Who will break the playoff barrier this
year? With roughly 40 games to go, it’s time to break down which
teams on the American League bubble of the new 5-team field will join
the postseason party in October.
(Records Through Monday, 8/20)
Tampa Bay Rays (68-54)
Analysis: The Rays are heavily reliant
on strong starting pitching, always a good thing in the bat-heavy
American League East. The return of Evan Longoria provides a major
boost to a lineup that was middling for some time. The team has
gotten very hot at just the right time, having won eight of 10 and
sweeping the Angels in four games in Anaheim. In fact, they are 20-9
against the American League West this year. Staying strong within
their division (they are 27-20 against the East) will be key down the
stretch for them.
Baltimore Orioles (66-56)
Analysis: The Orioles have seemingly
done it with smoke and mirrors this year. They’ve batten well under
.250 as a team and their team ERA is well over 4.00, so what gives? A
little Buck Showalter magic is what. Not to mention they are 12-0 in
extra innings, the result of a magnificent bullpen. Still, the key
will be the starting pitching down the stretch. The likes of Wei-Yin
Chen and Zach Britton and Tommy Hunter don’t scare anyone in the AL
East, but they will have to get the job done if the O’s are to break
their 14-year postseason drought.
Oakland Athletics (65-56)
Analysis: Another team with a poor
offense that has seemingly done it with smoke and mirrors, the A’s
feature a bevy of strong young arms that are carrying the season for
them. Jarrod Parker has been a revelation, as has Tommy Milone. Will
they hold up down the stretch? More like, will they carry the team?
Oakland’s offense at times has been so bad they are forced to win
successive games 2-1 and 1-0, but lo and behold they’ve gotten it
done (see: 4-game sweep of the Yankees in late July). Cue the
Moneyball theme music and the 2002 comparisons.
Los Angeles Angels (62-60)
Analysis: The most shocking stat in
baseball perhaps is that the Angels feature the league’s worst ERA
among starting pitchers in August. Jered Weaver was bombed by Tampa
Bay when the team was swept in four games. Zack Greinke has been a
major disappointment thus far. Los Angeles has a poor bullpen,
meaning it’s all on the offense and starting pitching, and neither
has been getting it done. Mike Trout is a legitimate MVP candidate,
but Mike Scoscia’s job could be in jeopardy if his team continues its
free-fall. The team’s upcoming series in Boston will say a lot about
Boston Red Sox (59-63)
Analysis: The Red Sox have the talent
to make a playoff run, there’s no question about it. So why haven’t
they? Injuries to David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks certainly haven’t
helped. But the starting pitching has been a major disappointment.
Only Clay Buchholz has been a stabilizing force in the rotation,
turning his season around after a disastrous start. Jon Lester has
been good of late, but Josh Beckett has been shoddy, and the rest of
the rotation is patchwork at best. The offense will have to carry the
load in a major way down the stretch if the Red Sox are to reverse
last year’s trend, when they saw a 9.5 game lead in the wild card
dissipate in September to Tampa Bay.
Seattle Mariners (59-64)
Analysis: It’s almost safe to say that
Felix Hernandez is the only reason the Mariners are on this list, but
let’s give a little credit to Jason Vargas and Tom Wilhelmsen as
well. Pitching is not the reason the Mariners struggle to win games.
The anemic offense is. Still, Seattle plays like Oakland – their
games are close to the vest and they sometimes scratch out just
enough offense to win, and they’ve gotten hot of late. They are well
buried as far as the division race is concerned, but if Hernandez,
Vargas, and a few other names step it up down the stretch, you never
know what might happen in the crazy Pacific Northwest.