The American League playoff race is a little less crowded than the National League race. The Los Angeles Angels have already clinched their division but will be playing for home field advantage throughout the postseason.
The surprise team in Major League Baseball continues to hold off their big money spending division rivals. The Tampa Bay Rays have built a contender by drafting wisely and plugging in veterans where they are needed. The story of the Rays’ season starts and ends¬†with pitching. The starting pitching staff has five starters with 11 or more wins and that has much to do with the staff staying pretty much healthy all year. The Rays have only had two pitchers make starts outside of their regular five-man rotation which has led to the third best team ERA in the majors. Offensively, the Rays rank in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories except stolen bases where they have the second best team total. Will the, pretty much unknown, pitching staff hold up down the stretch? Can the young Rays hold off the veteran Red Sox down the stretch?
The Boston Red Sox continue to play solid baseball. The pitching staff is led by Daisuke Matsuzaka, 16-2; 2.97 ERA, and Jon Lester, 14-5; 3.23 ERA. Jonathan Papelbon has continued to show that he is one of the premier closers with 36 saves. The subtraction of Manny Ramirez has been offset by the addition of Jason Bay. Bay, since coming over from Pittsburgh, is batting .293 with 7 HR and 33 RBI in 36 games. You can list many other offensive stars on this team but none has played bigger than Dustin Pedroia. The 5’9″ second baseman is batting .327 with 17 HR, 78 RBI and 112 runs scored. He is a legitimate MVP-candidate as he leads the league in batting, hits, runs scored and¬†doubles.¬†Will David Ortiz’s left wrist and J.D. Drew’s back be healthy enough to allow them to contribute? Can Josh Beckett be that strong third arm to go along with Matsuzaka and Lester?
The Chicago White Sox are limping towards the finish line. They currently have Joe Crede, Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin all suffering from injuries that will keep them on the bench for various amounts of time. Konerko is hoping to come back next weekend, Crede is hampered by a bad back that might keep him out¬†for the¬†season and Carlos Quentin had surgery¬†to repair his fractured right wrist that should end his season. Those players have combined for 69 HR, 205 RBI and 188 runs scored. The¬†White Sox will have to depend on Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome and Nick Swisher to pick up the slack. The pitching staff will have to overcome the loss of Jose Contreras who returned from forearm tendinitis to only rupture his achilles’ tendon. Can the White Sox¬†compete with so many players on the DL? Who will take Contreras’ spot in the rotation?
The Minnesota Twins have been bolstered by the return of starting pitcher Francisco Liriano who is 5-0 since being recalled on August 1st.¬†Liriano is probably the only name that most fans would recognize in the Twins’ starting staff since Johan Santana was traded to the Mets. But the Twins are once again in contention for the AL Central division crown. The identity of this team is offense where they rank third in team average and runs scored, but last in home runs with 101. The lack of power in the lineup is negated by the AL-leading .311 average with runners in scoring position. The¬†catalyst is 2006 MVP, Jusin Morneau, who is batting¬†.310 with 23 HR, 42 doubles and 120 RBI.¬†Will Liriano’s arm hold up after last year’s surgery? Can the middle relief hold a lead to get to Joe Nathan?
The Los Angeles Angels have clinched the division.
The Boston Red Sox have control of the wildcard with Minnesota five games back.
AL East – The Rays will have enough to hold off the Red Sox
AL Central – The Twins will take advantage of an injury-depleted White Sox team
AL West – Easiest division to predict – Angels by a landslide
Wildcard – The Red Sox will get the consolation prize of travelling out west to face the Angels