Orioles, A’s, White Sox Biggest AL Surprises


We are in the homestretch of the long season that began in April and while there are games to be played and playoff berths to be determined, there is no doubt that many teams that we believed would have inconsequential seasons are still going strong and that many teams that seemed likely to be major factors have fizzled.

The playoffs will sort themselves out in short order, but with barely more than two weeks to go, I am going to evaluate what brought American League teams here. There are some “A” grades and there are some “F” grades and they do not all belong to teams that we felt would be getting those ratings when spring was in the air and the season was fresh.

American League East: The Baltimore Orioles have earned an A by staying alive and continuing to fight for the division title long after it seemed likely they would have folded. The New York Yankees have earned a B-plus by hanging in there day after day despite a zillion injuries to key players. The season-ending injury to Mariano Rivera seems so long ago it feels as if it happened in a different season. The Tampa Bay Rays should have done better. With the division wide open they have been unable to make a move. Give them a B-minus. This was supposed to be the year that the Toronto Blue Jays made those Yankees and Red Sox sit up and take notice of them. Didn’t happen. Pretty much a write-off year with a grade of D. As for the Boston Red Sox, they are being dissected more thoroughly than a frog that had the bad fortune to stumble into a high school biology class and their rotting carcass has not fared any better. A resounding F.

Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter (26, left) and Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura (23, right) talk during batting practice prior to a game. They are two of the leading contenders for American League manager of the year. Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

American League Central: Few teams in the league had less obvious pluses going for them entering the season than the Chicago White Sox, from new, inexperienced manager Robin Ventura, to alleged slugger Adam Dunn. Yet the White Sox are still in the division title and playoff hunt. Ventura might end up manager of the year, although Buck Showalter with the Orioles and Bob Melvin with the A’s are also deserving. Give the boys from the South Side an A. On the other hand, the Detroit Tigers were supposed to be a lock in this division, easy champs, and they are still scrambling for a potential playoff berth. Compared to the should-have-been scenario the Tigers deserve only a C-plus. Outside of those two teams, this is clearly the weakest division in baseball. We’ve been hearing about the Kansas City Royals’ potential for a while now, but they were only incrementally better. Give them a C-minus for effort. The Minnesota Twins need rebuilding. The best I can muster for them is a D-plus. The Cleveland Indians went backwards after 2011’s hopeful run and get a D-minus.

American League West: The Texas Rangers are that rare team that started well, maintained, and pretty much performed the way everyone expected that they would as the best club in their division and probably the league. Hard to give Texas anything but an A. The Oakland A’s seem to be winning with mirrors and have even kept the heat on the Rangers a little bit. Oakland has distanced itself from other playoff contenders and with a low payroll and a bunch of anonymous guys no one can figure out how it has done so. The A’s deserve an A-plus. The biggest underachievers in the league (besides the Red Sox) are the Los Angeles Angels, which figured to be in a war with the Rangers for the top spot, but might not make the playoffs. That would be embarrassing. Based on potential versus accomplishment, the Angels rate no better than a C. The Seattle Mariners are in last place, as everyone expected, and the only team in the division without a playoff prayer. The Mariners have shown minimal improvement (perhaps), but achieved little in 2012. The grade cannot be higher than a D-plus.

Next: The National League.