The American league Pennant Races: Who Ya Got?
WOW. I love to use flowery words and even the occasional pun, but the American League East race and the Wild Card chase are just WOW. If I had to prognosticate the horse races without looking too close at the facts and figures (something I will do in my next article in much more detail) I would say this:
* The Red Sox will win the AL East. Everyone would be declaring this as by far and away the safest bet if they all realized how good the Sox pitching has been since the All Star break. Their pitching staff leads the American League in Team ERA (3.56). Their offense can go without saying and if you needed more, the narrative is too good. David Ortiz has to be in the playoffs with a chance to create an amazing finish to his Hall of Fame career. The youngsters led by their legendary leader, a one game play in wouldn't do this story justice. They win the AL East.
* Don't sleep on the Tigers. Jordan Zimmerman has struggled since returning to their rotation but they have been second in team ERA to the Red Sox since the All Star break without Zimmerman, so if he can provide anything at all its gravy, not necessary, for them to make the playoffs.Their schedule isn't simple, but its friendlier than the other contenders by a smidge and that may just be enough of an edge to squeak in in one of the tightest pennant races we have ever seen. They win one of the Wild Card spots.
* The Orioles win the other. Their 2016 pitching staff does not resemble the Orioles staffs of yesteryear when they sent multiple twenty game winners and Hall of Famers like Jim Palmer to the bump twirling gems. This staff is pitching to a 4.38 ERA since the All Star break and are tied for third worst in the American League in Whip. That being said, Zach Britton is amazing and Buck Showalter has found a way to keep this team contending in spite of all of that. I have all but given up trying to predict or explain the Orioles and I have started accepting, like blind faith. This team contends. The end doesn't explain the ways, but it just happens and it happens again. They are a playoff team, a Wild Card one, but a playoff team none the less.
* The Yankees play spoiler, but they don't play extra baseball. They are over funded, over matched and under manned and with the field of competition like this one someone has to fall short and its the guys wearing pinstriples. Joe Girardi deserves Manager of the Year with Buck Showalter making a legitimate case, but the Yankees don't have enough to hang in there the last three weeks with the Big Boyz.
* The Blue Jays have the firepower, but the names suggest that there is slightly more bark than bite and in a year this tight, they need a little more bite to scare their way in to the playoffs. The pitching staff has been very good, second best team ERA in the American League this season (3.93) but only eighth best post All Star break (4.28). Roberto Osuna is filthy good but they rank 20th in bullpen ERA for the season, worse than all of the other playoff contenders except for the Rangers who we have decided are already in. The lineup card scares you with big boppers like Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion and Tulowitzki but they are 8th in the American League in runs scored since the All Star break too. One good thing, thats still better than the Orioles, Tigers, Yankees and Royals. The Jays have enough to win the AL East or the Wild Card, but they have just enough weaknesses to fall just short as well. I am on the fall short side but its 55/45 and pick 'em. The races are THAT close this year.
* The Astros need to kick it in to an extra gear and with all that offensive talent, maybe they have it, but I don't think they do it. It feels to me like the Astros are lingering but that they aren't going to be able to make the late push needed to cross the finish line as a playoff team. 4-6 in their last ten, they rank 9th in runs scored and 14th in team ERA in September. Recent additions like Alex Bregman, Yulieski Gurriel and catcher Evan Gattis all have three home runs in the last 10 games. But, Jose Altuve is batting .200 and Carlos Correa doesn't have an extra base hit in his last 24 plate appearances. The rotation has been outright bad over the last 30 days and its difficult to play .600 baseball when you can't rely on quality pitching every night. A rotation can't give away games in September and the Astros rotation has a chance to do that every start right now. The bullpen looks like a strength since Ken Giles took over as closer and the offense has enough to do what needs doing to play their way into the playoffs, but pitching needs to keep you in games in September and this rotation is too shaky to string enough together to get over the top.
* The Seattle Mariners often get short changed by the punditry and when you are going with your gut in an article like this that has an impact, but they bring a legit scorecard to the field every night. Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Nelson Cruz are big timers while Leonys Martin is an underrated all around offensive presence. On the bump Felix Hernandez is still a quality 7-8 innings most nights and Edwin Diaz has become a lights out dominator in the ninth inning. It gets a little dicey after that and thats part of the problem. King Felix is their only above average starting pitcher, unless you want to be generous and credit Hisashi Iwakuma with that designation. James Paxton and Taijuan Walker have the "stuff" to be impact starters but they haven't translated talent into production consistently. The Mariners rank 14 of 15 teams in ERA since the All Star break while ranking seventh in runs scored. I can't pick them to earn a spot in the Wild Card, but they have been a good surprise this season and they still could make it a magical one.
* The Kansas City Royals are a mystery similar to the Orioles for me. I have been picking against them ever since they started their recent run of success and four games back of the Wild Card I can't find a clear reason not to continue to pick against them. We all know they have a great bullpen and it just got better with Wade Davis returning to the ninth, but how have they stayed in the playoff mix with that rotation? Danny Duffy has earned Cy Young consideration, though he hasn't bene quite good enough to win it, and Ian Kennedy has been better than should have been expected, but it gets ugly after that. I don't see how it gets "pretty" enough with three weeks to go to overcome the other contenders. They rank eighth in the American league in runs scored both in September and since the All Star break while the rotation ranks seventh in September and fifth after the All Star break in team ERA. They are a good team with playoff talent and playoff experience that they can lean on to grind out a playoff birth, but time is too short for them to leapfrog the competition in my opinion.
I will break down the National League tomorrow but the races there don't compare to the American League. It is so tight with so many potential scenarios that my bold prediction is that we have a play-in game before the one game Wild Card game. There are too many good teams too close in the standings for this thing not to finish play on October second with some sort of tie and the only surprise for me would be if three teams tied rather than two. WOW was what I said to begin the article and that would be WOW to end the American League season and it could happen. The Orioles and the Tigers will win the Wild Card and play the one game playoff to see who faces a division winner. If I am to be wrong, I can't shake the thought that the Jays are the better of these teams and that they get in, but I am going with the Orioles and the Tigers. I want to change to the Blue Jays but I am sticking firm for now...for now... for now... Umm no I am changing... no I am sticking. Orioles and Tigers. Yeah. Orioles and Tigers.
September is when Fantasy Football starts but it is when Baseball proves why it is the best sport on the planet. September is going to be great. Stay tuned Ladies and Gents and wear those seat belts.
* The Future of Daily Fantasy Sports w/ Ron Shandler