Time to break out the Ouija board, a crystal
ball and, last but not least, the fixin's for a couple of dirty martinis as I
dive into predictions for the American League playoffs, which, as I write, are now but eight
A lot can happen in baseball over eight weeks...check, a lot
can happen in baseball over eight hours as the final day of the 2011 regular
season proved. We may never see that
kind of drama repeat itself at the very end of a campaign; then again, we could
see even more this October 3, which is a Wednesday and could turn into Chump
Day if we see another collapse like Boston and Atlanta coughed up.
Technically, no teams have been officially eliminated from
competition for the AL
flag as I sit here on August 8. All 14
teams are mathematically in the race, but I'm going to lop five off the list to
get things rolling. Three are from the
AL Central, so I wish happy and healthy offseasons to the Cleveland Indians,
Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins.
Another team failing to make the cut is Seattle from the AL West. And, from the AL East, we bid adieu to
the Toronto Blue Jays, who happen to have the best record of the quintet we first pare
from the discussion.
That leaves nine, which is an appropriate number in baseball
given there are nine innings to a game and nine players on the field at a time. Odds to win the AL pennant are in parentheses.
Picking Through The
Ranks To Find The Fab 5
Did I say nine teams are left? Let's cut the list to eight immediately by
releasing the Boston Red Sox (+1700) from any postseason discussion. Yes, I know, the Red Sox are just 4.5-games
out of the AL
wild card, which isn't much of
a gap at all to cut over about 50 games. And, again, I'm aware Boston has a tremendous offense that is
getting even better now that both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford are
starting to get it in gear following lengthy DL stints.
But I also know their pitching sucks pond water. The only three AL
starting staffs with higher ERAs than the Red Sox (4.79) are Cleveland (5.13), Kansas City
(5.36) and Minnesota
(5.40). Boston is also having some issues in the
bullpen lately, though that could improve with Andrew Bailey nearing his season
debut after sitting on the DL all season.
Perhaps the biggest handicap the Red Sox have to overcome, however, is that dude on the top step of the dugout, the one to whom Boston's front office
recently gave a fatal "vote of confidence." Bobby Valentine should be returning to ESPN's
studios at some point this winter.
The general feeling is that four teams have an inside track
to claim all but one of the five AL
playoff slots: the New York Yankees (+250), Detroit Tigers (+550), Texas
Rangers (+200) and Los Angeles Angels (+325). Throw in the Chicago White Sox (+375) and you have the top 5 clubs
according to baseball odds makers. Can it
really be that easy?
Who Has The Goods To
Disrupt The Favorites?
The Yankees could be in trouble. Who knows? The Red Sox could sweep the nine
games they have left with New York
to make me eat a little crow on counting them out, not to mention taking their
rivals out of the postseason. I'm not planning
on such an outcome, but stranger things have occurred in baseball.
does need to get more consistent starting efforts from someone other than C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, or the Yanks will be in trouble.
I'm not sold on the Rangers, either. Again, it's the rotation; Texas
has to be very worried about Yu Darvish. But, like New York,
the Rangers should have enough offense to overcome their pitching shortcomings.
Two teams that keep defying the odds are Baltimore
(+2000) and Oakland
(+1000). I would love to see them meet in the ALCS, but it won't happen since
if they both make it, they'll be in the wild-card playoff game. Or is it play-in game?
Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays (+950) are my pick to
squeeze their way into the postseason once again despite a tough schedule ahead. A 10-game road trip is about to begin, which
will take them through Minnesota, Seattle and Anaheim,
and they still have home-&-home series with the Texas Rangers plus visits
from the Yankees and A's in the next month. That will make it tough enough to even stay in the picture in
The series that will decide it all takes place the final
four days of September on Chicago's
South Side. The Rays and White Sox will meet
then for the final spot in the AL
postseason, and I believe in Maddon and the Rays to work their magic.
AL Playoff Picks:
Yankees, *Rays, Tigers, Angels,
*Rangers (* wild card)