By: Tom Maugeri
After taking a look at the National League side of things, it’s time to analyze which American League teams have a legitimate shot at a World Series, and what they’ll have to overcome to raise the Commissioner’s Trophy.
New York Yankees: Injuries
The Bronx Bombers are savages this year. Not only in Aaron Boone‘s eyes, but in the eyes of the entire league.
Sitting at 79-41 and atop the AL East, the Yankees have made it clear that they’re for real this year. Sitting 38 games above .500 is always an incredible feat, but it’s even more impressive when one considers the line of injuries this team has had to deal with.
Catcher Gary Sanchez is currently out due to a groin strain, Edwin Encarnacion fractured his wrist, Giancarlo Stanton returned from a torn bicep only to sprain his PCL, Miguel Andujar had shoulder surgery, and I could keep going, but you get the point. This team has an all-star lineup hanging out on the injured list. The fact that Boone has this team leading its division and tied for best record in baseball shows that he has found a winning formula.
If this team can stay healthy for the playoffs, one can only imagine the damage they will do. However, if the injury bug continues to plague them, watch for another AL team (*cough* the Astros) to seize the opportunity and capture the World Series berth.
Tampa Bay Rays: Above .500 Teams
This one might sting a little. Anybody like that one? Just me? Alright.
The Tampa Bay Rays are second in the AL East, and if it weren’t for the Yankees, they could easily be sitting at first place in the division. Remember when the most exciting thing going on in Tampa Bay was the idea of the opener? They pioneered the idea of using a reliever to start games, something that seemed ridiculous at first, but ended up being a tremendous success.
Now, this team finds itself in the heart of the playoff race. They have solid hitters throughout the lineup, they have a Gold Glove winner in centerfield, and their pitching staff has the second best combined ERA in baseball (3.50).
There’s just one glaring issue with this Rays squad: their record against teams above .500.
While the Rays have been beating up on teams that are below .500 (40-18), they sit at a measly 30-32 against teams that are above the same benchmark. It’s not the worst record in the world, but it shows a lot of room for growth compared to teams like the Dodgers, who are 39-23 against teams above .500, and the Yankees, who hold a 34-22 record.
The competition only gets stiffer come playoff time, and the Rays are going to be playing teams that belong there. Tampa Bay will likely be bidding for a wildcard spot, meaning the one game playoff is going to be do or die. They’re going to have one shot to beat a team that is above .500, and it’s up to them to show that they belong.
Cleveland Indians: RISP
The Cleveland Indians are in a heated race for the AL Central. They are a game in front of the Minnesota Twins at 72-47, a record that would be good enough to claim the division in most years. If it weren’t for their issues with hitting with runners in scoring position, they’d be in good shape to secure the Central.
The Indians are tied for 27th in the league in terms of batting average with runners in scoring position along with Toronto and Milwaukee (.244). The only team below them is the struggling Detroit Tigers.
There’s still hope for this team. They’ve been able to win a lot of games despite this average, and the recent trade for Yasiel Puig could be an indicator that they intend to tighten up those issues. If this team gets hot and starts knocking runners in at just a slightly higher clip, they could be a surprise contender for the American League pennant.
Minnesota Twins: The Wild Card Game
Did anyone else know that the Twins have turned not one, but two triple plays this year? The same pitcher was on the mound for both games too. Oh, they also did it in the span of three weeks. This has nothing to do with their playoff hopes, but I feel as though they haven’t got the love they deserve for pulling this off. So there you go Twins fans – there’s your love.
Now on to why they won’t be winning the World Series.
Minnesota came out of nowhere this year, starting the year hot and never looking back. After having a career 4.14 ERA, Jose Berrios has turned in a 3.29 and has lead this Twins pitching staff. Nelson Cruz refuses to stop hitting home runs and shares the team lead with Max Kepler at 32. Combine that with the stellar defense that a healthy Byron Buxton brings to the outfield, and this team doesn’t look too bad. Their postseason hopes could purely be based on winning the division.
The Twins are only 15-15 over their last 30 games, a mark that, if it keeps up, won’t be enough to overtake the Indians for the division. That would mean that this team probably falls into the Wild Card Game and has to play in a match-up where the winner takes all. Anything can happen in this game and something as silly as an error in the first inning can end up costing a team their entire season.
The Twins might be a better club than a lot of teams over a five-game series, but anything can happen in one game, which is why the Twins need to win the division. Their postseason hopes, and otherwise terrific season, could depend on it.
Oakland Athletics: Offensive Firepower
How can you not be romantic about baseball.
Yes, it’s a line from the movie Moneyball and one of the most widely used metaphors concerning the game, but it rings true time and time again when looking at this Oakland team. Year in and year out Billy Beane is able to group together a team that looks like they have no business contending, yet they are in position for a playoff bid come the latter half of the season. It’s impossible to not root for these guys and what they do, but it’s also impossible to ignore the elephant in the room.
We’ve seen this formula before, and it doesn’t work.
The A’s have a strong team, but who is going to carry the load during the playoffs? Matt Chapman didn’t keep progressing as they hoped he would, Khris Davis continues to hit home runs, but he’s sitting at a .228 average, and arguably their best hitter this year (Ramon Laureano) is currently on the IL. They’re hitting a combined .246, which is the lowest of any possible AL playoff contender.
Oakland exemplifies team baseball with all nine guys truly contributing to help win games, but when the playoffs roll around there needs to be someone to help carry the team, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone here capable of doing that. Their lineup is simply too weak compared to juggernauts like the Astros and Yankees.
Bravo on another great season Billy Beane, but it seems as though this Oakland team won’t be the group that finally wins the last game of the season.
Houston Astros: Ease of Remaining Schedule
I’m not even sure what to say about this team.
Their lineup, from the leadoff hitter all the way to the nine hole, knows how to hit the baseball. Their rotation was already good with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, but just in case there were any questions, they went out and added Zack Greinke. This team plays as well on the road as they do at home, they hit both left-handed pitching and right-handed pitching, and they’ve made the third fewest errors in baseball (54). This Houston team seems to have it all together and could be primed for another World Series victory. However, there’s one issue that could cause them to stumble a bit come playoff time.
This team’s final 44 games are ridiculously easy.
Of said 44 games, 31 of them come against teams that are below .500. The only teams above that mark that they play are the Rays and the Athletics. This team isn’t going to have much competition to end the season, and beating up on teams that for the most part, have given up on their season, isn’t going to help them get ready for the playoffs.
Let’s face it, going from a series against the Blue Jays to a series against the Twins would be night and day difference (no offense Toronto). It might not be enough to end their World Series hopes, but it could cause them to stumble in the first round.
Either way, the Astros will have to make sure they’re mentally prepared for the uptick in competition the postseason.
Cover photo via: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports
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