Tuesday, September 24, 2013

American League Playoff Picture

Taking a look at the AL playoff picture, it’s a lot more complicated than the NL.  I waited until we were closer to the end to hope it cleared up some, but it’s coming down to it, and if I wait too long I may as well just wait to see what happened.  So here’s a look at the AL playoff picture.

AL East:

Boston Red Sox- The Red Sox have clinched their division..  The Rays were the only team that could have realistically overtaken them for the division title.  But they fell apart and the Red Sox just kept on winning.  Getting key role players such as Napoli, Victorino and Gomes for a smaller price than the big names has led this team to victory.  And with a strong showing from the pitching staff after their old pitching coach John Farrell returned to be the manager has turned them into a worst to first story.  What a difference a year makes.

AL Central:

Detroit Tigers- This division is pretty much wrapped up.  The Tigers magic number is 2 with the Indians 4.5 games back.  Pre-season favorites to win the division, this team has lived up to it’s billing with Max Scherzer replacing Justin Verlander as the ace, and Miguel Cabrera pushing for another Triple Crown before this month.  However his distance to Chris Davis’ HR totals is the best thing for Detroit as another Triple Crown is now out of reach, enabling them to rest their best hitter and get him ready for the playoffs as he heals from his numerous nagging injuries.  Either way, this team will be in the playoffs, though they won’t have home field throughout because the other central teams were better than any one realized.

AL West:

Oakland Athletics- The A’s have now clinched the West, a team that was picked by many to finish second or third, with the fewest players you’ve heard of outside of Houston.  Third baseman Josh Donaldson has the second highest WAR in baseball (behind only Mike Trout…that’s right, he’s got a higher WAR than Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis).  That partly points to the issues with WAR, but it’s not a terrible metric and legitimately points to how good Donaldson has been.  Perhaps the most overlooked offensive player in the game this year.  And with that strong young pitching staff, the A’s are not a team that anyone wants to face in the playoffs, and as the West champions have a good chance of hosting teams in O.Co.

AL Wildcard:

Here’s where it gets interesting.  It wasn’t my intention to list only one team for each division, but that’s clearly what we are looking at here.  That means that no fewer than 4 teams are alive in the wildcard.  Let’s break them down from top to bottom.

Tampa Bay Rays- Currently first in the wildcard rankings, the Rays had a chance to take over the division a few weeks ago.  The lead was in the low single digits and they had a favorable schedule.  I personally thought they would catch Boston.  But they fell apart with a lethal swoon that cost them the division and almost cost them their wildcard berth.  They are currently the number 1 team, but just barely as their lead has disintegrated to 1 game.  They have a great pitching staff, but need to get enough offense to make the full push through the playoffs.

Cleveland Indians- The hottest team in the AL right now, the Indians have gone on a magical run to take over the number 2 wildcard slot, and close to 1 game of the first berth.  In addition, they’ve trimmed their division lead to only 4.5 games, the smallest margin in the junior circuit.  I don’t think they’ll take back the division, but this team is hot with Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn leading a bunch of young guys to victories with clutch hits in close games. 

Texas Rangers- The Rangers have also fallen off the wagon recently.  A pre-season pick by many to win the division, they are now fighting to even make the playoffs.  This offense, considered before the season started to be one of the best in the AL, has been abysmal.  And losing Nelson Cruz didn’t help.  The addition of Alex Rios helped nullify that loss, but at best only brought them back to their previous levels of ineptitude.  Their pitching staff is injured, their hitters are struggling, and they can’t buy a win right now.  I thought they would take one of the wildcard berths, but they have to turn things around if they want to contend.  I’m thinking they may fall short this season.

Kansas City Royals- They’ve made a recent push to jump the Yankees and the Orioles and have become the last team with a real shot at making the playoffs, though those chances become slimmer daily.  However they have made tremendous strides in both this season (after a terrible start) and in their history as they have come closer to the playoffs than they have in over a decade.  And, recently, they are the only team that has beaten the Cleveland Indians.  However at this point they are three games back with 6 games to go.  Unless they win out and see the Indians or Rays go under 500, they are done. 

Mathematically there is a chance the Yankees or Orioles could still get in, but realistically that won’t happen.  In fact the Royals almost didn’t get their own paragraph.  So we are looking at a race between the Rangers, Rays and Indians for the Wildcard slots. 

So that’s what the AL Playoff Picture looks like.  Here’s how I see the AL playoffs breaking down.

AL East-          Boston Red Sox
AL Central -    Detroit Tigers
AL West-         Oakland Athletics (Home Field)
Wildcard 1-    Tampa Bay Rays
Wildcard 2-    Cleveland Indians

Should be an exciting finish with lots of teams still playing meaningful games.  We’ll see how it ends up finishing.