Down The Home Stretch—Breaking Down The American League Playoff Picture
The dog days of summer are waning, and the cooler drier air of fall is not far away.
With fewer than 26 games remaining for the playoff contending teams of the American League, there are still a couple of questions that need to be answered.
Who will win the American League East?
Can the Chicago White Sox catch the Minnesota Twins?
With MVP candidate Josh Hamilton out of the line up and Cliff Lee missing a start, are the Texas Rangers in a free fall?
Here's my breakdown for the four AL playoff contending teams, and how they will finish out the regular season.
American League West: Texas Rangers
In Saturday's game against the Twins, Josh Hamilton made a great leaping catch at the center-field wall at Target Field. He would eventually leave the game with sore ribs.
Hamilton said he felt like he was hit by a truck. All I know is that at 6-4 and 240 lbs, I would not have wanted to be hit by Hamilton!
With an eight-game lead in the AL East, only a total collapse keeps the Rangers from winning the division.
Without their leading MVP candidate in the lineup the Rangers will struggle.
Hamilton is currently leading the league in hitting with a .361 batting average and has 31 home runs and 97 RBI.
Only two starting pitchers for the Rangers have a winning record.
C.J. Wilson is leading the team with a 14-6 record, 3.10 ERA, and a 1.21 WHIP.
Tommy Hunter is 12-2 in 17 starts with a 3.64 ERA, and a 1.26 WHIP.
Cliff Lee, after going 8-3 in Seattle, has not been himself in Texas, with a 2-5 record in 11 starts, a 4.69 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP for the Rangers.
He will miss his next scheduled start on Tuesday due to a strained muscle in his lower back.
Without Hamilton and a sub-par Lee the Rangers post season could be short.
Current record: 75-62 Second half: 25-23
Remaining games: 24
Record over their last 24 games: 10-14
Prediction: 12-13 to finish the season at 87-75
The Rangers will be AL West Division Champs.
American League Central: Minnesota Twins
With a record of 34-15, the Minnesota Twins continue to be the hottest team in the American League since the All-Star Break.
This has been accomplished even without the services of former MVP Justin Morneau, who has been out of the lineup since suffering a concussion in early July.
Michael Cuddyer has filled in admirably at first defensively, and Jim Thome has provided the power, leading the team with 20 home runs.
Minnesota's record in one-run games at 27-21, is the best among playoff teams.
With a 46-23 record at Target Field, only the New York Yankees have a better home record.
The Twins currently have the highest batting average in the AL at .278.
Their team ERA of 3.86 is second only to Tampa Bay's among playoff contending teams.
They are currently tied with the New York Yankees with the best fielding percent in the league.
The Twins starters have taken turns as the staff ace.
Carl Pavano looks to be the the number pitcher going into the playoffs. He is currently 16-10, with a 3.53 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and six complete games.
Francisco Liriano would get the ball next. The left-hander is12-7 with 3.27 ERA, and a 1.25 WHIP.
At this point the leading candidate for the third spot in the rotation would be Brian Duensing.
After being promoted from the bullpen, Duensing is 4-1, with a 2.38 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP in eight starts.
Current record: 81-57 Second half: 34-15
Remaining games: 24
Record over their last 24 games: 17-7
Prediction: 14-10 to finish the season at 95-67
The White Sox' attempt to catch the Twins will fall short, and Ron Gardenhire will win his sixth AL Central title in nine seasons.
American League East: Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays are currently the only team with a winning record against all three of the leading playoff contenders.
Their team ERA of 3.73, is currently second only to Oakland in the American League.
The weakness of the club could be their .250 batting average, 12th in the league.
However, they make up for it in the running game, with a league high 153 stolen bases, led by Carl Crawford's 41.
Even though the Rays will be the youngest among the playoff teams, they have more playoff experience on their roster than every team, except the Yankees.
The Rays' road record at 40-27, is the best in all of baseball.
Currently two games behind in the division, with seven games remaining against the Yankees, the Rays control their destiny.
David Price, a Cy Young candidate, would take the hill to start a playoff series. Price has a 16-6 record with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP.
Matt Garza, who pitched the Rays first no-hitter, would follow. Garza is 14-7 with a 3.46 ERA, and a 1.18 WHIP.
Jeff Niemann looks to be the third option with at 10-5 with a 3.97 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP.
Current record: 83-53 Second half: 29-19
Remaining games: 26
Record over their last 26 games: 16-10
Prediction: 16-10 to finish the season at 99-63
It will go down to the wire. The Rays will finish with a 10-8 record against the Yankees, and still fall one game short for the division title.
Tampa Bay will end up traveling to Minnesota in the divisional round of the playoffs.
American League East: New York Yankees
Even with the best record in baseball at 86-52, the Yankees have the smallest lead in the American league.
Their home record at Yankee Stadium of 48-24, is second only to the Atlanta Braves.
The Yankees have the best fielding percent, tied with the Twins, committing the fewest errors in the American League.
New York leads the league in runs scored with 746, 64 more than the closest pursuer.
With Mark Teixeria, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez, they boast the most formidable infield lineup in all of baseball.
New York currently has the fifth lowest team ERA in the AL at 3.88.
C.C. Sabathia, the leading Cy Young candidate, has a 19-5 record, a 3.02 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
Phil Hughes looks to be ready for the No. 2 role with a 16-7 record, 4.29 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.
With Andy Pettitte looking to make a minor league, post-season start this week, his return to the rotation will bolster a strong staff.
Pettitte is currently 11-2 with a 2.88 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP has been on the DL since mid-July.
Current record: 86-52 Second half: 30-19
Remaining games: 24
Record over their last 24 games: 15-9
Prediction: 14-10 to finish the season at 100-62.
The East will go down to the wire, and despite a losing record against the Rays, the Yankees will win the division and have the home-field advantage for the playoffs.
AL Playoff Picture
To summarize how the AL will end up:
AL West: Texas Rangers (87-75)
AL Central: Minnesota Twins (95-67)
AL East: New York Yankees (100-62)
Wild card: Tampa Bay Rays (99-63)
Twins will host the Rays at Target Field.
Yankees will host the Rangers in New York.
As for the playoff predictions, I'll leave that for another day.