It's Only May, But Which MLB Teams Can Stay?

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It's Only May, But Which MLB Teams Can Stay?
(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Raise your hand if you had Toronto, Texas, and Kansas City as your American League Division Leaders as of May 13th. 

Anyone?

That's what I thought.  We're on the same page, because neither did I. 

Granted, it's only May, and there is a lot of baseball left to be played.  Teams have roughly 125-plus games left on their 2009 schedules. 

But I am already looking ahead to October baseball (is there anything better?) 

The National League has most of the favorites on top.

The Dodgers, Mets, and Cardinals are sitting atop their respective divisions now, and it's hard to consider these as shocks.  All three teams are big on talent and play in large markets.

But oh, that American League.  What's up Blue Jays?  Hey Rangers, how are ya?  Royals, long time no see.

Can these teams stay at the top of their divisions?  Can they even stay in the upper half?  Let's examine each team so far, and their chances at reaching the post-season.

 

Here's what we know about the Royals:

Zack Greinke is good.  59 strikeouts against eight walks is phenomenal.  His ERA barely exists (0.51) and his WHIP is equally as impressive (0.79). 

His presence will allow the Royals a fighting chance three out of every five games. 

This is because the day before Greinke pitches, the bullpen can be used a little more aggressively than it normally would, figuring that Greinke will go a solid seven or eight innings the following game. 

If Greinke does, in fact, throw a solid seven or eight innings, that becomes the second winnable game, while the next game will have a rested bull pen, and another chance at victory.  Anyone who says one starting pitcher can't make a difference because he only throws once every five days is a joker. 

If that one starter is someone of Greinke's ability, it can make a huge difference. 

This roster as a whole is quietly becoming something of a force.  Mark Teahan is performing well, as are Coco Crisp and Alberto Callaspo. 

If the Royals can get Alex Gordon healthy, this team can go places in a weak division.

What we don't know about the Royals:

If they hang around the division lead for an extended period of time, how will they respond?  This team has been very bad for several years, and no one can be sure how they would handle sustained success.

Also, is Joakim Soria's shoulder going to be an issue for the rest of the season?  The Mexacutioner had 47 saves last year and was off to another stellar start in the season.  Do you really feel confident with Juan Cruz closing big games down the stretch?

 

Here's what we know about the Blue Jays:

They also have an ace, and if not for Greinke, Roy Halladay would be the early-season Cy Young frontrunner. 

The five-time All-Star has pitched at least 200 innings in each of the last three seasons.  Halladay also never walks batters, while striking out more than his fair share.

The Jays have a talented outfield consisting of veterans Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, and newcomer Travis Snider.  Throw in DH Adam Lind, and you have one of the top outfields in the game. 

Wells, when healthy, has always been good (career .283 hitter with good HR totals) and Rios has a unique power/speed combination that few posses. 

Lind is only 25, while Snider is even younger at 21.  Both have bright futures in the league, with Lind hitting well over .300 so far, and Snider maintaining a solid .250 average.

What we don't know about the Blue Jays:

Any other starting pitcher besides Halladay.  Robert Ray, Scott Richmond, Brian Tallet, and Brett Cecil comprise the rest of the starting staff, which is without injured arms Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, and Jesse Litsch. 

For the Blue Jays to have any serious dreams of contending in the unforgiving AL East, they'll need these relatively unknown pitchers to step up and perform.  Scott Richmond has pitched well so far, posting an ERA in the low-threes.

Their closer situation appears cloudy as well.  B.J. Ryan, hurt and ineffective, has been replaced by Scott Downs. 

When Ryan returns, will the closer job be there waiting for him? Only time will tell.

 

Here's what we know about the Rangers:

They are a well-oiled machine offensively, to say the least.  Their 55 team home runs lead baseball while their .281 team batting average places them sixth. 

One look at their lineup is all you need to know about their offensive reputation.  Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Marlon Byrd, and Nelson Cruz are anchoring the group while Josh Hamilton recovers from injury. 

Once Hamilton heats up, there will be no stopping this offensive club.  Hitting in Texas for 81 games a year also doesn't hurt the issue for any of these guys.

We also know that the Rangers have taken advantage of a weak division, made weaker by the absence of John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Vladimir Guerrero from the defending AL West Champion Angels.

The Rangers have, at the very least, positioned themselves for a run at the division while the Angels have nursed their wounds.

What we don't know about the Rangers:

Can they win a division without pitching?  Simply put—no, they cannot. 

While their team ERA is actually better than five American League teams, they rank dead last in team strikeouts, suggesting there is no real talent on this pitching staff.

Kevin Millwood is not a pitcher who will maintain a 2.92 ERA, and he is the so-called ace of their staff.  His BABIP of .231 suggests that he is the beneficiary of good luck more than his pure talent.

He also is striking out a mediocre 4.6 batters per nine innings, hardly the stuff of a staff ace. 

The rotation behind him is nothing to write home about.  All four starters have ERA's of at least 4.70. 

There will be no way the Rangers can win with such a depressing starting rotation. 

Of these teams, look for the Royals to hang around the longest.  Their team has a lot going for them in my opinion, so why not give them a chance?

I have my mind on October already, but May-jor League Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, and nothing is set in stone this early in the year.

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