With just under a month before the regular season concludes, we’re at a very interesting time in the Major League Baseball season. We’re at a time where there are teams fighting for their division, and teams fighting for a Wild Card spot, and, of course, there are teams that are virtual locks to be playing October baseball. We’ll highlight all 5 of the American League teams that we think will make it to the playoffs, including division winners, Wild Card winners, seeding, key player for each team, strengths, and weaknesses.
American League East: Toronto Blue Jays
Current record: 77-59
Predicted record: 93-69
Toronto finds itself locked in a divisional battle with both the Red Sox and the Orioles, 1.0 and 3.0 games back, respectively. But because the Red Sox play the majority of their games on the road to finish the season, and the Orioles can’t find a stable pitching rotation, Toronto will likely be the team that advances out of the East.
Key player: Josh Donaldson
Leading the conversation in AL MVP, Donaldson is putting together another stellar year north of the border. Donaldson (.295/.407/.574) ranks 6th in the American League in both home runs (34) and RBI (92). In order for the Jays to see postseason success against the rest of the American League, including their newly formed postseason rival Texas Rangers, then they’ll need steady contribution from Donaldson down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Toronto has been knocking the cover off the ball all year. 3rd in runs scored (666), 2nd in home runs (197), 3rd in RBI (637), and near the top in OBP, SLG, and OPS in the American League, the Blue Jays look primed to slug their way into the postseason and perhaps make a run at a world title.
Weakness: One run games
An important component for every championship caliber is team is its ability to win one run games, but that’s a department in which the Blue Jays have struggled. Toronto posts a record of 15-22 in one run games, which is probably due in part to its bullpen, that’s seen its fair share of struggles, especially in the first half.
American League Central: Cleveland Indians
Current record: 79-56
Predicted record: 95-67
Key player: Francisco Lindor
Ranking 7th in the American League, Frankie posts a .317 batting average at this point in the season, and he’s been instrumental in the success that Cleveland has seen all season long. At the age of 22, Lindor has been everything the Indians have needed him to be, knocking in 66 and stealing 14 bases, showing some decent speed.
Strength: Progressive Field
The Indians post an impressive 45-23 record in Cleveland, which is 3rd at home behind the Cubs and Rangers, both the best teams in their respective leagues. Outscoring their opponents at home by over 100 runs, the Indians boast an impressive .662 winning percentage at Progressive.
Cleveland’s bullpen hasn’t been terrible so far this year, but this is a common theme for teams competing for a title. To win the ultimate prize in the big leagues, then you need one of the top pens in baseball, but the Indians don’t have that. They’ll need better performances from Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw, and Jeff Manship so as to not rely on the likes of Dan Otero too much, overusing his arm.
American League West: Texas Rangers
Current record: 82-55
Predicted record: 98-64
Key player: Ian Desmond
Sure, Desmond is probably not the best player on the team, nor is he the first guy you might think of when thinking about key players. Desmond has, however, been performing well above expectations, dramatically improving his numbers from a year ago, which was his last in Washington. Desmond (.292/.340/.472) has 21 home runs and 81 RBI this year, contributing significantly to the Rangers 2016 campaign, in which they’re well out in front of the 2nd place Astros, at 9.5 games up.
Strength: One run games
Unlike the Blue Jays, Texas has thrived in one run games, going an incredible 30-9 in one run affairs. Historic, indeed, as the Rangers post a .769 winning percentage during their run. The only problem is, as with any historical run, how long can it last? Will the Rangers ultimately falter in one run games down the stretch? Time will tell, but it’s certainly a strength as it stands right now.
Weakness: Starting rotation
A key aspect of any postseason run, the Rangers starting rotation woes could come back to bite them. The only real consistent contributor for the starters has been ace Cole Hamels, but other than him, it’s been rough going on the bump. The other three starters, excluding Yu Darvish, have posted season ERA’s of over 4, which won’t get you very far in the playoffs.
American League Wild Card (1): Baltimore Orioles
Current record: 74-62
Predicted record: 89-73
As it stands right now, the Orioles are 3.0 games back in the American League East, and are deadlocked with the Tigers for second place in the American League Wild Card behind the Red Sox. With seven games coming against Boston over the next month, four of which are at home, the Orioles have a chance to overtake the Red Sox for first. Additionally, the Red Sox are plagued with road games, making the path to the postseason a very difficult one for them.
Key player: Manny Machado
Machado, one of the best players in the game, is having another great season in Baltimore. Machado (.305/.357/.563) has homered 33 times, which is good for 8th in the American League, while driving in 85. It’s tough to contest that Machado isn’t this team’s MVP; therefore, he’ll be instrumental in claiming the first Wild Card spot, securing home field advantage, and then subsequently beating whomever they meet.
Baltimore has hit the most home runs in all of baseball with 214, giving them a 17 homer cushion between them and the second place team, the Blue Jays. Baltimore also boasts the 2nd best slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage at .450 and .770, respectively. If the Orioles keep blasting home runs, then may very well slug their way into the World Series. That is, if their rotation can allow them to stay in the game.
Weakness: Starting rotation
A season in which the Orioles have one of the best offenses in baseball, they also have one of the worst starting rotations. Due to injuries, among other things, Buck Showalter has been forced to juggle the rotation, which has now seen seven pitchers start double digit games for the O’s, which is a perfect indicator of how inconsistent its been. Three of the aforementioned starters have posted ERA’s over 5, one with an ERA over 6, and none that boast ERA’s under 3.40. To succeed, the Orioles starters will need to figure something out, and they’ll need to do it fast. It’s impressive that they’re in a spot to make the playoffs as it is.
American League Wild Card (2): Detroit Tigers
Current record: 74-62
Predicted record: 88-74
As previously mentioned, Detroit is currently tied for second with Baltimore for the second WIld Card spot. Seeing a nearly 50/50 mix of home and away games remaining, the Tigers will have to capitalize on playing the lesser teams in baseball, like the White Sox, Twins, and Braves.
Key player: Miguel Cabrera
Why wouldn’t he be? Quietly, Cabrera is having another stellar year, further cementing himself as one of the best the game has ever seen. Whenever the Tigers are pushing for the postseason, or trying to advance in the playoffs, Cabrera is right in the middle of things. Cabrera (.311/.385/.542) has knocked 29 home runs and 85 RBI, with an OPS of .927 this season.
Strength: Veteran experience
The Tigers are not short of experience on their roster. With Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez, and Justin Verlander, Detroit has its fair share of veteran know how. This can be a very important element down the stretch when trying to keep everyone even-keel and not trying to press the issue too hard, which could lead to faltering and subsequent losing.
Weakness: Pitching staff
Detroit’s staff ERA, which is middle of the pack in all of baseball, comes in at 4.20, which isn’t overly impressive. The Tigers have had a history of bullpens that can’t hold the lead in the playoffs, and this year looks to be no different. The story isn’t much different with the starters, either. Michael Fulmer has been the best for Detroit, posting a 2.77 ERA in 22 starts. But other than that, there hasn’t been much good in Detroit. Verlander is pitching better than he has the last few years, especially since 2014, which is good for Detroit, but he has been far from dominant. The Tigers will likely have to lean on their offense to make the playoffs, and then even more if they want to advance.
It’ll be interesting to see how things shakeout in the American League, but we at The Major League Blog think this is the most likely outcome.