Every AL Contender's Glaring Weakness That Could Leave Them at Home in October
This is the time of year when teams around Major League Baseball hope that their strengths can hold true for just a few more weeks.
...And that their weakness don't kill them in the meantime.
We've seen teams undone by their weakness in September many times. Just last year, the Boston Red Sox were undone by their dreadful starting pitching and the Atlanta Braves were undone by their tired bullpen. The smart money says that we're likely to see one team meet its end this season thanks to its one glaring weakness.
Here's a look at one thing each contender in the American League Junior Circuit should be worried about.
Note: All stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Baltimore Orioles: Starting Pitching Doesn't Eat Innings
Fans and writers alike have been mocking Baltimore's starting pitching staff all season, but it's not all that bad right now.
O's starters have actually become a fairly dependable unit over the last few weeks. They went 14-7 with a decent 4.18 ERA in August, and so far in September, they have a halfway decent ERA of 4.40 (which doesn't include Wei-Yin Chen's excellent outing on Thursday).
As solid as Baltimore's starting rotation has become, however, there is still one complaint that can be made about it: O's starters still aren't going very deep into games.
In August, O's starters logged only 159.1 innings, fifth-fewest in all of baseball. In September, they've logged 57.1 innings, tying them with the New York Mets for eighth-fewest in baseball.
The O's are winning games anyway, but what concerns me is that their rotation's inability to go deep into games means there's just as much pressure on the bullpen as there's been all season. There's no rest for the weary when it comes to O's relievers.
Orioles relievers have already logged 471 innings, fourth-most in baseball. They're pitching pretty well to the tune of a 3.86 ERA this month, but that ERA doesn't look too great compared to the 3.13 ERA O's relievers have for the season. Some cracks are starting to show.
There's nothing to panic about right now, but O's relievers could find themselves out of gas by the time the team reaches it's season-ending series against the Tampa Bay Rays in early October.
Chicago White Sox: Bullpen Has Taken a Turn for the Worse
There are a couple things about the White Sox that concern me.
One, it worries me that both Chris Sale and Jake Peavy have been a lot more hittable in the second half of the season than they were in the first half.
Two, it worries me that Adam Dunn is still out of the lineup. He's as one-dimensional as they come, but it would be much worse for the White Sox not to have his power in the lineup.
Third, it worries me that Paul Konerko only has one homer and four RBI this month. For that matter, he's been pretty mediocre ever since he lit the world on fire in May, yet Robin Ventura still insists on batting him in the cleanup spot.
But the thing that worries me the most is the fact that Chicago's bullpen has had a very rough go of things this month. White Sox relievers have a 6.12 ERA in September, second-worst in the MLB behind the Miami Marlins.
Brett Myers has struggled to the tune of a 6.75 ERA and a 2.50 WHIP. Even more concerning is the fact that Addison Reed has a 10.13 ERA this month. He's allowed at least one run in four of his six September appearances.
Down the stretch. Chicago's bullpen will have to match wits with some tough competition. Kansas City's bullpen is one of the most underrated units in all of baseball. The Angels' bullpen has come around to post an AL-best 1.17 ERA this month. Tampa Bay's bullpen has been one of the best in baseball all season.
If Chicago's bullpen doesn't shape up, it will be overmatched in the last few weeks of the season.
Detroit Tigers: Offense Comes and Goes
The Tigers are getting some excellent work from their starting pitching these days, particularly from Max Scherzer and Doug Fister. Scherzer is 6-0 with a 1.29 ERA over his last seven starts, and Fister is 7-2 with a 2.49 ERA over his last 11 starts.
In the month of September, Tigers starters have compiled an ERA of 2.68, fifth-best in baseball.
The problem is that Tigers starters have a modest record of 5-4 this month. They can thank the team's hit-or-miss offense for that.
Detroit has more than enough firepower in its lineup, but it's struggled to show up this month. The Tigers have scored only 39 runs in September, three fewer than the offensively-challenged Tampa Bay Rays.
Detroit's struggles on offense this month have had a dire effect. The Tigers have lost six games in September so far, and four of those losses were one-run defeats.
There's plenty of blame to go around. Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, Andy Dirks and Alex Avila are all hitting right around .200 this month. Delmon Young has a .244 batting average and a .244 on-base percentage.
The Tigers should be able to snap out of this little funk, but their September slump is emblematic of the way things have gone for them all season. For all their firepower, the Tigers are 11th in the MLB in runs scored this season, and their offense has been prone to little mini-slumps here and there.
And since Detroit's pitching is going so well right now, their offense will likely take the blame if the Tigers miss out on October baseball this year.
Los Angeles Angels: They Need Mark Trumbo Back
The Tigers aren't the only team that's having problems with their offense at the moment.
The Angels have scored only 46 runs so far in September, which ranks them right in the middle of the pack among MLB's 30 teams. Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Kendrys Morales have been swinging hot bats, but Albert Pujols has been just OK and even Mike Trout has been human.
But nobody is in as deep a slump as Mark Trumbo. Worse, his slump dates back far longer than the beginning of September.
Trumbo, who last played on Monday, is hitting .111 with a .307 OPS over his last 13 games, and just .182 with a .488 OPS since the beginning of August. He has only three home runs in his last 132 at-bats.
All things considered, the Angels could be doing worse without Trumbo in their lineup, but there's no denying that their lineup was a lot scarier when he, Trout and Pujols were all crushing the ball. With Trumbo slumping, those days feel like ancient history.
The Angels lead all of baseball with a team ERA of 2.20 in September, so it's looking like their pitching staff won't be held responsible if they miss out on the playoffs.
This doesn't mean the blame will lie with Trumbo, but it's not an exaggeration to say that he has the power to change the offense's fortunes if he can get going again.
New York Yankees: Injuries
If Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter were all 100-percent healthy, there'd be very little to complain about concerning the Yankees.
Sadly, that's not the situation. Rivera, Pineda and Gardner won't play this season. Pettitte will make his first start since June on Tuesday, according to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. Teixeira is simply hoping to get back before the month is over. Jeter is going to have to play through a bone bruise in his left ankle the rest of the way.
And I haven't even mentioned CC Sabathia yet. He says he's healthy, according to the New York Post, but he just doesn't look quite right when he's on the mound.
There's no mistaking the truth about the Yankees at the moment. They're old, they're beat up, and they're very beatable. They're 5-6 in September, and 28-29 since the All-Star break.
The good news for the Bombers is that the end of their regular-season schedule isn't so rough. They'll get to play the Blue Jays seven times and the Red Sox three more times, with a three-game series against Minnesota mixed in for good measure. They should be able to finish the season strong.
But this is contingent on their injuries not getting in the way, and nobody in or outside of the Yankees' clubhouse should take anything for granted where that possibility is concerned.
If the Yankees don't make it to the postseason, it will be because they finally broke down.
Oakland A's: Josh Reddick's Bat Has Gone Missing
Finding things to complain about when it comes to the A's is pretty hard these days. Their pitching is on a roll even despite the recent losses of Bartolo Colon and Brandon McCarthy, and they rank second in baseball in home runs since the All-Star break.
There is, however, one guy who isn't having such a fun time these days: Josh Reddick.
Reddick was one of the most unsung heroes in the American League through the first four months of the season, but his season has taken a turn for the worse since the first of August. In his last 37 games, Reddick is hitting .211 with a .609 OPS.
He's been even worse in September. Through 11 games, Reddick has an .091 batting average and a mere .259 OPS.
Reddick still deserves to play everyday because of his defensive abilities in right field, but Bob Melvin needs to consider moving him out of the No. 3 hole if he doesn't turn things around. It's OK if Reddick is a liability on offense as long as he plays great defense, but it's generally not a good idea to keep a known liability stationed in the third spot of the lineup.
Melvin seems to be taking a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to Reddick and the entire A's roster in general, and it's hard to blame him seeing as how the A's are winning games at the moment. Their schedule isn't going to get any easier, however, and their margin for error is still pretty thin despite how well they've been playing recently.
If Reddick doesn't shape up, changing his spot in the batting order should be the first move Melvin makes.
Tampa Bay Rays: Offense Wastes Too Many Fine Pitching Performances
From top to bottom, there's little question that the Rays have the best pitching staff in baseball. They've proved as much by posting an MLB-best 2.53 team ERA since the All-Star break. The next team on the list is the Atlanta Braves at 3.13.
Tampa Bay's offense, however, is still a beatable unit. The Rays rank 22nd in MLB in runs scored since the break, and 19th in the MLB in runs scored in September with 42.
With an offense such as this, it should be no surprise that one-run games have been a problem for the Rays thus far. They're 20-25 in such games this season, in no small part because their offense has a .563 OPS in "late and close" situations.
Things aren't getting any better. If you add up the Rays' last 11 losses and average out the margin of defeat, you'll get an average of less than two runs per loss. And this is including their 9-2 shellacking at the hands of the Orioles on Tuesday.
The shame in all this is that Rays pitchers have only yielded 43 runs in the team's last 11 losses, an average of 3.9 runs per loss. They've done their part, but the team's offense has failed to pick up the slack.
With their pitching staff, the Rays should be perfectly capable of winning the close ones. They're not doing that right now, and it could cost them in the long run.
Texas Rangers: Injuries...and Michael Young
The Yankees aren't the only team out there that's banged up at the moment. The Rangers have plenty of their own injuries, and it seems like more are coming every day.
In fact, the Rangers learned on Thursday that Adrian Beltre is day-to-day with a bum shoulder and Mike Olt is going to be out as long as two weeks with plantar fasciitis, according to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Meanwhile, Mike Napoli and Robbie Ross are still out, and Wilson reported on Wednesday that Mike Adams is going to need to rest for a day or two with a sore trap muscle. Per the team's official site, Josh Hamilton had to have an injection on Wednesday to soothe his sore left knee, and Roy Oswalt is going to be out for a while right a sore right elbow.
You'd never know that we're talking about a team that went 19-10 in August and is 7-4 so far in September. The Rangers are falling apart, but they're still winning games. Their injuries aren't killing them.
Neither, amazingly, is Michael Young. He's been one of the worst players in the American League for much of the season, but he has a decent enough .733 OPS in September. He hasn't been this good (OK fine, decent) since the first month of the season.
Because neither injuries nor Young have killed the Rangers yet, I'm guessing that their three-game lead in the AL West is safe. Even if they don't win the division, it would be a shock if they didn't nab a wild-card spot.
But if they miss out on the playoffs altogether, we'll know what killed them: Injuries and Michael Young.
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