The races for the American League West and East crowns are too compelling to look away from.
No disrespect to the AL Central. Detroit and Chicago are only separated by two games with two weeks left in the season. Although most had the Tigers running away with it at the beginning of the year, the White Sox don’t look like they plan on looking back.
Still, the Central can’t touch the East and West right now.
The first reason is pretty simple: everybody loves the underdog. Baltimore and Oakland’s success this season has surprised just about everyone outside those organizations. They are proving that baseball’s unpredictability is what makes the sport so great.
The Oakland A’s of the AL West started their season by cleaning house and starting over—or so it seemed. They traded their two best pitchers (Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill) and closer (Andrew Bailey). They also lost their best hitter, Josh Willingham, to free agency.
Well, the A’s didn’t spend very long feeling sorry for themselves. Billy Beane’s crew has used a second half surge to vault them into the playoff picture.
The Baltimore Orioles of the AL East are the second underdog. The O’s rode caboose in their division for just about all of the 2011 season. Their success this year is maybe more difficult to explain than the Athletics. Their opponents have actually outscored them by ten runs for the year, they have inexplicably won almost 30 games decided by one run (an MLB record) and they refuse to lose in extra innings. Their group of overachievers is neck and neck with the mighty Yankees.
The teams leading each of these divisions shouldn’t be overlooked either.
The Texas Rangers had pretty smooth sailing until June, when injuries looked to knock the wheels off the wagon. The rotation was hit hard in particular: Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis were shelved for the year, and Derek Holland missed a month. The offense somehow forgot how to put runs on the board in July, finishing dead last in the MLB that month in runs scored. Still, the team managed to stay afloat and maintained a steady lead in the division. They look to close things out down the stretch.
The New York Yankees are doing what they do best—they simply find ways to win. Injuries have again played a key role in their season. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia have all spent time on the DL. Brett Gardner was lost for the season, not to mention Mariano Rivera’s season ending injury in May. Yet the Bronx Bombers won’t throw in the towel. Derek Jeter’s resurgence in the lineup, Rafael Soriano’s emergences in the bullpen, and contribution from key role players have them a half game up on the Orioles.
Then, there are the teams in third place, neither of who really qualify as underdogs.
The AL West’s Los Angeles Angels were the hot pick to win more than just their division when the season started. They shoveled heaps of cash on free agents and and traded top prospects at the deadline for Zack Greinke. Yet, continuing the theme of baseball’s unpredictability, the Halos haven’t lived up to the hype. At 7.5 games back, they have a lot of work to do, but have the talent to do get it done.
The Tampa Bay Rays can’t be counted out of the AL East. They have one of the top pitching staffs in the game, led by David Price, and a great bullpen anchored by Fernando Rodney. With a healthy Evan Longoria, they might have just enough offense to make up the 6.5 game gap they sit at right now. After what they achieved in 2011, who’s to say they can’t do it again?
Finally, with all the evidence presented, the question of which division race is the most compelling still needs to be answered
It’s tough, but my vote is for the AL West. The Texas Rangers are the two-time defending American League champions and have the league’s best record. They have had the target on their back all year with the A's and Angels on their heels.
The cast of characters is also what makes it so interesting. This division boasts three legit MVP candidates in Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Adrian Beltre; it also has plenty of fresh faces who should represent the entire AL Rookie of the Year ballot: Ryan Cook, Yoenis Cespedes, Jarrod Parker, Yu Darvish, and Trout. The pitching is solid on all the clubs, and you can’t forget household names like Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver, Michael Young, and Elvis Andrus.
The drama is just beginning. The Rangers must play the A’s seven times and the Angels three more times before the season ends.
That’s just my two cents. What do you guys think?