Who will be left out in the American League?

By Chris Ruddick
MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The dog days of summer are upon us and that means only one thing, that pennant races are about to start heating up in Major League Baseball.

This week we will focus on the American League. With about a month and a half to play, the division leaders will likely remain the same, but it looks as if there will be three teams competing for the wild card spot.

In the AL East, the New York Yankees currently rule the roost and own a three- game lead over the Boston Red Sox. The recent acquisition of Bobby Abreu and the pending returns of both Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield just about make the Yanks a lock to compete in their 12th straight postseason and capture their ninth consecutive division crown.

Detroit, which is probably the safest bet to make the playoffs right now in the AL, owns the majors' best record at 76-38 and is an amazing 8 1/2 games ahead of the defending world champion Chicago White Sox. The biggest question for the Tigers will be how their young pitching staff responds down the stretch and into October.

Even with the best record in baseball, the Tigers will be an underdog in a potential postseason matchup with the Yankees. Sort of like the way the upstart White Sox were last year in the ALDS against Boston. How did that turn out, by the way?

Out West, Oakland still leads the division and will likely start to pull away. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are their closest competitors, but the Angels failed to get the bat they desperately needed at the deadline and have now lost reigning Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon for the remainder of the season.

So if we are conceding division titles to the three teams named above, that leaves the wild card up for grabs between the White Sox, Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. One spot for three teams. Who will be left out?

You can make an argument for each team getting to the playoffs. On the other hand, though, you can also make an argument why each team will miss out on the postseason this year.

Let's start with Chicago. The White Sox were picked by just about everybody to repeat as Central Division champions. A funny thing happened along the way, though. Jim Leyland worked his magic with a young pitching staff in Detroit and made Ozzie Guillen's crew an afterthought.

The White Sox rode some of the best starting pitching the game has ever seen last October to claim their first World Series title since 1917. This year, though, those same starters could be the reason they miss the playoffs.

Mark Buehrle, a 16-game winner each of the last two seasons, has dropped his last seven decisions, Jose Contreras has not been the same since having his franchise-record 17-game winning streak stopped and it seems like Freddy Garcia has been stuck on 10 wins forever.

It is hard to imagine the postseason without Boston, but if this past week is any indication, that is exactly where we are heading. The Red Sox first lost two of three to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, then were swept in a three-game set by the Kansas City Royals.

Injuries have started to take their toll, as the team is desperately missing captain and team leader Jason Varitek behind the plate. Not good, since Boston is looking at a five-game series in Fenway next week against the Yankees that could very well be the death knell to their postseason chances.

Outside of Curt Schilling and sometimes Josh Beckett, the starting pitching is sketchy at best. The bullpen that was so reliable in the first half has failed the team since the All-Star break. Closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was as close to automatic as you can get before the break, is starting to wear down and has blown five saves since June 9.

Still, the Red Sox possess David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, so you have to give them a slugger's chance. A few weeks ago Ortiz seemed like the slam dunk MVP choice in the AL. With the chips already stacked against him for being a designated hitter, you have to wonder what his chances for the award will be if the Sox miss the playoffs.

If you had asked me at the start of the week who my choice was to win the wild card in the AL, I probably would have said Minnesota. But the devastating news that rookie phenom Francisco Liriano could be lost for the season obviously changes things.

The Twins still have the best pitcher in the game in Johan Santana, but asking another rookie in Matt Garza to fill the giant void left by Liriano may be a tall order.

Of the three teams in the wild card chase, only the White Sox have what it takes to remedy themselves from within. You have to think that Buehrle, Contreras and Garcia will get on track at some point. While their lineup may not be as good as the Yankees, it is still better than any of the teams heading into the postseason for the AL.

I predict Chicago will eventually right its ship and claim the wild card. I am also predicting the New York Jets will make the playoffs this season, so take that for what it is worth.

Chicago is the safest pick. There are just too many injuries in Boston and unfortunately Minnesota will not be able to overcome the loss of Liriano. I can't see the Twins playing close to .700 ball, which they were doing with Liriano in the rotation, without him.

So with that said, the Yankees and the White Sox will then meet up in one ALDS with the Tigers and A's battling in the other. Who will win? Well, I guess you will have to stay tuned to find out.

Next week we will take a look at the much more difficult and crowded playoff picture in the National League, where it seems just about every team is still in it.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.
Chris Ruddick
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