Making sense of wild AL postseason picture
Twins, Angels, Rays on heels of Yanks, Rangers
It might only be early September, but little by little, inning by inning, the postseason is starting to take shape. And in the American League, while some clubs appear to be on cruise control to October, there's still more than enough intrigue to make this a month to remember.
Here's a pre-Labor Day primer for all of the drama that's yet to come over the next month in the Junior Circuit:
Nine's a crowd?
With the Royals steaming ever closer to wrapping up the AL Central, there seem to be only four other postseason spots available across the league, and right now nine teams are within seven games of qualifying. Granted, the Indians (six behind) and Orioles (6 1/2 behind) have a lot of work to do to get back in the mix, but stranger things have happened down the stretch of a pennant race.
One has to like how the revamped Blue Jays have stormed to the front in the AL East, but the Yankees are still only 1 1/2 games behind Toronto and have gotten Michael Pineda back into their rotation, while the Rays are hanging in the race, trailing the second Wild Card berth by 4 1/2 games.
The Royals are in full boat-race mode in the Central, but the pesky Twins are staying in it, only 1 1/2 games out of Wild Card contention.
In the West, the Astros continue to hold the division lead, but the Rangers, who added Cole Hamels via trade and got back a healthy Derek Holland, now look pretty rich in pitching and have one of the Wild Card slots. The Angels are the team looking up at that Texas two-step in the standings, but Mike Scioscia's team isn't out yet, with a 3 1/2-game Wild Card deficit.
Go East and West, young men
The way the Blue Jays have been pummeling the baseball and pitching lately, it seems like they're not only the favorites to win the East but to possibly go a lot further. Meanwhile, the Astros have held the West lead for most of the year and appear to be just as strong as ever in that top slot.
It would be a boon for both organizations and for baseball if these teams win their divisions, considering Toronto hasn't even played in October since winning its second consecutive World Series in 1993, and the young, dangerous Astros are at least a few years ahead of their rebuilding plan.
Kudos to both front offices for taking advantage of their positions in the standings and making huge dents at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Jays' aggressiveness netted them Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Ben Revere and bullpen depth. The Astros got Scott Kazmir, no-hitter artist Mike Fiers and do-everything outfielder Carlos Gomez.
The Blue Jay Express
How tough will it be to slow down Toronto? Consider that the Jays went 21-6 in August, with 170 runs scored (about 6.3 per game) and 83 allowed (not quite 3.1). Toronto had a team OPS of .832 for the month.
And the Jays haven't lost in two games in September.
What it might mean is that the Royals, while 31 games above the .500 mark, are no shoo-in for the top seed in the AL playoffs. Another epic month from the Blue Jays could swing home-field advantage throughout the postseason to the climate-controlled Rogers Centre.
Spying the schedules
A look at the some of the contenders' daily itineraries for the remainder of the year would figure to provide clues as to who might have sterling Septembers, but this being baseball and all, nothing's certain.
Still, the Blue Jays have to like what's ahead of them, with the vast majority of their remaining games against teams with records below the .500 mark.
And at the other end of the September spectrum lie the Rangers, who had a day off on Thursday but only get one more in a stretch in which they'll play 30 games. On the good side for Texas is 17 of its final 23 games at home, where the Rangers have been playing much better of late.
Bumpy roads to October
The secret to the state of the standings at the end of the 162-game schedule should lie in the prime-time series, as usual. And there are plenty to choose from.
This weekend, the Twins visit Houston to play the Astros for three games, the Orioles play the Blue Jays in Toronto and the Rangers take on the Angels in Anaheim. These series are crucial for all involved, but more so for the Twins, Orioles and Angels, who have ground to make up.
Next week, it starts with Orioles-Yankees and Twins-Royals and ends with Royals-Orioles, Blue Jays-Yankees and Astros-Angels. That's only a small fraction of the drama to come as the AL picture slowly gets clearer.