New York Yankees
Unsurprisingly, the Bronx Bombers find themselves in the thick of it in October. The Yankees carry the most World Series titles of any club in history and they will not be fazed by the sport’s biggest stage. The Yanks are equipped with an explosive arsenal of big arms in C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. The usual offensive suspects Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and Derek Jeter means opposing teams will have their hands full. It’s always hard to bet against the Yanks; and this year it is particularly true, as their arch-nemeses, the Red Sox, hit the links early. Look for New York to contend for yet another World Series championship. Anything less than an American League crown will be a disappointment.
Although the Tigers are limping rather than roaring into the playoffs, they do so on the backs of two big league stars. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are two of the best hitters in baseball, and together form the best one-two punch in the game. Fielder made the transition to the American League better than his other high-priced contemporary, Albert Pujols, and it is paying off in Detroit. In addition, ace Justin Verlander had another strong year on the mound, vying for his second consecutive Cy Young award. Whether or not the bats of Cabrera and Fielder will keep producing deep into October, this team has shown that it is capable of duelling with the big boys in the AL.
The Rangers have guaranteed themselves a trip to the playoffs with their win on Sunday, and barring any meltdowns, will win their division as well. Texas is one of only eight MLB teams never to have won a World Series. This especially hurts considering the team has made the October classic the past two seasons. Texas is trying to knock the monkey off its back and has the ability to do so, but making the World Series three years in a row is no small feat. Yu Darvish has provided some exciting, young talent on the mound, but his control issues will make him tough to rely upon heading into the postseason. The team, however, can certainly trust Josh Hamilton to produce and lead an offence that will be an integral part of another World Series push.
The Orioles came out of nowhere this year. Having last reached the playoffs in 1997, and with nothing to indicate a turn-around, they have already exceeded expectations. Any route out of the American League is a difficult one, but armed with some potent bats in Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, one can count on Baltimore’s firepower moving forward. Additionally, closer Jim Johnson, the MLB’s league leader in saves, assures Baltimore fans that most leads are safe come crunch-time. A duel with the Yanks seems imminent and that spells trouble for this Cinderella story.
Oakland is another team that came out of nowhere in the American league. Looking to return to the postseason for the first time in over a decade, these boys have shown that there is more to them than just Brad Pitt movies. Brandon Moss continues to pummel the ball, and youthful phenom Yoenis Cespedes’ blistering speed seemingly allows him to score on anything hit to the outfield. The A’s also have a fairly deep and reliable pitching staff. This is particularly important on a roster that lacks a true ace. Many people counted out the A’s following some questionable offseason trades, but this team has punch. Should Oakland manage to get through the wild-card showdown, that tenacity could help grind out a win in the American League Divisional Series.
In what was supposed to be yet another building year in D.C., has turned out to be a breakout campaign that few saw coming. The Nats head into the postseason as the team to beat in the NL, compiling the best run differential in the league during the regular season. Much of their success came on the backs of, arguably, the best pitching staff in the league, led by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman. Washington made the tough decision to shut down Strasburg in September, abiding by the inning limit set for him in Spring Training. Nevertheless, this weakened pitching staff will be backed by a deep lineup, featuring plenty of power hitters including Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, and rookie phenom Bryce Harper. That being said, Nats fans can only hope that cutting out Strasburg won’t hurt their World Series chances.
Coming off of their most successful season since 1990 when they won the World Series, the Reds franchise is rejuvenated thanks to a pitching staff and bullpen that sits atop most major pitching categories. All five starters have been fairly effective this season, headlined by NL Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto and offseason acquisition Mat Latos. The bullpen features electric closer Aroldis Chapman, who should hope that his arm won’t fatigue in October. The offence, though, is what may drive the Reds out of the postseason. 2010 National League MVP Joey Votto missed most of July and all of August after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee. Second-baseman Brandon Phillips provides consistency, but nothing that will make opposing pitchers scared. The bright spot in the lineup is outfielder Jay Bruce, who mashed 34 home runs and will continue to be relied on if Votto can’t regain his form. With this in mind, disappointment seems likely in Cincy.
The Giants are back in the playoffs after their magical 2010 season, which culminated in an unexpected World Series championship. This year’s roster is reminiscent of that team. The pitching staff is solid, despite a horrible year for former ace Tim Lincecum. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong have anchored the staff and kept San Fran competitive throughout the year. However, the offence leaves something to be desired, as the team ranks last in home runs. The Giants will rely heavily on catcher Buster Posey, who has set a torrid pace since July. Trade deadline acquisition Hunter Pence helped jumpstart the offence a bit, but without Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt performing, the team may struggle to manufacture runs. The Giants will have to play small ball—a strategy that has worked in the past. If Lincecum can somehow regain his form in the postseason, San Fran may be the sleeper team to emerge from the NL.
Despite being overshadowed by the incredible season put together by their division rivals—the Washington Nationals—the Braves are sneakily good. Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward are a lethal outfielding duo at the plate as well as on the grass, while Kristopher Medlen has been great as Atlanta’s chief starting pitcher. This team will be dangerous should the bats stay hot and Medlen continues his success. Additionally, the Braves have the air of a team that has been there before, which is crucial as October creeps along. Getting past the wild-card showdown seems likely, and beating Washington without Strasburg is a definite possibility. Look for this team to challenge for the NL crown.
St. Louis Cardinals
Getting rid of Albert Pujols hasn’t been too bad for the Cardinals. Catcher Yadier Molina has taken the reins of power production and performed well in the role. Coupling him with fellow offensive juggernauts Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig, and Kyle Lohse’s unbelievable 16-3 record on the mound, St. Louis has done well for a so-called rebuilding year. Athough the goal will be to defend their World Series championship, any results past the wild card showdown would be a pleasant surprise for the team and Cards’ fans.