As the calendar turns to September, there are only five American League teams that can consider themselves true playoff contenders: the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox in the AL East; the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins in the AL Central; and the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.
Only one of these five will not make the postseason.
The Angels have all but locked up the division. The Rays are in great shape as well. The Red Sox, White Sox, and Twins are in fierce battles for the final two spots.
Each of these five teams have seen players come on this season and make very valuable contributions to the ball club. Here is a look at a rookie from each of these five teams who has a chance to become a household name, and help their team towards a World Series.
ALEXEI RAMIREZ - 2B/OF, Chicago White Sox
Key Stats: .309 AVG, 15 HR, 60 RBI, 10 SB (109 games)
To many fans, this name won't come as too big of a surprise. He is a leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year honors.
For those less familiar with Ramirez, think Alfonso Soriano, of the South Side. This guy can flat out hit, and doesn't see many pitches that he can't hit. Hard.
Ramirez, 26, made his Major League debut on Opening Day of 2008. He struggled early on, with just five hits in his first 36 ML at bats. In mid-May, however, Ramirez started playing every day, and his hitting has taken off since. He has hit .327 since May 12, including a .355 average in June and .341 in July. He also drove in 22 runs in the month of August.
Even with his success, Manager Ozzie Guillen has kept him in the bottom third of the lineup, behind the veterans Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, and Ken Griffey Jr. This should allow Ramirez to continue to see a lot of good pitches to hit, even into the postseason.
National League pitchers who have yet to face Ramirez be warned: no fastball you throw is safe with this guy's bat speed.
DENARD SPAN - OF, Minnesota Twins
Key Stats: .301 AVG, .385 OBP, 44 R, 13 SB (67 games)
The Twins thought they had their leadoff hitter for 2008 and beyond, in Carlos Gomez. Gomez was acquired from the New York Mets in the Johan Santana deal, and was immediately inserted into the leadoff spot on Opening Day. His failure to consistently get on base, however, opened the door for Span.
Span, 24, was recalled to the ball club back on June 30, and since then has been excellent as the Twins everyday leadoff man. Span's outstanding speed has brought both excitement to the lineup and to the outfield, where he has already made several highlight-worthy plays in right field.
The ability to consistently get on base has made Span a very important player to watch. In the 56 games he has played since June 30, he has reached base at least once in all but eight of them, very impressive for a rookie. Perhaps even more impressive: Span is hitting better on the road (.317), without the friendly turf bounces of the Metrodome. As a left-handed hitter, he is also hitting better against lefties at .315.
However, you look at it, Span would be a very tough out, in any situation, in October.
JED LOWRIE - SS/3B, Boston Red Sox
Key Stats: .278 AVG, 17 2B, 35 RBI (56 games)
Manager Terry Francona has been forced to endure a lot of changes to his lineup this season, whether it be from injuries (David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, JD Drew, etc.), deadline deals (Manny Ramirez out, Jason Bay and Mark Kotsay in), or just plain inconsistency (Jacoby Ellsbury, Julio Lugo, Drew again). However, a fixture in the lineup has quietly developed recently. That would be Jed Lowrie.
Lowrie, 24, made his ML debut back on April 15, but saw very limited playing time throughout the first half of the season. He had just 47 at bats prior to the All Star break. Since then, Lowrie has assumed the starting job at shortstop, and has also seen some time at third base since the injury to Lowell. Lowrie has not disappointed at the plate, hitting .278 since the break, and driving 24 runs in the month of August.
He has been hitting consistenly in the six or seven spot in Francona's lineup, giving him some good RBI opportunities behind Kevin Youkilis and Bay. He should get the opportunity in the postseason to drive in some big runs for the Red Sox, especially if Lowell does not fully recover from his injury in time for the playoffs.
EVAN LONGORIA - 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
Key Stats: .278 AVG, 22 HR, 71 RBI (104 games)
I know, this one is pretty obvious. The stats pretty much speak for themselves for the likely frontrunner for AL ROY. There weren't many other choices though. The Rays do not have another rookie on their current roster. This team is full of players in their second, third, and fourth seasons in the majors.
Keep in mind, Longoria has been out since August 7 with a wrist injury, and he is not expected to return until the middle of next week, according to raysbaseball.com. It will be interesting to see how well he hits for the last couple weeks of the regular season, coming off that injury.
It should be interesting to see how Longoria would do in his first postseason. Not much has fazed the 22 year old hitting phenom in his first season, however, and Rays fans should still be very optimistic he would be a major contributor in the postseason.
JOSE ARREDONDO - RP, Los Angeles Angels
Key Stats: 7-1, 1.13 ERA, 13 HLD (40 games)
In his debut season, Arredondo has been largely overshadowed by his bullpen mate Francisco Rodriguez, and his pursuit of the single season saves record.
Arredondo has quietly assumed the role of set-up man to "K-Rod", pitching primarily the seventh and/or eighth inning. Since being called up on May 14, Arredondo has been spectacular for the Angels, allowing a grand total of six earned runs in his 47 2/3 innings pitched.
He has allowed just 33 hits this season, while striking out 41. He has also pitched more than one inning in 19 of his 40 outings, making him more valuable should one of the outstanding Angels starters have an early exit in a postseason game.
At just 24, Arredondo may very well be the Angels' closer of the future, if they can not re-sign K-Rod this offseason. For now, contending AL teams should simply worry about Arredondo's presence on the mound this October. It may be reminiscent of K-Rod's postseason debut back in 2002.