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American League Playoff Picture: Fighting In The Central, Surviving In The Wild Card

Paolo Uggetti |
September 12, 2014 | 12:10 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

The Tigers and the Royals keep fighting for the AL Central. (@MLB/Twitter)
The Tigers and the Royals keep fighting for the AL Central. (@MLB/Twitter)

On Monday, we covered the National League outlook and looked at which division races are still up for grabs as well as how the wild card is shaping up.

"But why only the NL?," you may have asked. Don’t worry. Whether you’re an Angels fan crossing your fingers, an A’s fan longing for the days of Cespedes' home runs or a Tigers fan trying to convince yourself that the Royals aren’t real, here’s our look at the always interesting American League playoff picture.


The unpredictability and parity of baseball is a beautiful thing. No one would have expected the Kansas City Royals, the team with the 19th-highest payroll in the sport, to be leading the Detroit Tigers, the team with the sixth highest payroll. 

Though the lead is about as small as it can get at half a game, the fact that the Royals are still in the mix despite their roller-coaster of a season, and the fact that they simply are the Royals, is an amazing feat in itself. 

To the city of Kansas City, the hunt for October has only meant the countdown to Halloween for the past 29 years, but this year it looks like they may still be playing baseball at Kauffman Stadium when the leaves begin to change colors. 

That is, if they can hold off their Motor City adversaries. 

The Tigers seemingly played all their cards right when they acquired former Cy Young winner David Price in the last seconds of this year’s trade deadline, but GM Dave Dombrowski’s brilliant plan may have backfired

Since arriving at Comerica, Price has been average at best, posting a 2-3 record and a 4.10 ERA.

To make matters worse, Mr. Kate Upton has somehow forgotten how to be a dominant ace. 

Justin Verlander, the second former Cy Young winner, seems to be losing his edge as a very below average year has him at an ERA just under 5.00, and a win-loss record barely above .500. Only Max Scherzer, the other former Cy Young winner (yes, they have three of them), keeps churning out quality starts and has won 16 games to this point. 

A potentially talented and unreal pitching staff is hiding somewhere in that Tigers roster, and they seem bound to come around and put it all together at some point, but they better do it fast. With the Royals not going away and only 16 games left to play, the Tigers need to be consistent if they want to set the record straight in the Central and make a deep run in the postseason

For the Royals, their up-and-down season has given them leads of 5.5 games, deficits of 5.5 games, and now a margin of only one game. Kansas City’s hope is hanging on by dear life, but they’re not willing to let go.

With the pressure mostly on the defending central champs in Detroit, the Royals have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The questions however, are aplenty. 

Can the other pitchers besides ace James Shields keep up their good outings? Can someone else—will anybody else—help out Alex Gordon and start hitting consistently? And can manager Ned Yost keep his team focused on the prize at hand? 

We have 16 more games to find out, but a Sept. 19 to 21 three-game-set between the two teams looms large as a deciding factor of the Central’s dramatic pennant race. 


Who are you, and what have you done to the AL East of old?

The Baltimore Orioles are literally running away with the division and no one can stop them. Not the Yankees, not the Blue Jays, and certainly not the Rays nor the Red Sox. 

A current 10-game-lead is the product of "clutch" pitching, an improved bullpen and players like Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz bringing solid offensive contributions to the table. Oh, and did I mention the rest of their division stinks? 

But hey, the O’s are playoff-bound and for the sake of the loyal fans at Camden Yards, hopefully they can represent the division well by continuing their momentum and playing the role of the dark horse in October. 


The Oakland A's have fallen from grace and maybe even from the playoffs. (@SInow/Twitter)
The Oakland A's have fallen from grace and maybe even from the playoffs. (@SInow/Twitter)

Much like the East, the AL West already knows its champion. 

If you haven’t been keeping up with baseball lately, you may think Billy Beane’s A’s are taking the cake, but the tables haven’t just turned, they’ve been flipped completely by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Just a month ago, Oakland was 3.5 games up on the Angels, but have gone on to lose 11 of their last 15 setting them a whopping 10 games back in the division.

The A’s have had a disastrous month where everything has gone wrong. They were once the best team in baseball by a considerable margin and have now been reduced to doubting if they can even make the postseason.

Like the Tigers, the A’s snagged an ace in Jon Lester at the trade deadline, and though he’s put up a respectable five wins in eight starts, it’s their offense that’s been a serious problem. 

Losing Cespedes to the Red Sox may be one of the main reasons, as they miss his power bat in the lineup dearly, but the rest of the lineup simply has not picked up the slack and consequently, Mike Trout's Angels have been on a tear and have taken complete control of the division.


Like the National League, the two divisions on the coasts are all but wrapped up. Therefore, barring the central division, the focus of many teams in second and even third place is shifting to the wild card spots.

The two available spots are currently being fought over like the last bottle of water in the desert, as six teams vie for two tickets to October. 

The aforementioned A’s and Tigers are holding down the spots for now, but only a half game back lie the pesky Mariners who are riding the King Felix express until death and have key series against the A’s and the Blue Jays coming up. 

A little further back are those very Blue Jays as well as the Indians, both at 3.5 games back and still with a realistic hope at toppling down the favorites. The Indians face the Tigers this upcoming week and the Royals the next week, giving them plenty of chances to make a late run at it. Then again, it is Cleveland. 

The Blue Jays—sans that key three-game set against the Mariners late in the month—face all division rivals the rest of the month, which could be a good thing for their chances. If all goes haywire, that series in Toronto against Seattle could be their last opportunity at providing our neighbors to the North with some baseball joy before hockey gets going.  

Then, there are the New York Yankees. Yes, the Yankees are somehow, someway, still in the race. Thursday’s night game against the Rays was a microcosm of the Yanks' whole season. Fall behind early and get no-hit for seven innings, then rally and hit a walk-off three-run homer. Ok, maybe not so much.

Maybe it’s by the sheer will of The Captain alone. Maybe it’s the lack of A-Rod’s presence that has them competing. Maybe it’s just Martin Prado's resurgence or possibly it's the whole team’s awareness that this is Derek Jeter’ final season and he deserves one last playoff run. 

Whatever it is, these dysfunctional Yankees just won’t die. They’re running out of time, and will need lots of outside help to get that second spot. But hey, at least if they don’t make it, I’m sure Brian Cashman will throw money around and make the fans happy during the Winter Meetings.  

The Wild Card is shaping up to be...well, pretty wild. But even better, October baseball is shaping up to bring us new teams, great matchups and amazing playoff series. And who doesn’t love that?

You can contact staff reporter Paolo Uggetti here or follow him on Twitter.



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