Sunday, July 16, 2006

Who's going to the playoffs in the American League?

As of this writing, things are pretty tight in all races, as I suppose it to be expected at this time of year. Let's look at the standings and potential winners of each race:

EAST
Boston: -
New York: 1.5 GB
Toronto: 4.5 GB

CENTRAL
Detroit: -
Chicago: 4.5 GB
Minnesota: 12 GB

WEST
Oakland: -
Texas: -
LA/Anaheim: 1.5 GB
Seattle: 3.0 GB

WILDCARD
Chicago: -
New York: 4.0
Toronto: 7.0
Minnesota: 7.5

First let's get the AL West out of the way, because there's definitely only going to be one team in the playoffs from that division. Before the year I picked the A's to win the whole shebang, but now, well, I'm definitely have second thoughts. The pitching hasn't been that good, Rich Harden is never healthy, and they've had disappointments on offense (namely, the left side of the infield). Meanwhile, the Angels look to be moving up. They potentially have one of the top rotations in baseball (don't look now, but John Lackey is turning himself into a Cy Young contender). I like the Angels to take the West, especially if they let some of the young hitters play.

Next we move to the East, where it's sorta the same old song and dance. Sure, the Blue Jays are a very nice team, and they have the best starter in the division, but they need AJ Burnett to stay healthy, and I'm not betting on that. Which leaves the Sox and the Yanks. Historically, the Yanks almost always seem to come out ahead, and I like them to do it again and take the division. For one, look at the pitching. The Sox are led by Curt Schilling (who was impressive Saturday), but after that they have a struggling Josh Beckett, Wakefield, a rookie in Jon Lester, and Kyle Snyder (who is pitching tomorrow). Sure, Clement's on the DL right now, but he's been pretty awful so far this year.

The Yanks don't have anyone of Schilling's caliber, but Mussina has been pretty darn solid this year. Behind him, Johnson and Wang aren't exactly going to make anyone too confident, but they're solid. Jaret Wright has also been surprising capable so far this year. I'm not too high on Sidney Ponson in the AL, but the other 4 are better than the Red Sox 4 right now, IMO. Offensively, it's close to a wash, although the Sox do have an advantage with Sheff and Matsui still out (any idea when they'll be back). Neither bullpen (other than the closers) inspire much confidence either. If you force me to make a pick, I'll go with Yankees, but I'm not overly confident about it.

In the Central, the Tigers seem to never lose, which makes them difficult to catch. Even more, they've been exceptional on the road with a 33-19 mark. The Sox are 4.5 back, but they've still got a deep pitching staff, and with Jim Thome on the club (and Jermaine Dye having an excellent year), the lineup is more potent that last year. The Tigers pitching staff has been pretty dominant, but I think they're bound to slow down some. Kenny Rogers always struggles in the 2nd half, and his low SO totals are a little worrisome. Verlander's always not striking out enough batters. (Although in the Tigers defense, I think Jeremy Bonderman has gotten a little unlucky and we might see his ERA drop some). What does all this mean? It means I've got a weak vote cast for the White Sox to take the Central.

Which brings us down to the Wildcard, usually the most exciting race of them all. With my divisional picks, this would leave the Tigers, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Twins in the mix. As much as I'd love for the Twins to win this - and they do have the pitching at the top to do it - I think the hole is a little too deep, and they don't have quite the offensive firepower to crawl back. The Blue Jays have the offensive firepower, but I don't think they have quite the pitching depth to come back.

Which leaves the Tigers and the Red Sox. For reasons mentioned above, I like the Tigers pitching staff better (although it's really time to put Rodney/Zumaya in the closer's role), and I like the Sox better offensively. In this case, I think pitching wins, and I have to give the Tigers the Wildcard.

So there you have it: the Yankees, White Sox, and Angels as your division winners, with the Tigers winning the Wildcard. Although I'm not putting any money on it. These should all be some fantastic races to watch down the stretch.

3 comments:

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