have enough to hold off the surging Tigers. Rookie Manager Robin Ventura has done a tremendous job to put the White Sox in this position (which is why he is one of the leading candidates of AL Manager of the Year), but I just think the Tigers schedule and depth wins out.
Projected Division Winner – Texas Rangers
The Rangers play 13 of their final 19 games against the Athletics and Angels. Enough said right? This is why I love this time of year. Despite the difficulty of their schedule, the Rangers will win a third-consecutive AL West crown for the same reasons they’ve won the division for the last two years – great offense and great pitching.
Projected Wild Card #2 – Oakland Athletics
For those of you keeping track at home, the Athletics have gone 39-18 since the All-Star break. Yes, they have won nearly 70 percent of their games. They don’t get nearly enough attention around Northern California for what they’ve achieved, but it’s easily one of the best stories all year.
If you’re doubting whether or not they can hold on to claim the final Wild Card spot, remember this: Do you think the players in that locker room, after all they have gone through to get to where they are not now, are going to allow someone else to outplay them down the stretch? I certainly don’t think so. They have made me a believer.
On the Outside – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
It’s hard to believe that everyone’s pre-season favorite to win the World Series will be sitting at home come October. Honestly, it’s hard to figure out why this team. With all their weapons, they can play so inconsistently.
My good friend Steve, who is a diehard Angels fan, recently summed up the Angels season perfectly. “Your 2012 Angels…Finding new and improved ways to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.” That’s been their season in a nutshell.
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