Rounding the Bases – American League playoff team analysis and predictions

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Nick Telesmanic
BU News Service

While the month of September may seem like it is dominated by the sights of football jerseys, tailgates and the chatter of fantasy football, an exciting time period in the world of sports is quickly approaching — October baseball.

The 2019 MLB Playoffs begin on Oct. 1 this year, and while some teams have already punched their ticket to the dance, there are other teams that are fighting for their chance to appear in the Fall Classic.

AL Teams that have already clinched

New York Yankees (100-54) – CLINCHED AL East

Start spreading the news — the New York Yankees are back in the playoffs, this time with full reign at the top of their division. After hosting the Wild Card game in three out of the last four years, the Bronx Bombers will finally have the division crown and will not have to gamble their playoff hopes over a one-game showdown. 

The beginning of the Yankees’ season was slow with many key players sustaining injuries, including their star pitcher Luis Severino, star hitters Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorious DJ LeMahueu, lockdown reliever Dellin Betances, and more. Despite these setbacks, the Yankees have had unlikely heroes step up and fill the holes, such as third baseman Gio Urshela, right fielder Clint Frazier, and even veteran first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in June.

However, several key Yankees are still out with injuries. Catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Cameron Maybin and Encarnacion are all day-to-day with injuries, and Aaron Hicks is on the 10-day injury leave with an elbow injury. Additionally, shortly after Betances made a return from the 60-day IL this month, he sadly had to go back to IL with a torn Achilles tendon that he suffered while celebrating a strikeout. 

The Bombers have had a next-man-up mentality all year with their array of injuries. Now it’s time for those men and the rest of the team to step up and bring the World Series trophy back to New York.

Houston Astros (100-53) – Clinched AL West

A team that was virtually a lock to win the AL West before the 2019 season is very close to living up to predictions.

Houston failed to defend its 2017 World Series title in last year’s playoffs. In the 2018 ALCS, the Red Sox bounced them out quickly in five games. Ever since, the Astros have branded their 2019 team goals under one phrase: “Take it back.”  And no baseball fan should be surprised if they see the ‘Stros do exactly that at the conclusion of the World Series.

The Astros are in the top-three in all of MLB in several major batting statistics, including third in RBIs, third in home runs and first in batting average at a team-overall .276. If that wasn’t enough, the Astros have three ace starting pitchers who are no strangers to playoff baseball ready to use: Justin Verlander (19-6, 2.50 ERA). Gerrit Cole (18-5, 2.61 ERA) and Zack Greinke (16-5, 2.95 ERA), whom the Astros acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the trade deadline to make their already strong starting rotation even scarier.

Some might dare to say this team has already locked up their World Series appearance for the American League, but there is one other team that might have something to say about that.

Teams scrapping for their division and/or playoff spot

Minnesota Twins (94-59), Clinched AL Central

After a 2018 season where they finished just below .500, the Twins have bounced back in 2019 as one of the best home run hitting teams in the league. With five hitters — Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, Mitch Garver and Miguel Sano — hitting 30 home runs or more, the Twins can pose a serious threat nearly anywhere in their lineup.

Some may argue that there are other teams in the AL East that can demolish the Twins’ weak pitching core, but every pitcher will have to be on their A-game against Minnesota in the playoffs if they want to to keep the game in their team’s reach.

Oakland Athletics (92-61) 8.0 GB AL West, First AL Wild Card +0.5

The Athletics may not be having a Moneyball-esque season in terms of drama, but it’s certainly been a journey. After starting the season 19-25, the A’s went on an 11-game winning streak to propel themselves above .500. Not only have they not dipped below .500 since, but they have surged well above that mark and have made themselves good enough to compete in the AL Wild Card race. 

The Athletics have a big three when it comes to their offensive production: Marcus Semien, Matt Olson and Matt Chapman. As of Sept. 20, they have an average Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 6.13, and are all hitting above 30 home runs. Expect these three to highlight much of the Athletics’ offensive production if they make it to October.

Tampa Bay Rays (90-63), TIED Second AL Wild Card

Last year the Rays finished with a 90-72 record. However, the Red Sox won the division that year, and they lost a slot in the Wild Card race. This time, the Rays are in a good position to secure a Wild Card spot, they just can’t let it slip away and give it to the Cleveland Indians.

One reason why the Rays are as good as they are this year is because of a trade they made during last year’s trade deadline with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Rays traded longtime starting pitcher Chris Archer to the Pirates for starter Tyler Glasnow and center fielder Austin Meadows. This might be one of the best trades the Rays have ever made in their short franchise history. Currently, Meadows is slashing .289 with 32 home runs and 88 RBIs, and Glasnow — albeit some time on the IL — has been dominant nearly every time he has started. In addition, the Rays have added faces from other teams, such as former Astros starter Charlie Morton, former Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud and former Blue Jays infielder Eric Sogard. 

Cleveland Indians (90-63) 4.0 GB AL Central, 1.5 GB Wild Card

The Tribe has plenty to be proud of this season. They erased an 11.5 game deficit against the Minnesota Twins to take the lead in the AL Central back in August, but the Twins quickly took that lead and first place back from them.

This team has been no stranger to the playoffs in the last few years. They’re getting production from many of the players that have been with them in playoff runs in past years: Shortstop Francisco Lindor, first baseman Carlos Santana and ace starting pitcher Mike Clevinger. Along with Clevinger in the starting rotation is rising star Shane Bieber who has a 3.26 ERA and has stayed healthy, starting in 32 games this season.

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