American League Postseason – Contender Or Pretender?

Eric Urbanowicz
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As the calendar turns to October, football season may be in full swing but baseball takes center stage during the week. It’s playoff time, and with the field now set, it’s time to look at who really has a chance and who doesn’t.

Twelve teams may have qualified for the playoffs but not every team that’s made it has a great shot. Starting with the American League, let’s see how each team stacks up and who’s the real deal. Let’s weed out the pretenders from the contenders.

 

Tampa Bay Rays – Pretenders

Tampa Bay is a perennial playoff team and over the last few years they’ve seen their stock rise under manager Kevin Cash. Even this year, they looked primed to catch the New York Yankees for the American League East. Then they crumbled a bit and left the door open for Baltimore.

Yes, Tampa Bay ultimately held onto their Wild Card spot but they’re coming into the playoffs at room temperature, not even lukewarm. The best teams in the playoffs are often the hottest teams going into them. If Tampa Bay can’t ignite a spark, they could be going home early.

 

Seattle Mariners – Pretenders

Seattle made the playoffs for the first time since 2001 this season and that’s something to behold. A few huge trades (third baseman Eugenio Suarez, outfielder Jesse Winker, and pitcher Luis Castillo to name a few), some young kids making an impact (outfielders Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic, as well as catcher Cal Raleigh), and good coaching by Scott Servais has broken the drought of Seattle. With that said, they may not be ready for the spotlight yet.

Despite a healthy mix of veteran talent and young up-and-comers, Seattle falls into more of the “one-year away” category rather than “ready to compete now” section. General manager Jerry Dipoto has done an excellent job building this team, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them as a top team next year. They could make a run this season, but it’s more likely they’ll be contenders next year.

 

Toronto Blue Jays – Contenders

When Toronto fired manager Charlie Montoyo, a lot of eyebrows were raised. However, interim manager John Schneider not only lowered them, but found a way for Toronto to take the top Wild Card spot in the league. Even after clinching, they’ve stayed hot and look to possibly go on a run.

Toronto is the one Wild Card that on paper, looks like they could make a serious run in the playoffs. They’re a top team in batting average, runs batted in, hits and quality starts: meaning they’re pretty balanced as a team. They could be a very dangerous threat in the playoffs. The only question will be: do they have enough juice?

 

Cleveland Guardians – Pretenders

Who would have thought that in the inaugural season under the name Guardians, Cleveland would be one of the most fun teams to watch? This group of kids have put together a bit of a magical run that makes it hard not to root for them. Realistically, this is a team that could win in the next five years.

So why are they pretenders? They have solid pitching, they’re good on the base paths and can hit, so they should be a contender, right?

Not necessarily, as they also don’t produce a whole lot of runs. That works in the regular season, however they when can’t put runs on the board during the playoffs, it takes a lot out of their pitching staff. Cleveland is a young team that with development should see a World Series soon, just not this year.

 

New York Yankees – Contenders

As strange as it sounds, this was probably the hardest one to choose. They put up runs and they’re really good with pitching, this should be enough for them to be contenders automatically. So why did you say they’re hard to choose?

Two reasons. First they’re streaky: as good as they are, you either get long stretches of really good baseball or stretches of really bad baseball. Their inconsistencies nearly cost them the division as they blew a double digit game lead. The other reason: they’re still too reliant on the big hit. They put up runs with home runs and big hits, but they actually are at middle of the road when it comes to hits and batting average.

So why are they contenders if that’s the case? It’s because a team can get there if they use it in the right moments. New York’s pitchers should be able to get the job done, even if their bats fall asleep a bit. No team is defined more by the phrase “boom or bust” the way New York is but they’ve got the pitching and defense to back it up.

 

Houston Astros – Contenders

Realistically, Houston should be the favorites in the American League. They’re that well put together.

Like New York, they have really good pitching and put up runs. They’re slightly better than New York with hits and average, but they make the most of it slightly more. Simply put, it’s going to be hard to put Houston down.

It is possible that someone could upset Houston and send them to the golf course early, but it seems unlikely. When all is said done, manager Dusty Baker may be coaching for that World Series ring he’s been after since 1993.

Eric Urbanowicz

Connecticut

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