American League Division Race Outlook
There is a month left in the season and there are about ten teams fighting for five spots in the American League (AL). The inclusion of the second wild card spot, though stimulating much debate at the time of introduction, has led to much more excitement down the stretch for fans as competition becomes fierce for the extra playoff spot. It is not just the wild card that is competitive, however, as two of the three divisions are still open to change.
Toronto Blue Jays
As of writing, the Toronto Blue Jays are sitting atop the AL East. The Jays have been very hot lately, winning four of their last five games. Josh Donaldson has been putting together a MVP caliber season for the Jays, and yet, this may be the hottest he has been all season with his six homers in the last five games. Bat flip champion Jose Bautista is healthy again and will make the potent lineup even stronger as the postseason looms.
Chances are, the Jays should be able to hold off competition to keep a playoff spot, as the offense is just too dominant not to win games this September. The biggest question will be whether the rotation can keep the Jays in the lead in the east. The Jays rotation can be described in one word: inconsistent. The talent is there, but starters R.A. Dickey, Francisco Liriano, Marcus Stroman, and even Marco Estrada lately have been entirely too inconsistent for a team that has World Series aspirations. Look for the Jays to have to lean on their offense and Aaron Sanchez, who is not currently in the rotation due to innings constraints, to force their way into the playoffs. The Jays will get into the playoffs in a wild card spot, as the Red Sox are a more complete team and will catch them by season end.
The tribe has all of the pieces that make small market fans salivate. The young stud pitching core is complimented with a successful small ball lineup that is headlined by their middle infielders Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis. Lindor leads the MLB in three hit games this season with twenty-one and is a true cornerstone piece the Indians can build around for the next few years. The Indians also upgraded their bullpen at the deadline, adding one of the best setup men in baseball, Andrew Miller. A complete team on paper, the Tribe seems like a playoff lock, so long as the young team does not run out of fuel down the stretch.
Yet the Tribe’s offense has gone cold, producing more than one run in a game once in the past week. Danny Salazar, the best starter for the Indians in the first half of the season, has been sputtering lately and may be sidelined with injury for the foreseeable future. A series with the Twins could be just what the Indians need, however, to right the ship and gain some momentum heading into the home stretch of the regular season. The Indians will hold off the Tigers and Royals and win the AL Central.
The Rangers are another team that just looks complete on paper. The lineup has the potential for true production from top to bottom, especially after the reinforcements purchased at the trade deadline at a prospect premium. The pitching rotation has two heads at the top, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, which can guarantee a quality start for the team. Even the backend of the bullpen has stabilized after starting August rather shaky. Sam Dyson has reeled off three saves in a row and Matt Bush may have been one of the best under the radar signings in the 2016 offseason.
The Rangers have almost a nine game lead in the AL West, a number that seems rather insurmountable during the last month of the season. Carrying the best record in the AL, the Rangers should breeze into the playoffs and play whoever wins the one game wildcard playoff. The key for the Rangers will be the bullpen, which took a blow with the Jeremy Jeffress DWI. Sam Dyson has managed to pitch pretty well so far in the closer role, but his WHIP (Walks + Hits per innings pitched) has been 1.50 since July and his K:BB ratio (Strikeout vs. Walk Ratio) is 16:9, which shows signs of regression for Dyson. The Rangers do have alternatives though, including the aforementioned Jeffress, Jake Diekman, and Matt Bush who have all pitched very well lately from the bullpen.
All stats are courtesy of baseball reference and are as current as 08/31/2016