With three weeks remaining in the Major League Baseball season, we take some time to look at how the playoff picture is shaping up. Certain divisions have been locked up for quite some time, but others are far from determining a division winner. This year’s postseason race has become even more intense with the MLB’s addition of a second wild card team.
The battle for playoff spots has also been heightened by the emergence of young talent and the shot of life that has sparked certain teams notorious for struggling in recent years. As we view today’s snapshot of the MLB standings, we will take a look at the full six divisions around the league as well as how the wild card picture is shaping up.
To date, the theme of the 2012 Major League Baseball season has been youth. The powerful young bats of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have been astounding, widening eyes of baseball fans all across the country. Trout’s performance in his rookie season as a 20-year-old (having just turned 21 this August) has gained an enormous amount of attention, shocking the 21 teams that passed on him in 2009’s MLB first year player draft. Playing in the high-profile market of Los Angeles, the Angels phenom plays with such heart, power, finesse, and grit, making grown men nationwide feel as giddy as their 8-year-old sons as they watch him ignite stadiums.
Trout’s Brian Urlacher-esque build makes it hard to believe his age, but his youthful smile and love for the game make it easy to see he is simply a kid living the dream of every 10- to 20-year-old across the globe. Time and time again, Trout’s human highlight-reel style of play can be seen on national news, hitting home runs off proven veteran pitchers and robbing home runs from the bats of hitters nearly twice his age.
On the national league side of the things, there is 19-year-old Bryce Harper. Owning the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine while still in high school, Harper has lived up to the hype at every level he has played. In his rookie year, Harper has exploded onto the scene, and more importantly, he provides insurance for a powerful Washington Nationals pitching staff.
This elite pairing is essential and has led the Nats to the best record in baseball. The youthful theme of 2012 will remain prevalent as we delve deeper into the divisional playoff picture.
Lets start in the American League East division. The Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees are fighting for first place at the top of the division, and the recently streaking Tampa Bay Rays are now only two games behind the division leading New York Yankees. A team of veterans, the Yankees are led by their captain, shortstop Derek Jeter, and proven ace C.C. Sabathia on the mound. Although the Yankees are one losing streak away from missing the playoffs, many believe that their experience and poise will lead them to a division title.
While the Rays and Orioles would both like to win the division, there are still two American League wild card spots up for grabs. The Orioles currently hold the second wild card spot and final playoff position, but the hot Rays are just one game behind. Both teams exemplify the epitome of building an organization from the ground up, utilizing the MLB draft and minor league systems. Matt Weiters and Adam Jones hold down the Orioles offense while David Price, Evan Longoria, and B.J. Upton are also homegrown players continually keeping the Rays perennial contenders.
Moving towards the American League Central, the division has been controlled by the Chicago White Sox and first year manager Robin Ventura. While the pre-season favorites to win the division were the Detroit Tigers, the White Sox took the division lead over the summer and have not looked back.
However, the Tigers have one of the most powerful lineups in baseball, anchored by stars Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera and by a pitching staff led by Justin Verlander, last year’s American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player. The Tigers are trailing the White Sox by three games but are just a short run away from taking control of the division; we will see the AL Central race heat up as the season comes to a close.
Traveling towards the West Coast, we encounter the American League West. The division is led by the powerful Texas Rangers. Centerfielder Josh Hamilton and rookie pitching sensation Yu Darvish have blazed the trail for Texas this season.
To the surprise of many, the Oakland Athletics have pieced together a magical season in typical Billy Beane fashion. Beane, Oakland’s general manager, has constructed a group of young baseball players who have won 80 games, many of which have been decided by one run in the late innings of games. The Athletics, a team that was supposed to lose more games than win, are leading the wild card chase-- the A’s currently sit 21 games above .500. Oakland’s squad is led by a young pitching staff, headlined by Jarrod Parker, and by a lineup with a star in Cuban free agent, Yoenis Cespedes.
At this point, no one would be surprised if the A’s were to take first place in the division.
Although the Rangers and A’s sit atop the division, don’t count out the streaking Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels worked themselves into the playoff discussion with a strong pitching staff and lineup with only two and a half games separating them from a playoff spot. The strong and well-rounded team could be poised to make a run deep into the playoffs if they can win a spot in the coming weeks.
Please stay tuned for Part II, expected to run next week.