The Contenders: AL Wild Card Edition
Baseball has indeed reached a state of competitive balance when the AL can boast 8 teams within 6 games of the Wild Card. This isn’t the Yankees and a bunch of also-rans anymore; it will be an entertaining dogfight to the finish.
Here is a look at the contenders for the AL Wild Card:
Oakland A’s, 44-34 (second, AL West)
Getting to play the Mariners, Angels and “Lastros” so often gives Oakland a leg up on one of the Wild Card spots. This is a young team that has few weaknesses; a stout 3.81 ERA and the best starting pitching staff among the Wild Card contenders (46 quality starts, most among the contenders), complimented by one of the best offenses in the league (6th in MLB in runs scored at 362, second among WC contenders). Oakland leads the contenders in run differential with +45. The A’s are going to the playoffs barring a major injury.
Baltimore Orioles, 42-34 (second, AL East)
The Fightin’ Showalters are at it again. No one knew how they made the playoffs last year with their cast of characters. And here they are, leading for the second WC spot. They have an OK run differential (+14) but are playing in a brutal division with no weak sisters. Can they sustain this? Their pitching has not been stout (worst runs allowed among the contenders, 359), but they have been an offensive juggernaut, leading baseball in home runs and leading the contenders with 373 runs scored. They need their pitching staff to get healthy and settle down in order to have a realistic shot - but they beat the odds once before with superior mojo…
New York Yankees, 41-34 (third, AL East)
Injuries and age are the stories here--this team would be much better if healthy. But you can’t deny Father Time his due, and the Yanks may be looking at a scenario of this being the last run of the Jeter Era. The Yanks have been outscored on the season by one run, mainly a product of an offense devastated by injuries. They have allowed only 294 runs, one of the best among the contenders, but scored only 293, one of the worst, with a team batting average of only .239. Health will help, but this team, which looks like the AL’s version of the Washington Nationals, needs to kick it into gear in a tough division--no easy task.
Cleveland Indians, 38-36 (second, AL Central)
This team got off to a tough start but has been on a roll lately to climb back over .500. They have a mediocre pitching staff for a contender (4.24 ERA, 34 quality starts, 329 runs allowed), but have an improving offense (345 runs scored, .325 on base %, .420 slugging %) and have outscored their opponents on the season by a modest 16 runs. They have a ways to go but are moving in the right direction; picking up a starting pitcher would help tremendously.
Toronto Blue Jays, 38-36 (fourth, AL East)
Normally we wouldn’t be that high on a team that is fourth in their division and only outscored their opponents by 6 over the course of the year, but this is a talented team that has won 11 straight to claw back into contention. The offense has come alive (349 runs scored, .426 slugging %, 5th in MLB), to make up for a dragging pitching staff (4.09 ERA, 31 quality starts, second worst in MLB). A starting pitcher at the trade deadline would vastly improve the chances for sustaining this run. But they have become fun to watch and will keep moving up the standings if they bash the way they have been.
Tampa Bay Rays, 39-37 (fifth, AL East)
The logjam of the AL East will include the Rays, a team traditionally built on pitching and defense but who have struggled to keep opposing teams off the basepaths this year. They have allowed 345 runs this year, second most among the contenders, with a 4.30 ERA, 27th in MLB. This weakness must be addressed to have a shot at the Wild Card. Their offense - thought to perhaps struggle this year without BJ Upton, has been the aspect of the team that has kept them in contention however. These Rays are getting on base at a .328 clip, slugging .422 and scoring 359 runs--7th in all of MLB. They will need better pitching however, to make hay in the brutal AL East.
Kansas City Royals, 35-38 (third, AL Central)
That’s right, the Royals are still in it! Despite having a below .500 record, the season has not gotten away from them, and the fact that they have outscored their opponents on the year by 8 runs suggests they have some upside. This is a team that may define mediocrity however; they struggled to a .500 home record in beautiful Kauffman Stadium. Their pitching has been very good, with an ERA of 3.52 (5th in MLB) and 43 quality starts; they have allowed the fewest runs among the contenders. The offense has been poor however (perhaps young is a better word), next to last in baseball in slugging % with .369 and the fewest runs scored among the contenders. This team needs bats.
Minnesota Twins, 34-38 (fourth, AL Central)
This team’s hopes of contending are on life support but hanging on. They are the only contender besides the Yankees that has been outscored this season--by 23 runs. Their pitching staff has been abysmal; 4.29 ERA, last in MLB in quality starts with 26, and allowing a batting average of .283--nearly 50 points better than the Yankees or Nationals are batting as a team. With so many teams needing pitching and their offense fairly mediocre, it looks unlikely the Twins will stay in contention- building for the future may be a better strategy, to become sellers and gear up for a 2015 run.