Baseball has passed the 100-game mark, the trade deadline has come and gone, and the All Star game has once again ended in the American League’s favor. Now its time to deconstruct the American League and decide which teams have a chance and which teams are destined to fall apart
American League East
The AL East has two familiar faces in the top two spots in the division, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, with the Tampa Bay Rays remaining on the fringe.
The Yankees seemed rather quiet as the trade deadline approached, simply adding utility players Jerry Hairston Jr. and Erik Hinske. While neither one of these guys is going to start, Hairston is an excellent defensive sub for just about any position and Hinske is the extra bat on the bench the team badly needed.
Some people, including this guy, have some doubts about the starting pitching. CC Sabathia has been less than stellar as the ace yet has remained a decent starter, A.J. Burnett has been good, and Joba Chamberlain has come into his own. However, Andy Pettitte is an old man at the age of 37. He may last until the end of the season, but I do not see him delivering many gems.
The Boston Red Sox were extremely active this season around the deadline. They added a few minor players, but the big additions were catcher Victor Martinez from the Indians and first baseman Casey Kotchman from the Braves. Martinez might not be much of a defensive presence behind the plate, but he is a valuable bat in the lineup and can be moved to first base or DH if they want Jason Varitek calling the game.
Kotchman was acquired for Adam LaRoche. Both are first baseman who bat from the left side of the plate, but LaRoche (who was traded for earlier in the season) did not adjust to American League pitching. Kotchman is expected to adjust and he needs to because Boston needs another bat for pitch hitting situations.
Like the Yankees, Boston’s pitching is a little worrisome. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Tim Wakefield (when he returns) should make a solid starting three, but Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and Clay Buchholz all struggle on the mound. This has repercussions for the rest of the season and in the playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Rays are about to drop off the map, making this a two team race in the AL East. The Rays may have one of the most explosive and balanced offenses in the league and a pretty good pitching staff, but they seem to be losing ground to the Red Sox Nation and the Evil Empire. The culprit is the starting pitching. Jeff Niemann, Matt Garza, and James Shields are all fine, but David Price and Scott Kazmir have been awful. This team cannot afford to lose 2 out of every 5.
American League Central
The Detroit Tigers have been dangerously close to losing their hold on first place for a while, but they have been able to hold off all contenders so far. As of now, the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins are the two teams making a final push for the division lead.
The Tigers decided they could live with their hitting, but added Jarrod Washburn from the Seattle Mariners to make their starting five Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, Washburn, Rick Pocello, and Armando Galarraga with Jeremy Bonderman possibly stepping in to take over for the struggling Galarraga before season’s end. The addition of a healthy Bonderman will.
The Chicago White Sox are hoping that Jake Peavy gets back in time for a September push. In the mean time, the team must continue the good fight. Luckily the offense has been revving up for a while, with much thanks to center fielder Scott Podsednik and rookie Gordon Beckman. Add in the return of Carlos Quentin and suddenly this offense is downright dangerous.
The starting pitching needs Peavy as soon as possible. Mark Buerhle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd are good starters. However, Jose Contreras is a problem though. Also a problem, there is no fifth starter to lessen the load after trading Clayton Richard. Fans have to seriously wonder if somebody like D.J. Carrasco can make the temporary jump from long relief to starter for a month’s worth of starts.
The Minnesota Twins needed to improve their pitching, which ranks 11th in the AL, to have a shot to catch the Tigers. This did not happen, so unless Joe Mauer reveals that he is also a Cy Young worthy pitcher in addition to one of the best hitters in the league, this team is done. I do not know if Buster Olney was right and the Twins found themselves hamstrung by finances, but they needed to do something to patch the giant holes in the starting rotation and now must sink on the arms of Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins, and Kevin Slowery.
American League West
The Los Angeles Angels are the team most likely to break away from the rest of the division with a 4.5 game lead over the Texas Rangers. This is about the time the Rangers starts should implode as the humidity carries just about every routine fly over the outfield wall.
A closer look at the teams shows that the Angels are going to have a tough time winning the AL West for a third year in a row. The team plays Rangers seven times and has 10 games 13 games against contenders like the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, and White Sox. The team still has bullpen issues that they did not attend to before the trade deadline, which could come back to haunt them in key late innings.
The Texas Rangers pitching is surprisingly still going, despite the summer heat. The team also benefits a mere six games against true contenders like the Yankees and the Red Sox. Then they get to play the David role against the Angels in seven games. This could be a great story as the season comes down and there is actually a real race in the AL West.