Race for the Pennant: AL West & Wild Card

Today’s topic in my series about the race for the postseason will cover the AL West and the AL Wild Card. The content is organized by current standing:

Oakland Athletics
66-40 | division lead

When this season began, the expectation was that the Oakland A’s would compete in their division and a playoff spot. Currently they find themselves sitting 26 games over .500 with the best record in baseball.

Right now everything is clicking for Oakland, their offense is the best in the majors, scoring 534 runs. They are being led by Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, and Brandon Moss, who have combined for 60 doubles, 62 HR, and 214 RBIs. But what’s scary about the A’s team is not how good their offense is, but how much better their pitching is.

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Race for the Pennant: AL Central

The All-Star break is a great time for evaluating where a team stands. Last week, Joe looked at the long-term prospects of some cellar-dwelling teams. This week and next, we’re previewing the race for the postseason within each division. Monday I discussed the American League East; today’s topic is the AL Central. The content is organized by current standing:

Detroit Tigers
55-42 | division lead

The Tigers offense is firing on all cylinders. Currently they are second in the league in OBP with a .332 mark. They rank 4th in runs scored with 453, and 2nd in batting average at .278. Victor Martinez is batting .322, and Miguel Cabrera is batting .311.

While the offense is doing its job, however, the pitching has struggled this year. Justin Verlander has struggled to find his form so far, posting a 4.88 ERA, (1.3+ runs above his career average) while the team’s 4.00 ERA is 23rd in the majors. Some of Verlander’s peripheral stats indicate he may be having some bad luck, but even his FIP (fielding independent pitching) is above 4. Also of worry is the Tigers’ home record, which is hovering around .500.

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Race for the pennant: AL East

The All-Star break is a great time for evaluating where a team stands. Last week, Joe looked at the long-term prospects of some cellar-dwelling teams. Over the next week, we will be previewing the race for the postseason within each division. Up first is the American League East. We’ll organize this discussion by current standing:

Baltimore Orioles
53-44 | division lead

What’s scary about this Baltimore Orioles team is not how good they are doing right now, but how much better they can be. Chris Davis, after his 53 home run performance last year, has only hit 15 home runs and is batting under the Mendoza line at a horrid .199. His last long stretch this bad was in 45 games for Texas in 2010, though he had almost no power numbers then. Manny Machado is batting .270 and has hit only 10 doubles so far this season, far off the pace of the 51 doubles he ended with last year. Ubaldo Jimenez has an ERA of 4.52 this season, 55 points above his career average. J.J. Hardy has hit only three home runs all year. The list goes on.

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The troubles of the All-Star Game

Being named an All-Star is, and should be, a great honor to any player. It’s a recognition that the player is one of the best at his position, and most of those who are selected get a chance to play to some degree. The baseball world appropriately stops to recognize those who make the game exciting that year.

But Major League Baseball has long had trouble figuring out how to make the All-Star Game relevant. The MLB isn’t the only league to face this difficulty. The NFL Pro Bowl is joked about every year. The fantasy format with “Team Rice” and “Team Sanders” was created this season in an effort to shake up the game and bring in more viewers.

The MLB originally took a very different tack — because many fans always felt a number of players not selected should have been included, a “Final Vote” was added for the last man on the roster. (The Final Vote was only needed because of another misguided, though well-meaning, policy the league has in place, which I’ll discuss below.)

After the 2002 All-Star Game, which ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings, Bud Selig felt he needed to take action to prevent it from happening again. He made one change, the consequences of which continue today: stating that “this game matters,” Selig pronounced it would be the determinant of which league hosted the World Series.

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