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Aug 19, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Tommy Hunter (29) reacts with Nick Hundley (40) after the ninth inning at U.S Cellular Field. Baltimore Orioles defeat the Chicago White Sox 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Breaking down the contenders for the playoffs in the American League

September baseball is nearly upon us. With the arrival of September also arrives the charge for the playoffs. This year is particularly open, exciting and unpredictable. The Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers both lead their divisions and the Texas Rangers are rock bottom of theirs. Baseball is weird. Very weird at times. Regardless of the surprises, this years playoff surge will be amazing.

Almost every division is tight, and the wildcard race is even better. Right now, there are about 13 teams who still have serious playoff aspirations. It’s pretty exciting stuff. Take my word for it. As August is slowly disappearing and the playoffs are fast approaching, here is a breakdown of the key teams in the American League.

Baltimore Orioles

Chris Davis has been really bad. Matt Wieters has been injured for the vast majority of the year. Very expensive starter Ubaldo Jimenez is in the bullpen. Manny Machado injured his right knee, or was it his left? Or was it his left the last time? Manny Machado hurt a knee and is out for the season. Tommy Hunter is no longer closer. Plot twist: The Orioles have been one of the best teams in baseball, and pretty much the only franchise to have run away with their division. With a six game lead, they will be playing in the playoffs. Mark my words.

You may ask how? That’s a really good question, it doesn’t make sense to me, either. Well — The Orioles lead baseball in UZR with a collective effort of 44.6, which is pretty good. Maybe power pitching or power hitting doesn’t win games, defense does. Adam Jones is having another brilliant season, and offseason bargain Nelson Cruz is among the leaders in home runs. Chris Davis who?

They rank ninth in team wRC+ and sit seventh in team wRAA, so — despite losing many key bats, they still have a pretty hot offense. But that’s kind of expected when you play in Camdens Yard. Their team ERA may be the key, though. The O’s are renowned for power bats and guys who mash baseballs for a living paired with dodgy pitching. However, the rank a very solid 13th in team ERA with a tidy 3.64, tied with the St Louis Cardinals. These guys could win a World Series. Bold predictions are always fun.

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels have finally started to play to their full potential, and full payroll. Their recent surge has seen them slip above the once invincible Oakland Athletics, and they currently sit atop of the division, a full game ahead of their new rivals. Mike Trout is doing Mike Trout stuff. Albert Pujols is probably the comeback player of the year. Josh Hamilton hit a home run last night. Things are looking good — and exciting for the neutral.

The recent injury to their best starter Garrett Richards is a mere spanner in the works. Okay, the recent injury to their best starter Garrett Richards is potentially detrimental. Deleterious. Disadvantageous. Inimical. Big words always help reinforce points and this point is pretty big. However, fret not Anaheim people: Bartolo Colon may be saving the day. Colon who helped the A’s into the postseason last season, may be doing the same for their rivals. If he can actually clear waivers and make it to Los Angeles, they can go far. They can do good baseball things.

Their team ERA of 3.58, good enough for 12th in all of baseball was kept afloat by Richards so it’s now irrelevant. They have the best team wRC+ in all of baseball with a staggering 110 — offense is the key to the Angels playoff push. If they add a starter they could be great. With one exception: Mike Trout continues to Mike Trout. The probable MVP winner is the epicentre of all things good in Anaheim, and he ought to continue to be if the Angels want to be in the playoffs come October. Keep Troutin’ Los Angeles, if that isn’t a word, it should be.

Kansas City Royals

Power defense and running wins games. Something like that, anyway. It’s a rather unorthodox theory, but it kind-of works in the case of the Royals, who have recently built a nice little lead over the Tigers in the Central. A lack of power pitching or power hitting tends to be a rather large void but the Royals work it. I remember watching the Royals and Giants game a few weeks ago. With struggling Tim Lincecum on the mound, they ran riot on the base pads.

It was like watching a team of Billy Hamilton’s, except they actually got on base, and it was a collective effort. There wasn’t one really quick, bona fide base stealer at the top of the order – rather, there was speed littered right through the lineup. As aforementioned, I watched them during Lincecum’s start. Every time he served up single or walk it was detrimental. By the time I had opened up twitter, and in 140 characters summed up my displeasure with the walk/single, and returned to the game, the runner was on second. Like magic. Sorcery.

Their pitching is solid enough to keep them in games. Their bullpen is lights out. Their defense is the best/second best in baseball. They also own one of my favourite baseball players: Salvador Perez, one of the most clutch hitters in the game. Every time someone is in scoring position -typically due to speed – the offense gets the job done. Home runs aren’t a necessity, clutch hitting is. The addition of Josh Willingham is already paying dividends, with the new addition already contributing big time. Maybe the Royals will spark a new generation in baseball. The decade of power running and defense.  It’s unlikely, sadly. One thing I do know, the Royals will be in the postseason.

New York Yankees

Money wins games. Money doesn’t, however, guarantee a place in the playoffs as the Yankees are discovering. Money does win games, but building a cutting edge and winning roster is a different story. The Yanks spent so much this offseason, that competing for a Wild Card is a huge let down. The finger shouldn’t be pointed at the front office though, injuries are the main culprit for New Yorks struggles. Scapegoat, anyway.

Their old and expensive team has failed to live up to expectations. They’ve traded for lots and lots of players, which seems to have worked, a little. Additions in Chase Headley, Esmil Rogers, Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano have made a huge difference. They’ve gone from a mediocre team to playoff contenders. When your entire opening day rotation gets injured, the going will get tough, it’s an evitability. In the Yankees defense, they’ve managed to weather the storm and can now make strides towards October.

Masahiro Tanaka set the world alight, then got injured. The Japanese phenom who was once sought to be the leader of the Yankees this season, will likely watch any postseason ball from home. Rather, guys like Dellin Betances, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury will be the key players. Regardless of what happens the season will be remembered for Derek Jeter, who hasn’t really done anything other than play average shortstop and get presents. The easy life, eh. It would only be fitting if the captain can bring his beloved Yanks to the postseason.

Oakland Athletics

We’ve seen power running, power hitting, power defense and power money, now it’s time for power pitching. It’s said that if you google power pitching, the Oakland Athletics come up. That doesn’t surprise me. Billy Beane has abandoned moneyball, to hell with it. He built a rotation of aces and it’s as scary as it sounds. Things haven’t been plain sailing though. Far, far, far from it. They currently don’t have the top spot in the West. That worries me, because they don’t know how to react. They haven’t been in this position for a long, long, long time.

I miss Yoenis Cespedes. I think all of Oakland miss him, too. He was the main man, and he’s gone. Consequentially, their offense has been awful and they will genuinely have to try and ride their pitching into the postseason now. In the last two weeks Oakland rank 16th in team wRC+ and and 18th in team batting average. The worrying thing is their pitching hasn’t been as good as we all thought it might be. While ridiculously high standards were set for the dream rotation, they certainly have not been met.

Oakland aren’t done yet. They will fight and scrap every last inning from now to the end of the season. They’re even said to be boycotting the Angels’ move for Colon. I love it. Playing nice doesn’t win World Series, the A’s will hope power pitching and dirty tactics do. And why shouldn’t they? Their substandard roster has made it deep into October two years in a row, but this year there is a twist. They are better. Watch out baseball, Oakland will be coming.

Others

The Detroit Tigers, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians are still in the race for the playoffs. But come on, I don’t have the time to write another 1000 words. But take my word for it, all these franchises have a good chance, too. They have their pros and cons like every team. It’s difficult writing generalised summaries for four franchises at once. Very, very difficult. But listen: They all have chance, otherwise they wouldn’t be here. Let’s leave it at that, please. I’d rank them Mariners-Tigers-Jays-Indians if that helps any.

Fellow baseball fans. Stop reading this. Go watch some baseball, the remaining baseball will be incredible. Playoff dreams will be made and broken in the coming weeks and I’m very, very excited. It’s going to be brilliant. Grab some nice food, find a comfortable spot on the sofa, take the next six weeks off work and watch the race unfold. You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: AL East

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