Congrats, Yankees fans! We have survived the dog-days of August and our favorite team has emerged from the grind of 162 games with the best record in the American League, the Number 1 seed in the playoffs, and home field advantage, rounding out the season with a very impressive 95 wins. But now, a whole new season begins. The Yankees have deftly avoided the one game play-in Wild Card game, but they still have a long road to get to the ultimate goal: winning the World Series. But first, the Yankees have to get there. While we know the Yankees will face their AL East nemesis, the Baltimore Orioles, it’s good to look over the rest of the teams they may meet should they make it past the O’s, So, out of all the American League teams left–the Moneyball A’s, the Triple Crown winning Tigers or the never-quit Orioles–who scares you the most?
The A’s have to be my favorite non-Mike Trout/RA Dickey-themed story of the season. For all the ribbing Billy Beane took for his ideas in Moneyball, all the mocking, he assembled one hell of a team. Down 13 games at one point, the A’s overtook the Rangers and claimed the West, and split the season series with the Yankees. They have a potent lineup with significant power in Chris Carter and Yoenis Cespedes. Josh Reddick remains a strong offensive threat despite his recent horrific slump.
The rotation, while rookies, has been strong all year, and certainly has kept them alive this season. And, despite the young guns never have been involved in playoff action, think of this: this rotation has played well against Texas and the Angels all year. While the Angels haven’t made the playoffs, and the Rangers have stumbled lately, it cannot be denied that both have extremely strong lineups.
The bullpen, locked down by Grant Balfour’s strong season, is definitely a strength. These A’s aren’t the hapless fools many in baseball predicted prior to the season, but are a lot closer to those Jason Giambi-Johnny Damon-Mark Mulder-Tim Hudson A’s of old. Can’t discount them as a legitimate threat to the Yankees, as it took the Yankees extra innings (twice) to beat them in the most-recent series.
The Tigers are a team that I just can’t seem to figure out. They’ve got less wins than either Wild Card team, and really only have come on in the last few weeks, mostly because the White Sox picked an inopportune time to fall off a cliff. Detroit has a strong rotation behind Justin Verlander. Doug Fister is a legitimate Number 2, and Max Scherzer (provided that ankle he injured celebrating the Tigers clinching the Central), can be devastatingly good, if sometimes inconsistent.
Also, while he isn’t my choice for MVP, Miguel Cabrera has had a season for the ages, and is flanked for protection by a strong offensive force in Prince Fielder. The bullpen, despite a slight regression from Jose Valverde from his ridiculously successful 2011, is a positive.
All that said, this team struggled mightily at times to get on a run throughout the season despite that strong rotation and powerful offensive output for no apparent reason. The Tigers got to the postseason with some huge help from the White Sox,’s late struggles, but given the financial expenditures of the off-season, not running away with the weakest division in the league is somewhat perplexing. I’m not sure I buy into the Tigers as the team to beat. Strong, but not my front-runner, but they did beat the Yankees in last year’s ALDS, and the idea of facing Justin Verlander twice in any series isn’t terribly appealing.
We’ve been waiting all year for the Orioles to go away, but here we are; they beat the Texas Rangers last night 5-1 in the wild card play-in game to earn a chance to play the Yanks in the ALDS.
This team has me beyond confused. How they managed to win 93 games, have such an incredible record in extra-inning games, and do all of this with a negative run differential makes my head spin. Think about that. A team manages to win 93 games and give up more runs than they scored. Insanity. And say what you want about the no-name roster of the A’s, but the Orioles have had a revolving door of players, including starters, and are still here.
Buck Showalter has gotten amazing production out of his team, and where one guy goes down, others have come up to aptly fill the those spots, especially in the starting rotation. Over 10 individual starters have started for the Orioles this year, and they have made more roster moves than I can count. And guess what? It has worked. I’m still not sold on this rotation in the playoffs, despite their success in the regular season, the Orioles did hold the Yankees at bay in their most recent series in the Bronx when the Yankees could have put them away. As the icing on the cake, both Chris Davis and Matt Wieters have had terrific offensive seasons. Rookie Manny Machado adds to a powerful home run-hitting team. I’m not excited the Yanks are meeting them in the ALDS after having a better record than the Yankees in the division and splitting the season series. Maybe third time’s the charm for Showalter, and he can finally reap the rewards for his tireless efforts to build a winning team.
And there you have it, a guaranteed opponent in the Orioles beginning tomorrow and the two potential opponents for the Yankees should they advance. For the first time in years, it seems like each team in the American League has just as many strengths as flaws, and that parity is unlike that of any other year in recent memory. Each team has a strength so perfectly matched to an opponent’s weakness, that they tend to cancel one another out.
With so many evenly-matched teams in the league, any team can win it all, even if the Yankees may match up better with one team over another. Baseball is so unpredictable (right, John Sterling?), anything can happen, so you might as well throw out everything that happened from April through September, because this is an entirely new season. Did anyone see Oakland winning the AL West or the Orioles getting into the playoffs? Exactly. I don’t really know who my final choice is to win the American League pennant, but I do feel that, given the right match-up, the Yankees have just as good a shot as any other team to get there. What are your thoughts?