American League Playoff Picture

AL Playoff Picture
By Tyler Tjelmeland

  AL East Champions:
New York Yankees (97-65)

Curtis Granderson has been a spark plug for the ever-dangerous Yankees offense, Photo Courtesy of MLB.com

It is generally agreed on among experts and baseball minds alike that the American League East Division, and it comes as no surprise this season that the greatest franchise of all time, New York Yankees stand atop the gauntlet with a 97-65 record.  The Yankees have ridden the title wave that has been MVP candidate Curtis Granderson all season.  Granderson has proven to be a catalyst for the Yankee offense, boasting 41 HR’s while driving in an AL leading 119 RBI’s.  Granderson is not the only Yankees offensive weapon producing and driving in runs.  Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeria, Nick Swisher, along with Granderson have combined for an incredible 433 total RBI’s, with 836 total for the team, which was 2nd in the regular season only to in-division rival, Boston, who did not even make the playoffs.  The Yankees used its power to its advantage, slugging a league-leading 222 total HR’s, 12 more than the AL West winner, Texas Rangers.

The hitting was incredible, but teams do not tend to win the best division in baseball by just hitting the baseball.  A large part of the Yankees success this season has been its great power pitching, leading the AL with 1222 total Strikeouts.  The leaders of the pitching staff for pinstripes are fairly common names.  Closer, Mariano Rivera broke the MLB record for most career saves, surpassing Trevor Hoffman with his 603rd save of his sure-to-be hall-of-fame career.  Rivera recorded 44 saves on 49 attempts this season, with only one real hiccup, blowing 3 saves in a span of two weeks mid-season.  The bullpen played a huge role in the success of the Yankees this season, but there always has to be somebody to get the ball to them and another usual suspect was always there to make that happen.  C.C. Sabathia would have been a Cy Young favorite, had Justin Verlander not had a season for the record books.  Sabathia posted a 19-8 record with a 3.00 ERA with 230 strikeouts and 3 complete games en route to arguably his most dominant year yet, becoming a true power pitcher, striking out the most batters since his incredible 251 K’s in 2008 split between the Indians and the Brewers.

The Yankees clinched the division on September 21st after sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays with a score of 4-2 in the night cap of a double-header when Jorge Posada hit a game winning RBI single.  The Yankees have coasted the rest of the way, and even though they have dropped 4 straight games (3 to the surging Wild-Card winning Rays).

 

 

AL West Champions:
  Texas Rangers (96-66)

 

The World Series ended last season with The San Francisco Giants on the top of the sporting world, surprising everyone.  Former Texas Ranger pitching ace Cliff Lee posted one of the greatest postseasons ever last season, and Nolan Ryan’s Rangers came up short in the offseason of retaining Lee off of the free agent wire.  The Phillies nabbed him up and Rangers had a gaping hole at the top of their rotation.  Early on in the season, manager Ron Washington made no mistake about it that he had complete confidence in lefty C.J. Wilson and Wilson did not disappoint, winning 16 games while only losing 7, and posting a 2.94 ERA with a career high 206 strikeouts, by far the best season of the budding stars career. Wilson filled the hole that Cliff Lee left behind and the Rangers seemed like they were back in business.

Hamilton hits a Grand Slam in 2008 against Tampa Bay (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

The Rangers clinched the division on September 23rd while sitting in the locker room watching the Angels fall to the A’s.  The champagne popped and the Rangers were back in the playoffs for a second straight yet.

The hitting was never in question.  Coming off an MVP season, Josh Hamilton looked to lead the Rangers to another great hitting season.

They added Adrian Beltre who found the fountain of youth yet again and propelling the potent offense to the division title.  The Rangers battled injuries all season, yet again with Beltre, break-out catcher Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz, and Hamilton all missing some time.  The injuries didn’t stop the Rangers from excelling to a phenomenal season though.  Combined, the team as a whole had the best batting average in the league at .283, and scored 855 total runs, which was good enough for 3rd in the league, behind Boston.  The pitching and hitting combined for the Rangers had put them in a position this season to repeat their success from last year, and build upon that to get Nolan Ryan that World Series championship that he so desperately wants for Texas.

 

 

 

 AL Central Champions:
 Detroit Tigers (95-67)

Verlander has led his Tigers to the playoffs after a sure Cy Young caliber season, (Photo Courtesy of Graphicshunt.com

 

The American League Cy Young is never an easy award to win, and every year it seems that the race comes down to a few votes because of the incredible performances by many different pitchers.  This year was much different.  The Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander has made the voting extremely easy for most of the voters this season.  On the arm of Verlander, the Tigers distanced themselves from the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox, winning the division by a convincing 15 games over Cleveland.

Verlander was not the only pitching story in Detroit.  Jose Valverde, the closer quietly had a record-breaking season.  Valverde broke the Detroit Tigers saves record with 49 saves, and was the only high profile closer that did not blow a single save all season long.  Valverde continued his recent successes and will look to bring the heat in to the playoffs for Jim Leyland’s Tigers.

Many people talk about the perfect formula for a quality playoff team.  The “perfect formula” is usually referred to as a stud pitcher (Verlander), a great closer (Valverde), and an elite hitter.  The Tigers fit the bill perfectly.  Miguel Cabrera is arguably the most promising hitter in baseball right now.  Cabrera led the Majors with a .344 AVG, .448 OBP, and 48 doubles.  Miguel also drove in 105 runs, scored 111 times, and 30 HR’s.  Miguel rounds out a phenomenal Tigers roster, making them a very potent force in the playoffs.

 

 

 AL Wild Card:
Tampa Bay Rays (91-71)

Rays celebrate winning the AL Wild Card on Evan Longoria’s walk-off HR in the bottom of the 12th inning (Steve Nesius/Reuters)
The end of the season was the epitome of a wild ride for the Tampa Bay Rays.  They snuck into the playoffs after a phenomenal September, winning 6 of its last 7 games, elevating them above the Red Sox.  The Tampa Bay Rays don’t jump out off the paper statistically.  In fact, the Red Sox were better in every offensive category this season, but the Rays win games.  They use their young pitching, coupled with their teamwork, and fundamental baseball to win games.  This is Ray’s baseball.  The Rays and Joe Maddon are not new to the playoffs, by any means.  The Rays lot The World Series in 2008 to The Phillies and Cole Hamels insane performance on the mound, and they faced off against the Rangers last season in the ALDS.

The Rays looked like it was going to be tough to get into the Playoffs coming into the final series.  The Rays were squared off against the Yankees and The Red Sox were playing the Orioles.  The Rays swept the Yankees, capping off the regular season with a walk-off bomb by Evan Longoria, and the Tampa Bay Rays were going to be playing baseball in October.

The pitching staff has a lot of upside in Cy- Young runner-up last season, David Price, who has looked shaky as of late and struggled last season in the playoffs against the potent bats of the Rangers.  Alongside Price is phenom Jeremy Hellickson who will look to make a splash in the playoffs after having a great first, full season.  Between Hellickson, Price, James Shields, and Jeff Niemann, The Rays will be poised and ready to compete in the postseason.  If they play Ray’s Baseball, this can be a very fun team to watch.

 

For more coverage on the MLB Postseason, Jordan Kabialis has the National League Playoff Picture. In addition, the experts of KRUI’s “Sports Squawk” make their predictions for the entire Postseason.

National League Playoff Picture

2011 Playoff Predictions 

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  1. By National League Playoff Picture - KRUI Radio on September 30, 2011 at 7:05 PM

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  2. By MLB Playoff Predictions - KRUI Radio on September 30, 2011 at 7:07 PM

    […] « National League Playoff Picture American League Playoff Picture » MLB Playoff Predictions By Tyler Tjelmeland | Published: September 30, […]

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