Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Quarter Pole: American League

The season is now 75% of the way over. It seems like a good time to look around and see how things are shaping up for the final 40 games or so. Who's likely to win each division? Who's likely to win the wildcard spots in each league? What might happen once the playoffs arrive? Which players could be headed to an MVP or Cy Young award? All good questions. I don't just want to focus on the good though, I'm interested in the worst teams and players too! So, get caught up on what you may have missed and laugh at me as I try to guess what happens the rest of the way!

(and click here for my take on the National League)

THE WEST

The Rangers are comfortably in first place here, but that's not much of a surprise.

What's happened to the Angels?! After a rough April put them in a deep hole, they were perhaps the best team in baseball over the next three months. Then August rolled around and the Angels have been a complete mess, going just 5-13 since the calendar turned. They'd pulled within 3 games of Texas on July 31st, but now they're 9.5 games back. They've also gone from sitting on a wildcard spot to being 4 games out. Mike Trout has been an absolute monster and after his awful first month or so of the season, Albert Pujols has been Albert Pujols; it's the offense that's to blame. Trading for Zack Greinke was supposed to solidify the Angels rotation as the best in the American League, but the team is carrying a 6.76 ERA for the month, far and away the worst in baseball. They have time to bounce back again, but had better get on with it if they're going to.

Meanwhile... Oakland. At the end of play on June 10th they were 26-35, in last place in the division. Since then? They've gone 39-21, which is the best record in the American League. They're not going to catch Texas, but they're only half a game out of the second wildcard, so that's certainly in play. They have the second best ERA in the A.L. and while some of that us due to their ballpark, their arms are legit. Their lineup isn't great, but they just filled the black hole they've had at shortstop all season (an OPS of just .568 for the season there) by trading for Stephen Drew, who (if healthy) should be a good-sized upgrade.

THE CENTRAL

The Tigers were supposed to be the class of the division and win it by a comfortable margin, but that's not how it's played out. Led by Justin Verlander, their rotation has been fairly solid, but their offense, which many expected to be the best in baseball, has been pretty close to league average. Miguel Cabrera continues to be arguably the best hitter in baseball, Prince Fielder has been pretty close to his career norms (which are not quite as impressive as his reputation), and Austin Jackson has taken a legitimate step up at the plate and turned into a star, but the rest of the lineup has been inconsistent at best and downright bad at worst. Many still see Detroit as the best team in the division, but aside from a three-week stretch in July, they have not looked like it.

The White Sox have spent most of the season in 1st place. They've never had a lead bigger than 3.5 games and on more than one occasion they've looked like they were going to come apart, but since taking over first on May 29th, they've spent just eight days behind anyone else in the division. They've scored the third most runs in the A.L. They got a great start from Paul Konerko before injuries slowed him. Adam Dunn is leading the league in home runs, walks, and strikeouts, which only five players in history have ever done (Babe Ruth, Hack Wilson, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, and Dale Murphy), none since 1985. A.J. Pierzynski has set a career high in home runs at the age of 35, hitting more home runs at such an advanced age than any catcher in baseball history but Carlton Fisk. Alex Rios is giving Dunn a run for comeback player of the year. July acquisition Kevin Youkilis was dreadful in Boston for fifteen weeks, but has been great for the Pale Hose over the last month. The Sox have also allowed the 4th fewest runs in the league, led by Cy Young candidate Chris Sale and the best Jake Peavy we've seen in years.

Meanwhile, the Royals, Indians, and Twins have been the three worst teams in the American League. Minnesota currently has the worst record, but Cleveland has the worst run differential, and has been slowly falling towards the bottom in wins and losses too.

THE EAST

The Yankees sit in 1st place, as they have for most of the season. Their lead had ballooned to 10 games five week ago, but is down to 4 games now. It should not be surprising that a team with so many veteran players has lost some production to the disabled list. CC Sabathia has missed some time recently, but is expected back soon and Hiroki Kuroda has been outstanding of late, the rotation has been something of a rough patchwork beyond those two, but the results haven't been too bad. Robinson Cano has led the offense, which has been among the best in baseball, same as in just about every season over the last two decades.

The Rays are 15-4 over the last three weeks, in which time they've gone from being out of the playoffs, to sitting on a 2.5 game lead in the wildcard standings and just 4 games back of New York for 1st place in the East and the best record in the American League. After some injuries earlier in the year, the team has gotten fairly healthy and seems a good bet to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, after finishing in last place for nine of the team's first ten years in existence.

Baltimore is currently sitting in the second wildcard spot, though it's hard to say how. They have one of the worst offenses in baseball and their starting pitching is below average too. They've been outscored by 47 runs over the course of the season, which is not something that's said about playoff teams. With 40 games to play, it's certainly possible they make the playoffs, but it seems equally possible that they go something like 14-26 over those 40 games and finish with a losing record. Strange team.

Boston is here, but the less said about them, the better.

PREDICTIONS

The Angels play better than they have in August, but not well enough to undo the damage. Detroit pulls ahead of Chicago, but the Sox have enough games left against the dregs of the Central to hold off other wildcard contenders. The Yankees get guys back, put a little more space back between themselves and Tampa, and finish with the best record in the A.L. The Rays finish a few games ahead of any other 2nd place team though.

West: Texas
Central: Detroit
East: New York
Wildcards: Tampa and Chicago

Champion: New York

MVP Contenders: Mike Trout
Runner-Up Contenders: Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson, Edwin Encarnacion
Cy Young Candidates: Verlander, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, David Price, Hiroki Kuroda






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