The addition of the second Wild Card slot in both leagues has certainly increased the intrigue surrounding the playoff race as we enter the stretch drive in August. Plenty of teams still look like they have a shot at earning a chance to play a one-game playoff for a berth in the American League Division Series. Let’s take a look at how the race is shaping up in the American League.
GB represents how many games the team is behind in the Wild Card race and does not represent where they sit in their respective division races.
Los Angeles Angels | 68-49, +4.5 GB
The Angels have a four-and-a-half game cushion for the first of two Wild Card slots, but got dealt a blow to their rotation on Sunday with news that Tyler Skaggs will require season-ending Tommy John surgery. The 23-year was enjoying his first full season of big league action and threw 118 innings across 18 starts. He ends his rookie campaign with a 4.30 ERA, 3.55 FIP, and 3.67 xFIP, and will be shelved for the entire 2015 season as well. LA is rumored to be in the market for a starting pitcher to take the place of Skaggs and will rely on Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago in the back of the rotation for the time being.
Mike Trout and Erick Aybar have lead the majors’ second best offense with 550 runs scored and Albert Pujols has chipped in a solid season as well now that he’s healthy. Josh Hamilton still remains an x-factor in the Angels offense as he can be a difference-maker when he’s healthy and hitting the ball out of the park like he can, but his 30.5 percent strikeout rate is a problem, even by his standards.
The Halos have closed the gap on the division leading Oakland Athletics, but may have to settle for a one-game playoff to stick around in the postseason. They shored up their bullpen prior to the Trade Deadline and aside from the loss of Skaggs, don’t have any significant holes at the moment.
Kansas City Royals | 63-53, —-
The Royals have been red hot of late and are winners of nine of their previous ten games. Although their offense has been below average, their pitching staff has a 3.58 ERA, good for tenth-best in baseball. Led by free-agent-to-be James Shields, the rotation has gotten excellent production out of Jason Vargas and the emerging Yordano Ventura. The Royals bullpen has also been outstanding with Wade Davis and Greg Holland playing key roles.
Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez have lead the offense with some help from outfielder Lorenzo Cain who’s building on a solid 2013 season with a 106 wRC+ and 16 stolen bases. Kansas City made modest deals at the deadline picking up veteran relievers Jason Frasor and Scott Downs but could be in good shape if Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer are able to heat up offensively.
The Royals can get by for now on their pitching, but the bats need to start carrying their weight or the postseason drought will continue for the club.
[pullquote]The Cleveland Indians took two of three from the Yankees over the weekend and now find themselves five games back in the Wild Card chase, but could take the form of a long shot if they don’t go on a hot streak in the very near future.[/pullquote]
Seattle Mariners | 62-55, 1.5 GB
Lead by the best pitching staff in the majors, the Mariners have kept themselves in the race despite an offsense that doesn’t show up at least once a week. Felix Hernandez is in the midst of a Cy Young calibre season Hisashi Iwakuma has been as good a No.2 starter as any other team has to offer. The bullpen has also been unbelievable with a 2.33 ERA and the ever-erratic Fernando Rodney who is second in the American League in saves. The club also received a boost with the return of James Paxton to the rotation after he missed the bulk of the season with a lat injury.
Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager have been stalwarts in the lineup that received some much needed support on July 31st with the acquisitions of Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia. Dustin Ackley has been red hot the past several weeks and if Kendrys Morales wakes up from his slumber, the M’s could have a playoff-calibre one-through-five in their lineup. Michael Saunders should also return from injury within the next week and will push Endy Chavez, who’s played a regular role in the lineup, to the bench which will further improve the lineup.
Seattle’s gotten a near-historic performance from their pitching staff and it would be a shame to see it wasted due to their offensive troubles. If they can keep up the solid play — they just took three of four from the Chicago White Sox — then it’s possible three AL West teams could qualify for playoff spots, but the offense is going to need to step it up for that to happen.
Toronto Blue Jays | 63-56, 1.5 GB
The Blue Jays were the team to beat heading into the 2013 season, but after a disappointing year lost to injuries, they’re now within arms reach of their first playoff appearance in two decades. The club had lead the AL East for most of the last month-plus, but the resurgent Baltimore Orioles have distances themselves from the pack with a five game lead. Toronto’s offense — fourth best in baseball with 532 runs scored — features a pair of premier sluggers in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but the latter hit the disabled list in early July and is just setting out on a rehab assignment. Jose Reyes has remained healthy this year and helped offset the lost contributions of Encarnacion, Adam Lind, and Brett Lawrie who’ve all spent significant time on the disabled list.
Pitching has been the Jays weakness this year as the staff’s 4.08 ERA is the seventh worst in baseball. R.A. Dickey has been good, but not the ace he was two years ago. Mark Buehrle had an outstanding start to the season that netted him an All-Star selection, but has struggled in his last couple starts. Rookie Marcus Stroman has taken the reigns of the rotation and has been a huge plus for the Jays with his 3.02 FIP in 13 starts including a two-run nine inning performance on Saturday — he was not credited with a complete game since the contest went into extra innings. The bullpen has been steady but unspectacular.
Toronto elected to stand pat at the trade deadline despite a clear need for a top of the rotation starter and possibly a middle infielder. They were reluctant to include their top prospects Aaron Sanchez, who’s pitching out of the bullpen, and Stroman and obviously were unwilling to meet the price tags of the elite starters that were available. The club will get a huge boost when Encarnacion returns, but it appears as though their pitching could end up being the reason they don’t reach the postseason.
New York Yankees | 61-56, 2.5 GB
If there’s one team that you can’t ever count out, it’s the Yankees. Despite having a rotation held together by duct tape — quite literally as Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda are on the disabled list — New York has gotten another solid season out of veteran starter Hiroki Kuroda and Brandon McCarthy, whom they acquired prior to the deadline, has also pitched well. Dellin Betances and David Robertson have shined in the bullpen while Shane Greene has been effective in his first taste of major league action as well.
The Yankees spent big on their offense in the winter adding Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran, but have still gotten below average run production on the year. Derek Jeter, now playing in the final months of his career, has had a decent season at the plate while Brett Gardner has been the team’s most productive batter with his 127 wRC+. Health has once again been a factor for Mark Teixeira who’s put together a decent season with 19 home runs, and the club has managed to patch holes around the infield with Stephen Drew and Chase Headley — both were acquired prior to the deadline.
New York wasn’t going to pack it in for the Captain’s final season, but it’s difficult to see them making a serious push considering their lack of pitching depth and aging roster. That could change if Tanaka is able to return, but that’s no sure thing at the moment.