Friday, September 17, 2010

The AL Playoff Picture

To the mainstream media (read: ESPN) Yankees-Rays is the new Yankees-Red Sox. I swear, all I heard this weekend was how we were watching the two best teams in baseball squaring off for AL East supremacy. It seemed like every game was nationally televised. Half of SportsCenter was spent going over every non-routine play that happened in Tampa. When the dust settled, the Rays took two of three in a hard-fought series in which each game was decided by a single run.

However, while the whole world was focused on the Yankees and Rays, the Twins took advantage. After sweeping the White Sox, the Twins find themselves with an 88-58 record identical to that of the Bronx Bombers, just a half-game back of the Rays’ AL-leading 88-57. The Twins have vaulted themselves back into contention on the strength of a 12-2 record since the beginning of September. The rest of their schedule sets up quite nicely as well, with 10 of their final 16 games at home, and not one game remaining against a team above .500 (though they have 4 to end the season against the currently-.500 Blue Jays).

The Yankees, on the other hand, have 9 of their final 16 on the road, and are playing four games against the currently AL-best Rays, in addition to six games against a Red Sox team that would love to spoil the Yankees’ hopes for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In all, they Yanks play 10 of their last 16 against teams above .500, and 3 more against the Jays. The only “bad” team left on their schedule is their upcoming three-game series in Baltimore, but the Orioles are 26-15 since Buck Showalter took the reins, so that won’t be a pushover either.

The Rays, like the Twins, will be facing a relatively simple stretch, but in a three-team race in the last throes of the season, nothing’s ever that simple. They have 9 of 17 at home, and their only opponent above .500 is their remaining 4-game series at Yankee Stadium. They should be able to win series against the Mariners at home and their four-gamer to close out the season in Kansas City, and the Angels and Orioles in Tampa will give them opportunities to distance themselves from the Yankees and Twins as the season enters its final stage. 

I’m going to guess the red-hot Twins keep it up and end up with the best record in the AL, with the Rays beating out the Yankees for the division title. That would set up a divisional round pitting the Twins against the Yankees and the Rays and the Rangers. Watching David Price and Cliff Lee square off twice in a five-game series would be incredible, though Sabathia-Liriano isn’t exactly a lousy matchup. However the AL’s four playoff teams end up, the AL divisional and championship series should be some playoff baseball for the ages.

Check back tomorrow, when we’ll be starting to look at some of the postseason award races and decide how strong Felix Hernandez’s Cy Young candidacy can possibly be given that he plays for a Mariners club with the worst record in the AL. 

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