Wednesday, September 18, 2013

MLB American League Wildcard Race Coming Down to the Wire

 The addition of one more team gaining entry to the MLB postseason, and the creation of a 1-game playoff game between the now 2 wildcard teams has increased the interest in the baseball standings heading down the stretch in the season. The American League currently has 6 teams that all realistically have a shot at claiming one of these 2 wildcard places to earn a spot in that enticing lone game, with the entire season on the line. Who will take part in this game to determine the AL wildcard team? We take a look at all the contenders:

Texas Rangers – The Rangers have become perennial disappointers, though they have put together several impressive seasons based on wins and losses alone, including this season. But last year the Rangers crumbled in the last week to give up a division lead and ended up losing in the 1-game playoff, and the events over this final month look to again be the Rangers’ undoing this year. After looking safe and cozy atop the AL West for much of the season, the Rangers are falling apart. Although they still have an ace pitcher in Yu Darvish, the team clearly cannot produce when they need to, and I think they need to look at manager Ron Washington for answers why.

Tampa Bay Rays – This young, small-market team has grown used to having a winning team, having made the playoffs quite often in the tricky AL East division. They have all the necessary tools to win including good pitching and hitting, led by guys like Evan Longoria, David Price, and James Loney. Although they have entered a small slump over the last week, they are a team that has been widely expected to make the playoffs.

New York Yankees – The circus in New York continues, and the team still has a shot at making the playoffs, despite all the injuries and drama surrounding the team. Alex Rodriguez is hitting well amidst his suspension appeal and the team is loaded with proven veterans. However, their pitchers haven’t been up to par, and this could be the team’s undoing in 2013. They still have 3 games to make up but with roughly 13 games left, anything is possible.

Baltimore Orioles – Last year was a surprise success for the Orioles, and many have expected similar things this year, especially as they have been in contention for a while. Chris Davis is leading the majors with 50 home runs while decent pitching has left the team competitive. The Orioles are hanging in there and although they have been playing rather average as of late, they could benefit from last season’s experience to reach the MLB playoffs.

Cleveland Indians – This team has been boosted by new manager Terry Francona and his World Series winning experience. While no single player has really taken on the load, the offensive production has been a real team effort, with 8 players having surpassed 10 home runs on the year. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez have led the pitching quite well, and the team has been winning close games. The Indians have been hanging around all year, and have finally avoided a late-season plunge, but they will need to kick it into high gear heading down the stretch.

Kansas City Royals – Often an afterthought in baseball due to their abysmal history, the Royals haven’t made the postseason in 27 years. In mid-summer the Royals were several games below .500, and we once again assumed they would fall apart. But we have been wrong, and the Royals current hot streak has put them just a few games out of the AL wildcard race. Eric Hosmer looks to be a rising star while James Shields has finally provided the team with some decent pitching. The teams that succeed are usually the ones that get hot right at this time of year. Could the Royals be up for some October heroics?
So which 2 teams will emerge from all this confusion to actually earn a spot in the 1-game postseason decider, and who will win it? I have my money on the Indians and Rays battling it out for the AL wildcard, and the Indians winning it in walk-off fashion 10-9.

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