With September set to begin one month before playoff time, teams that remain in competition for American League playoff spots are entering the most important of stretch runs. Here is an overview of which teams will be competing for rings come October and which teams will be watching the playoffs from their couches.
American League East:
Sometimes sportswriters tend to forget that the Major League baseball season is more of a marathon than a sprint. Four games out of the division lead on June 29th, six games behind the White Sox for the Wild Card and following a 12 game Red Sox winning streak, the Yankees were being written off. A-Rod was just finishing off a measly .213 batting average for the month and the team just looked defeated. Then a funny thing happened: Derek Jeter decided to throw the Yanks on his back and hit an amazing .412 for the month of July, getting the team right back into the mix of things. The team’s ascent continued through August, culminating in the already notorious “Boston Massacre”, a five game sweep at Fenway, which signified to many the final nail in the Red Sox coffin for this year. Now, with a seven game lead in the East, the Yanks’ 9th straight division title is all but assured.
American League Central
Having led their division for most of the year and with a sizeable five game lead in their pockets, the Detroit Tigers are the odds-on favorite to take the Central and end a lengthy playoff drought. With excellent starting pitching (see hard throwing youngster Verlander, Justin), a dominant bullpen (ditto for Zumaya, Joel) and some veteran hitters, the Tigers certainly have the talent to pounce on their opponents. While they face a difficult series with the Yankees coming up, as well as some huge bouts with their division rivals the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, the Tigers should grind out the final month and find themselves as major contenders for a World Series.
American League West
If somebody had told the Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane at the beginning of the year that his team would nearly be outscored by their opponents for the season, have Rich Harden make only six starts all year and have star third basemen Eric Chavez hit just .239, he probably would have winced. Unfortunately for the rest of the West, they have been the ones wincing this year, as the A’s have managed to pull out win after win and build a six and half game lead in the division. Can their luck last? While the Las Vegas/Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Paris and Moscow have the young talent and pitching to pull off the upset, I think the A’s will fend them off. Nick Swisher and Frank Thomas (yes that Frank Thomas) will help the A’s pull out of a tight divisional race on top. They might end up being the “ugly girl” at the dance but at least they’ll be there.
American League Wild Card
While they might not be MLB’s version of the “Jug” on a Saturday night (that honor goes to the excessively crowded National League Wild Card race), the American League does have its fair share of contenders for the Wild Card. The defending champion Chicago White Sox are desperately trying to hold on, a half game back from the Wild Card leading Minnesota Twins. Unfortunately for the Twins, the White Sox have slugging first basemen Jim Thome coming back from a hamstring injury soon and Jermaine Dye is doing his best impression of what an AL MVP should look like. More devastating to the Twins’ hopes is the fact that they are unsure whether 22 year-old southpaw phenom Francisco Liriano will be able to return this season from a sore left elbow. Given that he was the main reason the Twins were in contention in the first place, I think the Twinkies will be enjoying twinkies while they watch the playoffs from home this year. For all of the Red Sox fans out there, I’m sure you’re all wondering why I’ve left your beloved Sox out of this discussion. The answer is really quite simple. Already six games back and with “Big Papi” David Ortiz out indefinitely with a recurring heart condition, the Red Sox own heart has essentially been ripped out. This was the last straw for the Red Sox 2006 season folks, better luck next year.
Next week I will be reviewing the National League’s playoff contenders, so stay tuned, I plan on at least picking the National League East winner correctly.
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