Baseballtology: The AL Bubble Watch
Only 15 days are left in the 2012 Major League Baseball season to determine who will make the playoffs this year. Most of the races are coming down to the wire, and a lot of teams still have a chance to make a last minute push towards October.
According to the mathematics of baseballtology (yes it’s a real thing), nine teams still remain playoff eligible in the AL at this point of the season. Realistically, the Rays and the Royals, despite not being officially eliminated, do not really have a legitimate shot.
Of the remaining seven teams, no team has officially claimed their division title or clinched a playoff berth.
As a self-proclaimed baseballtologist, I have spent countless hours calculating, analyzing and predicting each possible scenario. I feel as though it is time to reveal how I deem the playoff picture will eventually unfold in the American League.
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Let’s start with the closest and most exciting race of all: the AL East.
The Baltimore Orioles have obliterated a ten game deficit and are now tied with the Yankees going down the home stretch. With the Rays now nearly out of the race, it has come down to the Yankees and Orioles in the East.
So how did they do it? How did a young, immature team who finished 69-93 in 2011 turn things around so quickly and become a playoff contender?
Buck Showalter’s name sits alone at the top of the list.
The Orioles’ resurgence this year has been nothing less than legendary, and much of their run can be attributed to the coaching of Manager Buck Showalter, who in my opinion deserves AL Manager of the Year.
Showalter has brought a sense of accountability and detail to the Orioles’ clubhouse while maintaining a close personal relationship with his players. His Orioles are 20 games over .500 and have a -12 run differential.
Baltimore has also won 14 straight extra-inning games. Pretty amazing. He provides his young team with a loose environment in which they can have a good time and grow, while instilling in them constant game knowledge and upcoming series advice.
Buck is not the sole reason for Baltimore’s overwhelming success this year. The emergence of the Orioles’ younger players have sparked this squad and given the city life again after a 15-year absence.
All-Star Outfielder Adam Jones has welcomed his role as the teams unequivocal leader and, at 29 home runs, looks poised to be the sixth Orioles outfielder to hit 30 home runs in a season.
Catcher Matt Wieters is having the best year in his young career and is getting better seemingly by the day. His RBI and home run totals continue to increase every year and his defense has been astronomically great.
Chris Davis has proven he can keep up with the best power hitters in the AL with his 26 long balls so far, despite missing over 20 games this season. The call-up of Manny Machado has provided the Orioles with the extra kick they needed to power them through the end of the season.
In the absence of Nick Markakis, Nate Mclouth, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds have stepped up their games and provided the necessary offense to keep the Orioles in the hunt.
It appears as though the Orioles will coast through the end of the season with an easy schedule that features series against Seattle, Boston, Toronto and the struggling Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
In spite of all of this, I believe the Yankees eventually pull this one out. It is not like the Yankees are playing poor baseball. They are still winners of six out of their last 10 and have a stacked lineup.
Jeter has been playing out of his mind, and A-Rod has really started to hit since coming off the DL. C.C. Sabathia and the Yankees pitching staff have been less than reputable of late, but the return of Andy Pettite and Ivan Nova should help the Yankees work their way into the playoffs.
New York does still have to face the red-hot Oakland A’s in New York this weekend. The series will sure test the Yankees, however, I am confident the Yanks will prevail.
Final prediction: Yankees take the AL East.
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While it might be a little presumptuous to say the Tigers have a shot at the wildcard (5 games behind the A’s and Orioles), they definitely have a shot at the Central.
After victories by both the White Sox and Tigers Tuesday, the White Sox lead remains at three. Only three with 15 games left? I have seen crazier. Especially when the team three games back has the possible AL MVP and Cy Young.
Miguel Cabrera has been the MLB’s best power hitter this season. 40 home runs and 129 RBI in a year highlighted by pitchers has been quite the achievement. With Prince Fielder behind him in the order, Cabrera has had better pitches to hit, and it has shown.
The 1-2 punch of Verlander and Scherzer this season has been stellar. Verlander has been lights out and is in the Cy Young running, while Scherzer has a K/9 of above 11 so far. As of Tuesday, Scherzer and Verlander are also 1-2 in strikeouts in the MLB, combining for 442 punchouts.
Scherzer left Tuesday’s start early, and while the extent of the injury is yet to be reported, this could be a huge blow to the Tigers’ playoff hopes.
The Tigers are 8-8 in September so far and need to pick it up if they want any shot of catching the White Sox.
Detroit finishes their series with Oakland on Thursday, then finish the season with 13 games against both Kansas City and Minnesota.
The Chicago White Sox now control their own fate. They have won seven of their last ten and are more than on their way to clinching the division.
Everything has been working for the White Sox this season, especially starting pitching. Breakout starter Chris Sale has been as exceptional in September as he was in April. 17 wins and a 2.78 ERA have him as a Cy Young favorite. Also, Jake Peavy has surmounted all expectations and come back with a great year.
Chicago doesn’t only do it on the mound, though. They are second in the Major Leagues in homers, led by bounce-back power hitter Adam Dunn, who' has hit 39 dingers to date.
The White Sox have also gotten a lot of help from another surprising source, Alex Rios. Rios leads the White Sox in hits and runs scored, and is second only to Dunn in RBI this season.
A.J. Pierzynski has also emerged this year as another power source for the Sox with 26 home runs and 73 RBI thus far. What makes the White Sox offense run so smoothly, however, has been the consistency of Paul Konerko. Year after year this guy produces at such a high level for Chicago, never wavering.
While the White Sox have to play a series at Angel Stadium this weekend, they should be able to hold their lead through the end of the season.
Final prediction: White Sox take the AL Central.
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The Oakland A’s are hands down the hottest team in baseball.
At three games back of the Texas Rangers with seven games left to play against them, the A’s will try to make one final heroic push towards the AL West trophy.
Much like the plot of Moneyball repeating itself before our eyes, Billy Beane and the A’s front office have devised a team made of relative no name players using the league’s second lowest payroll, and they just keep winning.
While Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes have been complete studs, guys like Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson and Chris Carter have come in and executed their assignments when they have been called upon.
The best part about the A’s run so far for me has been the constant production from their rookie pitchers. Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker both have over 10 wins and an ERA under four this season. A.J. Griffin has also had a decent first year despite earning his first loss Tuesday.
Now with ace Brett Anderson back and pitching well, the young A’s staff should help carry Oakland into the playoffs, but likely by way of the wildcard.
Coming off back-to-back World Series appearances, the Rangers have shown no signs of letting up. At 87-60, Texas has been the best team in the AL and the favorite to win home field advantage.
Returning this season with the high powered bats of Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, no opposing pitcher really stood a chance. The three have combined for 97 home runs and exactly 300 RBI. Their explosive offense leads the Majors in total runs, hits, RBI and average.
The signing of Yu Darvish in the offseason has proven to be a blessing for the fans in Arlington. 15 wins and over 200 strikeouts is well above the expectations most people had for him.
In addition to Darvish, Matt Harrison has been extraordinary with a team leading 17 wins. The recent acquisition of Ryan Dempster has also been beneficial with a 7-2 record since joining the team. The Rangers bullpen also has been a real strength in keeping them in games and holding leads.
Texas has a tough road ahead as they have to face the surging Angels five more times and A’s for seven. Still, I don’t expect the Rangers to give away their lead. They are too experienced and too balanced.
Final prediction: Rangers take the AL West
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So with the three divisions now settled, there still lies the everlasting question: Who will end up with the final two spots in the AL?
I have the Oakland A’s taking the first spot with ease. They are just too hot, and I don’t see anyone catching them right now.
But with the new wildcard game officially in place, there is still one spot remaining. In reality, the competition is only between the Orioles/Yankees and the Angels.
The Angels are the only other team remaining to be mentioned who still has a very legitimate shot at the playoffs. While the West may be out of reach, as of Tuesday the Angels are only three games out of the second wildcard spot.
Overall, the Angels’ year has been a major letdown. The additions of Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Zack Greinke have not escalated the Angels into an immediate AL West contender as they had hoped.
The main reason for this is the pitching has been atrocious most of the year. Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have been absolutely unreliable all season, Wilson and Greinke have gone through rough stretches and the bullpen can’t be trusted to close out a game.
The good news for the Angels is that their offense has kept them in it this entire year. The rookie phenom Mike Trout has taken the league by storm as the best young player the game has seen in years.
Mark Trumbo provided an immense amount of power early in the season but has fallen off as of late. Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales and Erick Aybar have also been on fire for the Halos in the past few weeks.
The Angels’ continuous pitching problems have left an insurmountable hole that is too deep for them to dig their way out of. With the way the Orioles are playing right now, I don’t foresee the Angels’ offense saving them this time.
Final prediction: A’s and Orioles take the wildcard spots.
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