There are few things I enjoy more than watching baseball when it’s cold outside. I may be one of two people that finds Joe Buck’s voice exciting and appealing in any way. I absolutely LOVE playoff baseball, despite the fact that my lifelong team Seattle Mariners have not seen the playoffs in so long that I declared the Dodgers as my NL team of choice last year (Chavez Ravine blew me away, also Corey Seager’s smile). At least I now have a team to look after once September has ended.
We’re more than halfway through August, and you probably opened this article on accident while doing research for your fantasy football draft, but let’s take a look at the playoff picture in the American League and why you should keep one eye on baseball for a few more months. You can mute Buck’s voice if you want to, though. That’s fine.
Let me just start this with a little tip: if you live anywhere outside of the northeast, and you hear someone around you who has never ever lived in the northeast refer to “My Red Sox” or “My Yankees” in any way, don’t listen to another word they say. If they add the word “Bro” to the end of the sentence or at any point brandish a bottle of Mountain Dew, leave the area immediately. Your Excedrin bill just plummeted and your faith in mankind is just a little bit stronger.
As a general baseball fan, the nostalgia and history of the top teams in the AL East, the Red Sox and Yankees, is appealing all on its own. The way-sooner-than-expected emergence of the Yankees from relative mediocrity has us dreaming of 2004, when the rivalry was perhaps at its height.
Barring something terrible from happening, both of these teams will be in the playoffs. At five games back, New York is clearly the next team out, but they’ve had a strong hold on the first Wild Card spot for some time now. Boston’s brand of baseball is far more sustainable at this point; they’re hitting less home runs (128, last place in AL) and striking out less (third in AL for least strikeouts) than most other teams, but they’re driving in runs when they have to. They have this season’s Cy Young Winner (pending what I feel is an inevitable detachment of that frail left arm), and their weak link not named David Price is last season’s Cy Young Winner Rick Porcello.
New York will likely hang on to the Wild Card and make at least an appearance in the playoffs, but Boston is looking primed for a run. With their experience, simple style of play, and strong rotation, this is a strong team to watch.
An AL Central team has won four of the last five American League pennants, including two consecutive World Series appearances by Kansas City. While the Royals may not be the top dog this year, the AL Central certainly can’t be ignored.
It can be easy to dismiss the Indians as the weakest of the three current division leaders simply based on their record (68-54), but this is a team that will stop opponents from scoring, even if they don’t overwhelm you with offense.
Three of the top five leaders of WAR for Cleveland are pitchers. Specifically, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Andrew Miller (Third baseman Jose Ramirez is second in WAR and shortstop Francisco Lindor rounds out the top five). Kluber poses perhaps the strongest competition to Chris Sale for this year’s Cy Young winner, and Miller continues to be dominant with a 1.65 ERA over 47 appearances this season, despite looking like he ran away from home mid-haircut.
The Minnesota Twins have made the playoff picture a lot more interesting of late with a Wild Card push of sorts. The youth of this team can imply two things: one, this probably isn’t their year, and two, this team can be GOOD before long.
If we’re talking about sustainability over the next month or so, the Indians have this thing in the bag. Once the resurgent Michael Brantley returns from the DL, all worries can be put aside.
As if there was even a question, nobody is catching Houston for the AL West lead. With a successful future children’s book subject in José Altuve and a far more likable version of Alex Rodriguez in Carlos Correa, this team has been an absolute force in the regular season. Due to some key injuries, however, the longevity of this team in a playoff context is questionable.
Correa’s thumb injury, sustained mid-July, will likely keep him out until mid-September at the earliest. That’s a lot of time without one of your key offensive figures. Still, Houston has proven to be a remarkably well-rounded offensive machine, ranking first in the AL in home runs and second in RBIs.
The surprise of the season, though, has to be the resilience of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (I have to take a nap after writing that name). Despite playing significant time without Mike Trout, the Angels find themselves in the second Wild Card spot, a position in which the Seattle Mariners found themselves just a week ago.
While the Wild Card spot will likely come down to the wire, the prospect of Houston facing either Boston or Cleveland at some point in the season is intriguing. Simply put, it’s an offensive powerhouse in Houston up against one of two of the best rotations in baseball.
In the end, the Boston Red Sox have my pick to win the pennant and represent the American League in the World Series.