For: They have their team back
Both Matt Holliday and Starlin Castro have come off the DL in the past week and had immediate impacts. Holliday is a run producer in the middle of the lineup, which they’ve been missing. Castro was on his way to a career year before tweaking his hamstring, and has continued that trend since coming back. The power, contact, and consistency they bring was missed from the yanks starting 9, and now that they’re back, the offense is thriving once again. As a side note, Clint Frazier should come back soon and Red Thunder should provide a spark to the pinstripers.
Against: Bullpen inconsistency
Coming into the season, the Yankees’s bullpen was the only sure thing on the roster. With 20 games to go, it is now the major question mark. The long and middle relievers have been stellar, highlighted by the work done by Chad Green, Adam Warren, and Chasen Shreve. The back end is mired in problems. They have 4 of the top 20 bullpen arms in the game in Adolfo’s Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle. Of those, only D-Rob has pitched like a top 20 arm. Chapman keeps getting hit, Betances is erratic when given too much rest, and Kahnle is rapidly losing confidence in his fastball. Unless those guys can learn to lock down games again, the Yankees will keep losing games late, just as they did last Tuesday.
For: Elite defense
Nobody expected the Twins to be competitive, let alone in the playoffs. Yet, here we are; it is September 7th and the Twins are currently holding onto the second wild card spot. Much of that is due to their lack of mistakes in the field. The twins are committing one error every other game, good for 6th lowest in the league. Defense is perennially undervalued, but the twins show that it is vital to a playoff run. That plus consistent offensive production will help then reach the postseason once again.
Against: Weak arms
The twins manage to win games despite a team ERA of 4.66, 9th worst in baseball. Down the stretch, pitching becomes the difference maker. Consistent starts put the team in a winning position every day. Minnesota’s rotation has not done it so far, and don’t expect it to start now. Should the offense go cold, the pitching staff may not be able to make up the difference. On to the bullpen. At the deadline, the Twins moved closer Brandon Kintzler to Washington, leaving much to be left desired in the pen. An inability to close out games, much like the Yankees, could be their ultimate downfall.
For: Revamped power
The Halos make an august move for formers tigers outfielder Justin Upton. With him, Billy Eppler has quietly generated a legitimate contender. The Angels offense now includes The aforementioned Upton, Kole Calhoun, Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons, and Albert Pujols. Between those five, the angels have remarkable power and depth. Calhoun and Simmons hit for average, Pujols and Upton will hit dingers, and Mike Trout is Mike Trout. Those 5 let Angels fans believe in October.
Against: Strength of schedule
The angels have 21 games remaining. 9 of those come against the AL-pacing Astros or defending AL champs and surging Indians. Not to mention they have another 4 against Seattle, who is also vying (marginally) for a wild card spot. Currently a half game out in a tight wild card race, the angels are going to have to pull a rabbit out of their hat and find ways to beat the Astros, Indians, and Mariners, while not conceding to the Rangers or White Sox. Their save in grace may be that the Yankees play the Twins in two weeks, and a sweep of either team could help them keep pace. That said, the Angels Will likely have to go 14-7 to make the postseason.
July 31 came and went and Dayton Moore did nothing. He retained his expiring stars in an effort to make another postseason run. That decision may indeed pay off in September. They’ve been here before; this is the same team that snuck into the wildcard in ’14 and won it all in ’15. They know how to handle the pressures of September when vying for a potential playoff spot. Expect them to lean heavily on their experienced stars, relying on them to overcome the odds once again and turn GM Dayton Moore into a bona fide genius.
Against: No starting pitching
The royals are remarkably deep in the bullpen and bench; guys are showing up every which way to make an impact. One place that is not happening though is in the rotation. The starting group for KC is decent but not great, as they are missing topline arms. Danny Duffy, their de facto ace, was just arrested for a DUI and the rest of the rotation is middling at best. If they can get the Royals to the bullpen, they should be ok, but if not, then they could find themselves in trouble.
For: The schedule
The Rangers had a tough weekend series in Arlington against the Yankees. Following the conclusion of the series on Sunday, the rest of Texas’s games will be played against divisional opponents. They have 7 against Oakland, 7 against Seattle, 3 against Anaheim, and 3 against Houston. The Rangers are better than the A’s and the M’s, giving them 14 winnable games. Going into Anaheim will be difficult, but behind a strong offensive attack, they can leapfrog the angels in the standings. Of their 20 games left, I can see them winning 14-17, depending on how they play Houston.
Against: Dearth of pitching
Here’s the Rangers rotation: 1) Cole Hamels, 2) everybody else. Behind the formidable lefty is AJ Griffin, Miguel Gonzalez, Tyson Ross, and Andrew Cashner, all exceedingly beatable. Once again, runs come at a premium down the stretch and in the postseason, and with that rotation, I’m not sure the Rangers will be stingy enough. If they get in the one game playoff, expect Hamels to put on a show, but he needs a supporting staff if he wants to pitch under the bright lights again this year.
For: The home run and the launching pad that is Camden Yards
The O’s live and die by the home run. Of their starting nine, 2 have 30+ home runs, 4 have 20+, and Welington Castillo and Tim Beckham are each 1 shy of the 20 plateau. If you weren’t counting, that’s 8 of their 9 starters with at least 19 home runs. Down the stretch, runs start to come at a premium so the ability to hit the ball out can be a major asset. Lastly, they play in one of the more home run happy divisions in baseball. Of their last 21 games, they play 7 in Camden Yards, 4 at Yankee Stadium, and 3 in the Rogers Centre, each primed to give up the long ball.
Against: Peaked too early
Many a time the playoff race comes down to which team gets hot in September (see the 2007 Rockies for reference). With 8 teams all within 4 games of the wild card, expect the 2017 AL race to be no different. The problem for the Orioles though, the got hot too early. In a late august stretch, the O’s rattled off 8 wins in a row to get within striking distance of the wild card. That streak was powered by phenomenal pitching, especially by Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. However, if the Yankees series showed us anything, it’s that the arms have since cooled off. The inability to break from the pack with a win streak will be Baltimore’s downfall
For: Scott Servais
It is exceedingly difficult to find something I like about Seattle. They are middle of the road in almost every statistical category, and have no explicit strengths to lean on. One advantage they do have though, is managing. How Servais has kept his team in the hunt I have no idea. Wrought with adversity, Servais kept his team from folding. If that doesn’t get this team fired up nothing will.
Mentioned before, Seattle has battled the injury bug all year. Unfortunately, it will come back to bite them in September. They’re missing their top 3 starters in Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, and Drew Smyly. In addition, Mitch Haniger hasn’t been the same since returning from the DL and Robinson Cano is now dealing with a lingering hamstring issue. September is when teams rely on their stars to lead them into September, but with their top players sidelined, the M’s need to catch lightning in a bottle to remain relevant.
For: Underrated arms
In case anyone forgot, the rays have a very solid starting rotation. A 1-2-3 punch of Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, and Jake Odorizzi is tough to deal with, as they consistently put Tampa in a position to win. Throw in a very solid bullpen with stud closer Alex Colome and late inning set up men Sergio Romo and Steve Cishek, the Rays can win contested games late. Watch out for Tampa as we reach the home stretch.
Against: The Schedule
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, they have 21 games remaining, and play a team with a winning record in each of those games. Over those matchups, they have 6 against the Red Sox, 6 against the Yankees, 7 against the Orioles, and 2 against the Cubs. Yeesh. To top it off, Hurricane Irma is set to make landfall in Florida this weekend, potentially displacing the Rays for their upcoming home stand. They may need a miracle to make it out of this one unscathed.
Before I move on, thoughts and prayers to everyone dealing with Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Know that the whole world is behind you, ready to help.
Prediction: Yankees host Royals in New York for the Wild Card Game
For: They’re going to get it
They have a 5 game lead over the Rockies, and an 8 game lead over the Cardinals and Brewers who are the closest contenders. It would take a monumental collapse to take them out of the playoffs, and considering they have just won 14 in a row, I don’t see that happening any time soon.
Against: 404 Error Not Found
For: Underrated pitching staff
You may be saying, “wait, how is it not the offense?” The answer to that is the offense will be explosive if they make the playoffs or don’t. The reason they will make the playoffs is because their pitching staff is quite good. Jon Gray is turning into a legitimate ace. Following him is Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, and a cancer-free (congratulations) Chad Bettis. Backing them up is a scary 7-8-9 inning set comprised of Pat Neshek, Jake McGee, and Greg Holland. With their elite offense, the rotation should be good enough to propel them into October.
Against: The environment
It is well known that, due to the high altitude, hitters tend to thrive while pitchers flounder in Coors Field. Colorado’s young pitching staff could find themselves in trouble simply because they play in Denver. The conditions for the Rockies can certainly play against them. Should a stretch of bad luck occur, balls can leave the yard in a hurry, leaving Colorado to pick up the pieces. Fortunately, they only have 9 more games at home, 6 of which come against the lowly Padres and Marlins, with the other 3 versus the Dodgers. However, even the bad teams have a capacity to hit it out.
P.S.- I’m predicting 4 home runs for Stanton when the Marlins visit Coors Field later this month as the watch for 61 looms.
For: Elite pitching
The Cardinals are just one of 7 teams in the MLB with a sub-4.00 team ERA (currently 3.92). Carlos Martinez has pitched like an ace, Lance Lynn has a stellar 2.94 ERA, and Michael Wacha is finding his stride. Losing Trevor Rosenthal hurts, but the Redbirds have plenty of firepower in the bullpen highlighted by Matt Bowman, Brett Cecil, and Seung Hwan Oh. This staff will give St. Louis a chance to win every night, which cannot be said about many franchises.
Against: The schedule
The Cardinals have 20 games remaining. Half of them come against the Cubs and Brewers. Of those 10, 7 are against the Cubs. If they want any shot at a postseason run, they must beat Chicago, and they must beat the Brewers to leap them in the standings. That, I just don’t see happening. Sorry Cards fans.
For: 2 aces
The Brew Crew has been starving for pitching ever since Ben Sheets. This season they managed to unearth two diamonds in the rough: Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson. Both righties have been nothing short of exceptional this year; they each have fantastic sub-3.60 ERAs, Anderson with 3.09 and Nelson with 3.59. The two of them should lead this team and keep them competitive down the stretch. Adding young arm Zach Davies and impact rookie Brandon Woodruff will only bolster Anderson and Nelson’s effect.
The Brewers are young, which bodes well for the future. In the present, though, it is a detriment. Playoff experience is why the Royals will make the playoffs and the Brewers will not. Mired in mediocrity the last few seasons, much of their roster has no previous encounter with a wild card chase. Topping that off with a rookie shortstop, Orlando Arcia, and second year center fielder, Keon Broxton, the roster more is likely to regress at the end of a long, grueling 162-game season. The rookie wall is real, and the Brewers may fall victim to it this year.
Prediction: Diamondbacks host Rockies in Arizona for the Wild Card Game