Sunday, August 9, 2009

Potential October Surprises in the AL

The Rangers and Tigers in the postseason? Our 2008 versions of ourselves would've glove slapped us in the face for even suggesting the idea.

Entering play on Sunday, the American League playoff picture is far less murky than in the NL, although the Wild Card may lead way to a team nobody expected to see in October way back in the beginning of the season. The only team close to being a 'sure thing' in the National League is the Dodgers, who are playing top notch baseball matched by only the Yankees and Angels. The Cubs and Cardinals will face off in September for the NL Central with a possible late season run from the Brewers mixing things up. The Marlins and Braves are still within striking distance of the Phillies, and with a series win over the Phillies this weekend (and a possible sweep at hand), the young Marlins' postseason hopes are as alive as ever. The NL Wild Card is perhaps the murkiest race in all of baseball this season. The Giants, Rockies and the Cubs or Cardinals are the frontrunners with the Marlins and Braves gaining. The Brewers are also a possibility.

Things are less ambiguous in the AL. The Yankees enter Sunday with a 5.5 game lead over the Red Sox, as they prepare for tonight's attempt at a four game sweep of their Boson rivals. New York began the season with more than a few doubters and have of late quieted any naysayers. The Rays sit 7 games behind New York and a game and a half behind Boston. With the way New York is playing on offense and the games they've been getting out of their pitching staff, the Yankees will be hard to catch entering September.

The AL Central is the closest race in the league with Detroit only two games ahead of Chicago for the division lead entering Sunday. The two sides face each other six more times before the season ends, including a three game series to end the season in Detroit. Minnesota could make a late season push to claim the division, as they sit only 4.5 games back entering Sunday. The Twins close out a three game series with the Tigers today, and are looking to gain ground on Detroit. They have so far split the series. Minnesota has 13 games yet to be played against Detroit and Chicago, and will look for revenge after finishing a game behind AL Central Champion White Sox in 2008. They've acquired Carl Pavano to give their pitching a shot in the arm as they head into late August. The Tigers finished their 2008 campaign in last place in the division with a .457 winning percentage.

The Angels have all but run away with the AL West. They are playing the best baseball in either league and with the return of Vladimir Guerrero, they add yet another bat to an already potent lineup that includes Bobby Abreu, who is looking to finish the season batting above .300 for the first time since 2004. So far splitting the weekend series with the second place Texas Rangers, the Angels will look to put some distance between them and their sole challengers for the division as they take on the Rays, Orioles, Indians and Blue Jays in their next four series. They then take on Detroit for a three game series before playing a series against the A's, two against the Mariners and a series against the Royals.

Things look to be all but locked up for the Angels entering late August, although things are a bit cozier than last year after finishing the season 21 games ahead of the 2nd place Rangers to win the AL West. Texas sits 4.5 games behind the Angels entering play on Sunday. The Angels close out the year with a four game series against Texas and a three gamer against the A's. If Texas can mount any type of comeback in August and September, the four game series in Los Angeles will hold a lot of weight.

There's little competition outside of the top three contenders for the Wild Card. Boston currently leads things with Texas a game back and Tampa Bay a game and a half behind the Red Sox. After that, the Mariners are 5.5 games back and the White Sox sit 6 back. At this point in the season, with Boston looking for answers and facing a potential sweep by the Yankees tonight, the Wild Card could easily go to the Rangers or the Rays. It'd be interesting to see what the Rays can do with a second chance at a playoff run, but with Boston's experience and as long as Josh Beckett continues to take the mound, and with the Texas rotation pitching well, the Rays could find themselves left out.

It's likely that the AL Wild Card race will come down to Texas and Boston, and if Boston's recent slew of additions pays off, fans should look forward to a new chapter in the Red Sox/Yankees playoff saga. Seeing the Rangers take the field in October would surprise anybody that saw the Rangers close the year with a .488 winning percentage and little hope for the '09 season, but we're leaving the door open to a possible appearance.

Of course, it's baseball we're dealing with here, and everything could change in an instant. One series sweep, a devastating injury or a decisive victory can change the entire October landscape, so we really won't know what to expect until mid or late September.

Written By Danny Hobrock