MLB Coverage: The American League Playoff Picture
The American League looks be the league most under threat of serious alteration to its playoff landscape when MLB announces its BioGenesis suspensions later today, as is expected. Most of the name players involved are from AL teams—from Alex Rodriguez to Nelson Cruz to Jhonny Peralta to Bartolo Colon. So as we wait, our MLB coverage gives a summation of how the race looks right now, including injuries and the schedule ahead.
AL EAST: Boston had a solid weekend, not just getting a home series win over Arizona, but doing so behind a sterling pitching debut from Jake Peavy on Saturday night. The Red Sox stay a game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, who got a pair of one-run wins in San Francisco. Boston starts a 10-game road trip tonight, beginning in Houston, while Tampa goes west for games with NL West contenders Arizona and Los Angeles.
Clay Bucholz is still no closer to returning, as the most positive thing being reported is that he’s close to being able to throw off a mound. Tampa Bay reliever Jesse Crain, just acquired from the White Sox, is also not any closer to getting healthy. The Rays do have Alex Cobb on rehab now, and Matt Moore remains on track for a mid-August return.
AL CENTRAL: Detroit and Cleveland are sizzling, and were it not for the BioGenesis talk, their four-game series starting tonight in Jacobs Field would be the talk of baseball. Both took advantage of weak opponents this past weekend, with the Tigers sweeping the White Sox and the Indians taking a pair in Miami.
Both have reasons for a bit of concern. Ubaldo Jiminez was hit hard in Cleveland’s Friday loss to a lousy Marlins team, and for Detroit, Miguel Cabrera is still dealing with abdominal injury. It’s day-to-day, but I’ve said before and I’ll say again—is this going to mean a decline in his ability to drive the ball for power even he’s in the lineup every day?
The Tigers are 2 ½ games up as the big series begins. Looking ahead to the weekend, Detroit visits the Bronx, while Cleveland hosts the Angels. The Indians have fallen apart in the second half, both last year and the year prior, but that was before Terry Francona was in the dugout.
AL WEST: Texas came up big this weekend, winning two of three in Oakland, capped off with Derek Holland’s 4-0 shutout win on Sunday. The Rangers nudged to within 2 ½ games of the lead. And while they await bad news regarding Cruz, they now have all three of their injured veteran pitchers in the rehab process.
Colby Lewis is expected back middle of this month, Matt Harrison at the end of the month and Neftali Feliz early in September. I’m skeptical of their ability to just step right in and pitch well given how long they’ve been out, but if they do, think of the sustained pressure that’s going to put on Oakland and the entire wild-card race.
Texas goes on the road this week, starting in Anaheim and then playing four in Houston. And the Rangers don’t play a team with a winning record until they’re back in Oakland on Labor Day. The A’s meanwhile are in Cincinnati for a two-game set starting tomorrow, and then go to Toronto for a four-game wraparound series that goes into next Monday.
WILD-CARD PICTURE: Tampa Bay has a comfortable four-game cushion here, and then you have Cleveland and Texas within a half-game of each other for the #2 spot. Here’s where the Baltimore Orioles come into the picture, just a game and a half out in spite of a disappointing weekend that saw them drop two of three in Seattle.
The Kansas City Royals got two wins over the Mets in New York this weekend and continued to hang on at 4 ½ out, with a home series against Minnesota starting and then a big four-game set at home against Boston to finish the week.
And the New York Yankees missed an opportunity to gain some ground, by losing two of three in San Diego. The Yanks stay 4 ½ out themselves, and have to hope that at least the lowly Chicago White Sox can provide relief starting tonight before New York goes home to play Detroit.
Curtis Granderson made it back into the everyday lineup, but just as that happened, Derek Jeter left it, with a calf problem that requires an MRI. That’s what happens when you get old. Nothing stays healthy all at once, whether you’re a 40-something individual trying to play pickup basketball like me, or an aging collective lineup like the Yanks. Did I just compare myself to the Yankees? I feel like I need a shower.
CURRENT AMERICAN LEAGUE PLAYOFF BRACKET
Wild Card Game: Cleveland at Tampa Bay
Divisional Round: WC Winner at (1) Boston, (3)Oakland at (2)Detroit