With the days to the post-season counting down Charlie Boccanegra looks at the playoff picture in the American League.
From the outside looking in, the Angels and Rays division championship hopes are fading faster than my hairline with the passage of time. The Rays are plummeting fast, posting a 2-8 record over the past 10 games against the Rangers, Orioles and Yankees, 3 teams perched above them on the playoff ladder. 9 games remaining vs. AL East Participation Ribbon winners the Red Sox and Blue Jays should help, but only in their quest to secure the final wild card berth. Keeping with the creeper terminology, the Rays are perched in a tree with binoculars right now. Closer to the window, hiding in the bushes, you’ll find the Angels. 7.5 games out of the American League West may seem like an insurmountable number, but by sweeping the 6 games remaining vs. division leader Texas, they can tighten up the race considerably. They have a more realistic route in via the 2nd wild card spot. At 3 games back, with the pitching and batting the Angels possess, they can’t be discounted from getting there.
One of these teams could walk five hundred miles, and one of these teams could walk five hundred more, just to be the team, that walked a thousand miles to fall down at the door. Thus far, the season can only be called a disappointment in Detroit. Baring winning out, the Tigers will finish the season with approximately a 10 win drop off compared to last year (assuming they continue to win at the pace of the season). At the moment, they’re on the outside looking in, with 3 games separating them from vindication and the AL Central crown, they are by no means out of it. Games vs. Minnesota and Kansas City close out the year, and with Chicago having to face wild card hopefuls Tampa Bay and Los Angeles down the stretch, the title is up for grabs. Given the upcoming schedules of both, coupled with the superior pitching on the Detroit side, Chicago could be hard pressed to hold on. The rest of the American League will cheer them on, as much like the Angels, the Detroit lineup is something no manager wants to face come playoff time.
The Baltimore Orioles. There. I said it. No punch line. No joke. Looking at their stats, you can see why they’re a contender. A 0.248 team batting average, 13th in Runs Scored, and a 4.05 team ERA and -14 run differential, you can see why they’re in the position….No. Wait. This is a joke. A +11 Win differential in their division is keeping them in it, and with 9 more games vs. division foes remaining, the Orioles are all but assured a spot. Thank you, American League East, for your mediocrity. – Love, Baltimore.
The New York Yankees enjoy the same benefit as Baltimore, the American League East, but at the very least they’ve posted numbers befitting a team at the top. 2nd in all of baseball for Runs Scored, with a top 3 run differential, the Yankees look like the perennial playoff contender we’ve all come to know. Baring a meltdown, they’ll be competing for the title once again. Unfortunately for Yankee backers, their record vs. possible playoff opponents Baltimore, Texas, and Oakland, leaves little to desire.
The mighty American League West, with 3 teams in the playoff picture, the division will aim to make some noise come seasons end. Parity reigns supreme interdivision, with all 3 teams building their plus 0.500 records on the backs of the American League East and Central divisions (and a little help from Seattle). Texas is still the class of the division, and the American League as a whole, looking to reach the World Series for the 3rd consecutive year, hoping to avoid becoming the MLB version of the early 90’s Buffalo Bills. It won’t be lock, stock, and two smoking barrels for the Rangers to attempt it again, as Oakland has stepped into the corral. The A’s look to finally prove that the system devised by Billy Beane, and depicted in 2011’s ‘Moneyball’, might actually work. With a rotation featuring 3 rookie starting pitchers, and the 2nd lowest payroll in baseball, Oakland and Beane are defying the popular notion that you must spend more to win more. 4 games upcoming at Texas mean Oakland may not need the 4.0 game lead they hold on the Wild Card ticket. Sweep the series and they take over the division lead.
Oakland (+750) is the best bet on the board. Underdogs all season, they’ve shown no quit. Playing the hardest schedule of all playoff teams down the stretch will only battle harden the A’s, making them the team no one in the American League wants to meet 1st round. With the very real possibility of a home date for the wild card playoff, that nightmare could be a reality for someone come the divisional playoffs.
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