With the playoffs finally being set as of 9:46 p.m. Eastern time, the American League playoff picture has finally been painted.
Beginning Oct. 7, four A.L. teams will begin a post-season that is sure to leave many fans holding their collective breaths.
Not only does every team have a loaded lineup full of players with high on-base percentages, but each has a pitching staff of uncertainties that they will be reliant upon to help them capture the American League pennant.
Both individual and team matchups will be key as previous post-season experience has taught us and there are sure to be post-season heroes who no one thought would have such a significant impact in the course each series takes.
Managers Terry Francona, Mike Scioscia, and Ron Gardenhire have proven that they are some of the best managers in baseball. Yankees manager Joe Girardi will have the most to prove with the least experience.
With that in mind and the matchups being complete, the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Twins will make their leap towards history and hope that they can reach the promised land known as the World Series.
With each team having their own strengths and uncertainties, I delve into why each team may succeed or fail in the post-season.
New York Yankees
With the best record in baseball, the Yankees are primed for a run towards their 27th World Championship and their first World Series appearance since 2003. The pitching staff finally has a legitimate ace in C.C. Sabathia, who showed his playoff mettle and clutch ability by pitching his team into the playoffs on three or four days rest with the Brewers last season.
Sabathia will need to prove that resilience once again and give Yankees fans a reason to understand the outrageously high contract Brian Cashman doled out before the season began. A few dominant outings should help him earn his stripes and at least some of that money.
Following Sabathia will be the always inconsistent A.J. Burnett. Burnett has the talent to shut out the Twins in the first round, but also the ability to to give up eight runs in four innings.
Andy Pettitte and the bullpen should have the most success in the playoffs as the veteran starting pitcher returns to playoff form. This form may not be exactly the Pettitte of old, but rather of a new "old Pettitte."
Yet with a bullpen that can rival that of those during the 1990s, Pettitte shouldn't have that much pressure on him, knowing six innings of three-run ball can get him a win.
Considering that rotation, manager Joe Girardi decided to have a day off between games 1 and 2, giving the Twins less time to rest before they head to New York.
By choosing this schedule, New York chose to possibly give C.C. Sabathia two starts in a four-game series. The Yankees could have chosen to start Joba Chamberlain for the fourth game, but manager Joe Girardi chose otherwise and decided to place him in the bullpen.
Adding Chamberlain to a bullpen of David Robertson, Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Hughes and some elderly citizen named Mariano Rivera, gives the starting pitchers for New York some much-needed backup, knowing that every win could essentially come down to the first six innings.
Offensively, the Yankees have little to worry about. Although the big bats for the Bombers cooled down at season's end, they should pull it together against a struggling Detroit pitching staff.
If Alex Rodriguez can continue his hot hitting behind new Yankees first baseman, Mark Teixeira, he may finally give the Yankees faithful a reason to remove the post-season choke artist tag from the back of his uniform.
Rodriguez's teammates will appreciate the effort as some like Teixeira, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher get their first opportunity to earn a place in Yankees lore.
New York's playoff hopes will lie in the hands of both Rodriguez and Burnett as both players have the most questions to answer going into the playoffs.
Boston Red Sox
Without the Red Sox there is no Yankees and vice versa. With Tampa once again taking a backseat in the playoff hunt, both teams are back and competing.
Once again, the Red Sox have proven that they belong among the elite from the beginning of the season to the end.
The Boston offense has gotten better as the season has progressed despite injuries. With Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis leading the charge, the Sawx having been scoring five or more runs on a daily basis and show no signs of slowing down.
If Jason Bay can join them in the hit parade, Boston should be able to at least counter a strong Angels pitching staff.
The Red Sox rotation is also finally coming together and getting healthy during the right time of the year. Jon Lester is as imposing as ever and his post-season success will be tested against an Angels team that is flying under the radar.
Yet with Josh Beckett as a legitimate No. 1 pitcher on any other team, Lester can falter with the Red Sox still pulling out the series win.
Arguably, during the last decade, there has been no better playoffs pitcher than Beckett. If he can keep his fastball down, the Angels have a long series (or should I say short) series ahead.
Following Beckett will be Clay Bucholz, one of the most intriguing pitchers in all of baseball. Still unproven, Bucholz will likely amp up his speed and energy for his first playoff appearance and remains a major question mark for Boston.
Yet with Daisuke Matsuzaka returning from injury, the Sox have one of the best backup plans in baseball. If Matsuzaka starts game 4 after a Red Sox loss, Boston will have a prime opportunity to recover.
As usual, Dice-K has continued to put men on base and find his way out of innings without injury. With a team like the Angels, that plays "small-ball" that will likely prove valuable once the series gets underway.
The Boston bullpen is probably the one part of the team that has Terry Francona concerned. Outside of Jonathan Papelbon, the Boston bullpen has not proved itself to be as compelling as its talent suggests.
Unlike the Yankees, Boston's young pen has not settled the way the Red Sox planned and much will rest on Billy Wagner, Hideki Okajima, and youngster Ramon Ramirez.
Yet there is little doubt the Boston rotation is far better than the Yankees and should at least ease the woes of Francona as he makes decisions during gametime.
According to the pundits, power pitching is what wins in October. The Red Sox have plenty of that from top to bottom. Now the question becomes as to whether those power arms can harness their talent.
If the Boston bullpen can keep those 95-mph fastballs from drawing walks or leaving the park, the Red Sox will have the best chance possible against an Angels team who seems to have problems facing Boston every October.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels have continued to play "Angel baseball," despite the losses of major superstars Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez. Playing small-ball and waiting for the opportunistic home run has kept the offense as stable as ever.
Replacing Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes has done more than hold his own since coming over from Colorado and has given then Angels an efficient closer.
Anaheim's offense has been both stunted and energized by the health of Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter. With Guerrero as healthy as he has been in years and Hunter not running into walls as of late, the Angels playoff picture is much brighter than last year.
Kendry Morales is arguably the most improved player in baseball and has given the Angels a dangerous bat and solid glove at first base.
The price that they would have paid Teixeira, for similar production, proved that the Angels, once again, made a wise move.
Surrounding those two big bats, are the "small-ball" bats of role players like Chone Figgins, Howie Kendrick, and Erick Aybar.
Figgins' speed has proven to be invaluable in the playoffs and Kendrick's extra-base hit propensities will be necessary against the fireballers of the Red Sox.
Aybar and catcher Mike Napoli will need to provide some timely hits at the bottom of the lineup to keep Boston's pitching staff honest.
Most importantly, the Angels pitching staff is better than ever. With John Lackey leading the post-season staff, the Angels will start off with their best and most experienced pitcher.
Since free agency for Lackey is only a few months away and with few other pitchers of his caliber on the market, he will surely push himself to the limit come playoff time.
Jered Weaver will follow as the Angels phenom tries to entrench himself as the future ace of this young Angels franchise.
Newcomer Scott Kazmir has cemented the third spot in the rotation, with Ervin Santana heading for the bullpen as a bridge to closer Brian Fuentes. Since his acquisition, Kazmir has been extremely successful and given the Angels another building block for the future.
If Kazmir can stay healthy he could prove to be the most significant starter for the Angels, especially if he can regain his previous dominance against the Red Sox and Yankees.
One of the most underrated pitchers in all of baseball, lefty, Joe Saunders will likely take the fourth spot in the rotation as he attempts to continue the consistency he has had all season.
Replacing Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes has done more than hold his own since coming over from Colorado and has given then Angels an efficient closer.
The bullpen for Anaheim has had an extreme facelift over the season, with the game now in the hands of Fuentes, Jose Arredondo, Jason Bulger, and Matt Palmer.
If Santana can acclimate himself quickly to the bullpen, the Angels' bullpen could truly be a force to deal with this October.
With Anaheim's previous dominance over the Yankees, New York should almost hope to see the Red Sox win or at least see Anaheim struggle so they could assure themselves of a better chance at postseason success.
Yet for the Angels to even have chance at facing the Yankees in the next round they will need to hope Kazmir pitches a great game against Bucholz during game 3.
The Twinkies just managed to squeak out a 6-5 win against the Tigers and are probably still feeling the affects both negatively and positively of a 12-inning game.
Yet the Twins are probably the hottest team in the American League, winning game after game down the stretch to win their division.
Most importantly, they played with heart and that can take you a long way as the Colorado Rockies have showed during previous seasons.
Offensively, Joe Mauer is the anchor of a lineup that many people aren't familiar with. The superstar catcher, however, has proven he can take Minnesota a long way and his newfound power will need to continue for the Twins to have success this post-season.
Besides Mauer, the Twins have two impressive hitters in outfielder Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel.
Both proving to be legitimate 30 home run, 100 RBI players, Cuddyer and Kubel have given Minnesota the lift they needed after a season-ending injury to first baseman Justin Morneau.
Yet Minnesota's most important player this postseason will likely be Orlando Cabrera. If the Twins are going to have any chance against the Yankees, Cabrera will need to wreak havoc.
With his extra-base-hitting potential, the former Oakland A's shortstop will have to lead a Twins team that has no impact players at the bottom of its lineup.
In its rotation, Minnesota has filled the cupboard with young pitchers who have never tasted a post-season. Likely beginning with youngster Brian Duensing, the Twins will send their most inexperienced starting pitcher to the mound. Besides having one of the best last names in baseball, the young lefthander has quickly proven to the Twins he belongs in the majors. With good command and a moundful of nerves, the former University of Nebraska standout will make his first visit to New York where he will make the biggest start of his life against a well rested Yankees squad.
The second spot in the rotation will probably go to Nick Blackburn. In Blackburn, Minnesota will send to the mound one of the best groundball pitchers in baseball. Not only has Blackburn been the Twins best pitcher, but with Scott Baker pitching in their battle with the Tigers, he is the obvious choice. If Baker still can't go by game 3, former Yankee Carl Pavano will, likely, take the third spot.
Pavano had a great September for the Twins, but his October has been less than stellar. If Pavano can at least log some innings, if Baker isn't ready, Minnesota should at least be able to extend the series and make it interesting.
In the bullpen, Minnesota isn't nearly as strong as it has been in previous years. Yet the one consistency that remains is closer Joe Nathan.
The pitching equivalent of Joe Mauer, Nathan is a close to a shutdown closer as you can find in all of baseball. If the Twins can get the ball to him in the ninth, you can all but close the book on that game against New York.
If seventh and eighth inning relievers Jon Rauch and Matt Guerrier can do their job and continue their strong efforts from the regular season the Twinkies could make it a 6 inning game just like New York.
If Cabrera fails to produce and Pavano doesn't pitch well in the possible stead of Scott Baker the Twins could quickly go downhill.
Based upon the matchups, the Yankees and Red Sox should once again be battling it out for an AL pennant. The Angels have all the pieces, but have traditionally struggled against Boston.
The Twins bats are still unpredictable and their rotation is still unproven. If A.J. Burnett can pitch anything close to his caliber of talent, the Yankees bullpen should be able to get them past Boston, but if he doesn't you can expect the Yankees to struggle, especially if the Red Sox can get their bullpen on the same page as their rotation.
Any way it turns out, however, the A.L. pennant winner will likely be the favorite going into the World Series.
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