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by Mike Thomas
American League Playoff Race
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       Leyland and Francona: Two Managers in the Playoff Race



The season has entered into the dog days of August, a stretch where teams sometimes either make it or break it. With about 50 games to go in the season, the races are tightening up. In the National League, there isn't much of a race. The Braves and Dodgers have big leads in their divisions. The Pirates, Cardinals, and Reds are in a fight for the Central, but it is likely that all three teams will get to the postseason. Arizona is the only other team with a winning record in the National League. The American League's playoff picture is much more unclear with 9 teams having realistic playoff chances. The Tigers have gained a 5 game lead on the Indians with recent wins over the club, but the East and West races have tightened up. The wild card picture is muddled as well, with 6 teams within 6 games of a spot.

Here's a look at the AL standings as of Wednesday morning:

AL East

Red Sox   69-46    -

Rays         66-46   1.5

Orioles     62-51    6

AL Central

Tigers     66-45    -

Indians    62-51   5

AL West

Athletics   64-48   -

Rangers    64-50   1

AL Wild Card

Rays        66-46   -

Rangers   64-48   -

Indians    62-51   1.5

Orioles    62-51   1.5

Royals     57-53   5

Yankees  57-55   6

Off all those teams, the defending AL champion Tigers look like the best bet to make the playoffs. They have a 5 game lead on the AL Central and are 29-16 against their division rivals. They are 11-3 against second place Cleveland, but are 3-5 against the Royals. The Royals still have 11 games remaining against Detroit, and have been playing much better as of late. Still, KC is 8.5 games back from the Tigers and 5 games back of the final wild card spot. While they have some promising players for the future, there is no telling how they will fare in a pennant race(especially as a longshot team). The Indians will have a tough time winning the division because of their struggles against the Tigers. They still have 5 games remaining against Detroit this year.

In the West, there is a tight one game race between the Athletics and Rangers. The Angels were widely expected to be in the thick of the race, but have been a huge disappointment this year. Josh Hamilton has been a flop in his first season in Anaheim and Albert Pujols' plantar fasciitis has put him on the DL. The Angels are actually in fourth place, behind the Mariners. The Rangers have moved on without Hamilton, and their pitching has been better this year. Texas' pitching will have to keep it up, because Nelson Cruz was suspended for 50 games for his ties to Biogenesis. The A's have proven last year's division title was no fluke. They also got lucky that All Star pitcher Bartolo Colon was not suspended since he was suspended last year. Oakland relies on timely hitting and has one of the best bullpen's in the majors. Should be just as an exciting race between these two teams as it was last year.

The East is the most unpredictable division. The Red Sox have held on to the lead most of the season, although they've been challenged by the Rays and Orioles. Boston is a much different team than the drama-filled versions of 2011 and 2012. John Farrell has done a good job in his first season as Boston's manager, replacing controversy lightning rod Bobby Valentine. Led by Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and David Ortiz, the Sox lead the AL in runs scored. Their pitching has performed better this year, and they just acquired Jake Peavy for the stretch run. That been said, Joe Maddon's Rays are right on their tail. Tampa Bay has a young dominant rotation and a good offense led by Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. Wil Nieves, acquired in the James Shields deal, has also been very good since being called up. The Orioles are a powerhouse offensive club and one of the best defensive teams in the league. Baltimore's pitching is up to par with Tampa Bay or Boston, though.

The AL wild card race looks like a free for all. I would expect this race to go down to the season's final days(if not the final day). Right now, the Rays and Rangers hold on to the two wild card spots with Cleveland and Baltimore only 1.5 games back of the last spot. The resurgent Royals are only 5 games back. They have a young club, but Eric Hosmer has started to heat up along with some of the other hitters. Shields and Ervin Santana have been a big help to the Royals rotation. Kansas City leads the AL in ERA. The Yankees are also in the wild card hunt, being 6 games back. The Yankees are the opposite of the young Royals, they have an aging veteran-laden club. They have been slowly fading, although they remain 2 games above .500. This will be Mariano Rivera's final season, so I'm sure Joe Girardi's club is eager to make the postseason. It will be hard to do with all the key injuries to players like Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson. The stretch run in the American League looks like it will be interesting this season.

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