The Contenders: AL Wild Card, post-All Star edition

As with the National League, the number of American League Wild Card contenders shrunk by several teams, leaving a tight and crowded race for the two playoff spots. Lopsided teams with either pitching or hitting but not both dominate this field. Trade deadline acquisitions could prove to be key.

Boston Red Sox, 64-44, second place, AL East With the multi-way, see-saw race for the American League East crown, the top contenders are likely to be near the Wild Card race lead for the foreseeable future. The Red Sox opened the season on tear, racing out to a huge first place lead, but they have since leveled off and are in a real dogfight for both the division and the Wild Card. They sport the best offense in the AL, but a mediocre pitching staff, with a .251 batting average against and an Earned Run Average  ranked 15th in Major League Baseball. For the Red Sox to solidify their position, they will need to shore up their bullpen, and another starter could not hurt.

Baltimore Orioles, 59-48, third place, AL East

The Orioles have one of the best offenses in the league, but one of the worst pitching staffs. They are first in slugging and fourth in batting average (in MLB), but continue to struggle pitching. The Orioles staff has the third worst ERA in baseball, 4.32, allowing opposing batters to hit .262 (over 20 points higher than the Washington Nationals are hitting as a team). They need to trade for pitching, but that may be in short supply this year. So the Fighting Showalters may have to find another stash of magic that carried them last year.

Cleveland Indians, 58-48, ½ game back of Wild Card lead

The young Tribe has come on strong, staying in contention longer than most guessed and displaying surprising grit. Their offense is stout, 4th in baseball in runs scored, but their pitching is still developing. Their team ERA is not good- 4.07- but their pitchers are only allowing .245 batting average against, suggesting the young Tribe may have a run in them if they can keep men off base.

Texas Rangers, 57-49, 1 ½ games back of the Wild Card

The Rangers offense is not nearly as good as its competitors, with a team batting average of only .258. That said, Darvish-mania has inspired the Rangers’ pitching to a 3.74 ERA, one of the best among the Contenders, despite one of the lowest number of quality starts--50. The Rangers are only outscoring their opponents by nine runs on the season, so their season could go either way, and would be improved by an offense burst.

New York Yankees, 55-50, 3 games back of the Wild Card

The Yankees have been old, snake-bit and scandal-prone all season, yet remain in contention for a Wild Card berth. Their pitching is third-best in the American League, certainly championship-quality, but the Yankees have been proud owners of the third-worst offense in the AL, with a batting average of .243. They have been outscored on the season and have very little margin for error. Can they make a late run? They are assured to be active at the trade deadline….

Kansas City Royals, 51-51, 5 ½ games back of the Wild Card

Believe it! The Royals are winners of six in a row and are in contention. They have one of the worst offenses in baseball, batting .255 with no power (third worst slugging percentage in MLB), as their young bats continue to develop. Yet their pitching has been a sight to behold, allowing 3.66 runs/game and keeping the Royals in contention. One would think the thrifty Royals would not be players at the deadline, but one bat could mean the difference here.

Falling out of contention: Los Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins.

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