The Blueprint for Each AL Playoff Team to Win the World Series
Every general manager and manager discusses strategy heading into a season.
What kind of team do they want to build, and how will they construct it?
They lay out a blueprint for what they want to do.
Some teams haven't followed their preseason plans to the letter. Adjustments needed to be made, and in some cases, the team they constructed turned out to be a different type of team than what the builders originally envisioned.
For the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Oakland A's and Texas Rangers, those blueprints have led to a successful 2012 campaign, one that has resulted in a playoff berth and a chance to advance to the World Series.
Reaching the Fall Classic is the ultimate goal, and to reach it, these teams need to stay true to who they are—to follow the blueprints that the players designed over the course of a 162-game season.
Let's take a look at what got the American League contenders this far, and how that translates to potentially ending the season with a championship parade.
Baltimore Orioles: A Dominant Bullpen
Jim Johnson has been the best closer in Baltimore since the days of Gregg Olson and Randy Myers.
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It's fitting that a group of rag-tag players that nobody else found much value in is the strongest part of the upstart Orioles' squad, as it the same label that was put on the bulk of their roster heading into the season.
Yet this group has come together under the guidance of manager Buck Showalter to become the first Orioles' team to make the postseason in 15 years.
Whether it's life-long relievers or failed starting pitchers, the Orioles bullpen has been the strongest part of the team for the entire season.
Setup men Luis Ayala (2.66 ERA, 1.26 WHIP) and Pedro Strop (2.45 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) have been Showalter's go-to guys to get the ball in the hands of closer Jim Johnson (2-1, 2.53 ERA, 1.02 WHIP), who leads all of baseball with 50 saves.
Formerly a top prospect as a starter, Brian Matusz has found his calling in the bullpen, pitching to a 1.42 ERA and 0.63 WHIP while striking out 18 batters in 12.2 innings of work.
The Orioles bullpen has logged 539 innings of work, far more than any other playoff team and held opposing offenses to a .239 batting average, fifth best among all playoff teams. Their 3.02 ERA as a group ranks fifth in all of baseball.
In the American League, only the Oakland A's have a bullpen that has performed better.
The Orioles will need this group of rag-tag relievers to keep it together if the team has any chance of advancing through the American League playoffs and into the World Series.
Detroit Tigers: Quality Starting Pitching
Justin Verlander hasn't been quite as dominant as he was in 2011, but he's still one of the best in the game.
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It certainly helps that they have a potential MVP and Triple Crown winner anchoring their lineup in Miguel Cabrera, and that he's surrounded by quality batters like Austin Jackson and Prince Fielder, but it's pitching that wins championships, and the Tigers have plenty of that.
Only the Tampa Bay Rays had a more successful group of starting pitchers in the American League this year, as the Tigers rotation went 63-50 with a 3.77 ERA, striking out 880 batters, the most in the American League—and trailing only the Philadelphia Phillies in all of baseball.
Led by perennial Cy Young Award candidate Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA), four Tigers starters check in with ERA's under four. Aside from Verlander, Doug Fister (10-9, 3.38), Anibal Sanchez (4-6, 3.74) and Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.82) have all kept the Tigers in games, especially down the stretch.
Of the American League playoff teams, only the Oakland A's have a group of starters who have performed as well, though the Tigers group trumps them in experience.
It's that experience that the Tigers' rotation will need to draw from in order to continue to assert their dominance throughout the playoffs and into the World Series.
With Verlander leading the way, it's hard to bet against this bunch.
New York Yankees: The Long Ball
Curtis Granderson led the Yankees in home runs for the second consecutive season.
They don't call them the Bronx Bombers for nothing.
No team in baseball has hit more home runs than the Yankees, who have already surpassed their 2011 total of 222 by 18, with two games left to play.
The team has 10 players who have reached double-digit home run totals, led by Curtis Granderson with 41. Robinson Cano broke the 30-home run plateau for the first time in his career, and three players: Russell Martin (21), Nick Swisher (24) and Mark Teixeira (24) have more than 20.
Two other players have an outside chance to join that group, with both Alex Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez sitting with 18 home runs on the season.
For a team that has shaky starting pitching and a shaky bullpen and doesn't play small ball, the Yankees blueprint is simple—outscore the other team, regardless of how many runs it takes to get the job done.
This typically isn't a blueprint for postseason success, considering that they'll be facing the best pitchers that the other team has to offer. But the Yankees don't have another choice—they are what they are.
Oakland A's: Excellent Fielding
Josh Reddick hasn't only contributed with his bat in Oakland this season.
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You might be taken aback by that being a blueprint for the A's continued success, especially considering that their .982 fielding percentage is the lowest of any American League playoff team, and second lowest of any playoff team in the game, just above the San Francisco Giants' .981 mark.
But if we take a deeper look into the numbers, we learn that the A's are actually a more capable group with the glove than most.
According to Fangraphs, the team's 4.6 UZR/150 and 13 DRS are the best numbers for any American League playoff team, and trail only the Braves and Reds out of any team who has clinched a spot in the playoffs.
While the A's have a well-balanced attack, both at the plate and on the mound, continued excellence on defense will be vital as they attempt to march on to the World Series.
Texas Rangers: Timely Hitting
Elvis Andrus has been money with runners in scoring position.
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It's no secret that the Rangers have a potent offense, but the ability to succeed with runners in scoring position is not something that every playoff team can point to.
The Rangers can.
No American League playoff team has scored more runs with runners in scoring position than the Rangers, who have crossed home plate 568 times in that situation. With the team hitting .275 with a .792 OPS with runners on second and/or third, it's easy to see why.
Five Rangers' starters have an OPS of .800 or better with RISP: David Murphy (1.000), Mike Napoli (.938), Josh Hamilton (.918), Elvis Andrus (.861) and Adrian Beltre (.837). Combined, they have accounted for 269 RBI and 257 runs scored.
They'll need to keep that level of production up in the playoffs if the Rangers have their eyes set on an appearance in the Fall Classic.