Cliff Lee Trade: What Does It Mean to the AL Playoff Picture?

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Cliff Lee Trade: What Does It Mean to the AL Playoff Picture?
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Texas Rangers shook up the race to October in the AL when they swooped in yesterday and acquired the best pitcher on the market, Cliff Lee.

It looked like the New York Yankees had done everything but sign the paperwork to trade for Lee yesterday, but Jon Daniels and his staff sweetened the pot enough at the last minute to close the deal with the Mariners.

The Rangers front office packaged Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, and two other prospects in a trade to get Cliff Lee and right-handed reliever Mark Lowe.

Looking forward, this trade has serious implications on who will make the postseason and how those teams will fare playing baseball in October.

Before the trade, the Rangers had a fairly good chance of winning the AL West (90 percent according to Baseball Prospectus), so this trade doesn't really take the Rangers from non-contender to contender, but it does improve their chances in the playoffs.

Their potent lineup combined with a starting rotation of Cliff Lee, the surprising Colby Lewis, CJ Wilson, Tommy Hunter, and Rich Harden/Derek Holland looks very solid going forward and that top three or four looks really good for a playoff run.

The other main effect this trade has on the landscape of the AL is the way it severely damaged the Angels' chances at winning a fourth straight division title.

The Angels have already been a bit of a disappointment this season, as they currently sit at 47-42 and 4.5 games back in the division. They have also given up more runs than they have scored this season and don't really show any signs of heating up any time soon.

The Rangers transformed themselves from a playoff team to a serious AL championship contender by adding an ace to the top of their rotation, and the rest of the AL should take notice.

Assuming the Rangers get to the playoffs, how would they rank among the four teams that make the playoffs from the AL?

The Yankees are still probably the best team in the league, but the Rangers closed the gap quite a bit with the trade. The Yanks probably shouldn't be considered the clear favorites in the AL anymore, but they probably still slightly have the best chance to represent the league in the World Series.

With the trade, the Rangers probably sit at the second slot in the AL, especially with the guys at the top of their rotation to go along with their lineup.

Colby Lewis has been a solid number two pitcher this season and should match up well with any other number two in the playoffs. The same thing can be said for CJ Wilson and the number three spot.

The other teams that rank below these two leaders include the Red Sox/Rays and then the AL Central contenders.

There is still a long way to go in this season, but it looks like the Rangers joined the Yankees at the top of the AL and it looks like they have both separated themselves from the pack.

The Red Sox could be in that upper echelon when they are healthy, but we will see if they can get everyone back in time to make a run.

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