With every passing day on the slow march toward October, the American League playoff contenders look more and more clear-cut. Here’s my take on the AL heading into September:
At this point, it’s Baltimore’s division to lose. The O’s keep picking up steam and lead the second-place Yankees by six games as of this point in time. Only four teams in history have failed to win their division when six games up on September 1. As long as the Orioles can avoid any major losing streaks in the last week of August they should be able to coast their way to their first division title since ’97.
Below them, the Yankees are hungry for a wild card spot but will have difficulty getting it; the East, normally the best division in the League, has dropped behind the West in a surprising downturn. The Blue Jays, who started the season off so strong, have all but fallen off a cliff and sit in sixth for a wild card spot. Lucky for them, they share a division with the Rays, who are playing just-under-.500-baseball, and the Red Sox, who now exist only as fodder for the other teams in the division (silently sobs into Red Sox cap).
The Royals are truly the Cinderella story of the AL. Does anybody remember the last time the Royals were this good? Me neither. Kansas City broke .500 last year for only the first time in 20 years. This year, they’re two up on the Tigers in the Central and a dark horse to win the pennant.
The Tigers right now epitomize the phrase “in the hunt.” At a game and a half behind in the Central and a half game back in the Wild Card, the Tigers must finish well to have a chance at the postseason. Their best shot is to win the Central division, since 23 of their last 26 games come against teams from the Central, six of which are against the Royals.
The rest of the Central is just okay. Nobody is particularly horrible-the Indians are just above .500 and the White Sox and Twins are just below, but far enough back to be out of contention. Expect them to try to play the spoiler-nothing would satisfy Twins fans quite like denying the Tigers a division crown.
This is, by far, the most interesting division in the AL right now. The A’s and Angels are tied for the division lead, the first Wild Card spot and the best record in baseball; Seattle currently holds the second Wild Card spot by a whisker. This is a prime example of why the changes to the Wild Card are working: Seattle is not a bad team and very well might upset the clearly more talented A’s or Angels in a one game playoff. Winning the division is more important now than it was three years ago.
I’m curious to see if Anaheim can maintain it’s meteoric pace without their now-injured ace Garrett Richards, out for the season on a knee injury. If they can keep it up until late September then they’ll have one final obstacle (the Angels and A’s play each other three times in Oakland in the penultimate series of the year). Seattle, on the other hand, plays the Angels seven times and the A’s six. If they want a wild card spot, they’ll have to earn it, but don’t expect them to. They just drew a really tough schedule.
The bottom of the division barely deserves mention. The Astros are the 3rd worst team in baseball right now (I watched them play three games over the summer; Chris Carter and Jose Altuve are the only reason that the team still takes the field) and the Rangers are the worst, the only team in the league playing sub-.400 baseball.
1st Wild Card: Angels
2nd Wild Card: Tigers