AL Wild Card Race Heats Up as September Commences
Let’s look at the AL wild card playoff race (as of 9/4/17). In the previous part of this article I broke down the current situation for the Yankees, Twins, Angels and Mariners. In Part 2, I’ll analyze Baltimore, Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Texas.
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Baltimore Orioles (70-67, 1.5 GB)
It has been a season of streaks for the Orioles. At various points, it has seemed nearly impossible for the Orioles to win. At other times, it has been seemingly impossible to contain their offense. A little consistency could go a long way for Baltimore. But they just can’t seem to find any.
Their struggles have stemmed from horrendous starting pitching. As a team, Baltimore owns a 4.81 ERA which ranks 14th in the AL. Dylan Bundy is the only Oriole starter with an ERA under 4. He owns a 3.94 ERA, certainly respectable, but also modest for an ace. Aside from Bundy, the O’s rotation has been brutal. Kevin Gausman and Wade Miley both have ERA’s close to 5 (4.79 and 4.91). They both rank in the bottom 10 in the category among qualifiers. Even worse, Ubaldo Jiminez has an ERA of 6.85 and former ace Chris Tillman’s ERA stands at 7.85.
Luckily for the Orioles, they have one of the most intimidating offensive lineups in the league. They are the only team in the MLB that has six players with at least 20 home runs. Jonathan Schoop has had a breakout season and has carried the load, batting .309 (6th in AL) with 30 homers (10th in AL) and 101 RBI (2nd in AL). The Orioles struggled mightily in May, June and July with a combined record of 36-46. However since the start of August they are 19-13, winning eight of their last 10.
Their recent success has come from monstrous second halves by aforementioned Jonathan Schoop as well as young superstar Manny Machado. The starting pitching has also improved lately. But pitching has to improve if the Orioles want to become a legitimate contender. In order for the O’s to make a serious playoff run, their offense will have to remain red hot and carry their atrocious pitching staff. Also, Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez, as veteran pitchers, must step up for their team if they want to play in October.
Texas Rangers (68-68, 3 GB)
The Texas Rangers represent the epitome of a team that lives and dies by the home run. Thus far this strategy has been mildly successful as they sit at .500 on the season. Oddly, the Rangers rank 11th in the AL in batting average (.247) but still have scored the third highest number of runs (693). The plethora of runs scored this season stems from their tremendous power. Texas leads the AL in home runs with 212.
Three players on the Rangers standout as typical sluggers who hit for low average but provide power to help their team. They are Rougned Odor (.211, 27 HR), Mike Napoli ( .194, 28 HR) and Joey Gallo (.211, 37 HR). Elvis Andrus has had a breakout offensive season, batting .301 with 18 homers. Also, Adrian Beltre is still producing in his 20th MLB season but has recently found himself back on the DL.
Mediocre starting pitching holds back the Rangers from becoming a legitimate contender. Cole Hamels has been decent but not as effective as in the past. Andrew Cashner has been the bright spot of their pitching staff with a 3.30 ERA. Nick Martinez, AJ Griffin and Martin Perez are all having poor seasons. If Cole Hamels can pitch to his potential, then I like the Rangers’ odds of snatching one of the wild card spots.
Kansas City Royals (67-68, 3.5 GB)
The Royals had a brutal start to the season, ending April with a record of 7-16. While their pitching was not so bad their offense was terrible. However, the Royals did manage to turn it around. They were actually one of the best teams in baseball from May to July posting a W/L of 48-33 in that span.
It looked like they would battle with the Indians and Twins for the AL Central, crown but the Indians have pulled away and the Royals have fallen off. Kansas City owns a record of 12-19 since the beginning of August, losing seven 7 of their last 10. Kansas City now sits one game under .500, barely staying alive in the playoff picture.
Mike Moustakas, with a .277 average and 36 home runs and Eric Hosmer, with a .318 average and 23 home runs have tried to carry the load offensively. But it just has not been quite enough, as the Royals rank 14th in runs scored in the AL with 581. The main reason for the Royals second-half struggles has been the disappearance of Jason Vargas. Vargas was an AL Cy Young contender in the first half with a ERA of 2.62. But after this dominant first half, Vargas has fallen off brutally in the second half with an ERA since the All Star Break of 6.80.
Without Vargas pitching the way he did early in the season, I do not think that the Royals have a shot at claiming a wild card spot. Kansas City does not have a playoff-worthy offense or pitching staff, yet I can’t count them out yet because of their roster, full of experienced veterans who have playoff and late-season experience.
Tampa Bay Rays (68-70, 4 GB)
At this point, I do not think the Rays have any shot at making the playoffs. Sure, they are only four games out, but their offense has been wildly inconsistent all year. Tampa Bay hits a decent amount of home runs (fifth most in AL with 195) but they don’t score runs at a high rate, ranking 12th in the AL with 594. The Rays do rank towards the top of the AL in ERA at 4.03, but they seem to always have an injured pitcher on the DL. They only have three pitchers who have started more than 20 games (Odorizzi, Archer and Cobb). I don’t count them out yet, but I don’t think this team has a legitimate chance at making the playoffs due to their sub par offense and often-injured pitching staff.
*All statistics as of 9/4/17*