BY JOE FONTANAZZA
SC Staff Writer
For the first time in MLB history, each league will have five representatives in the playoffs. This leads to some very intriguing storylines.
In the American League, the best record and distinction of being the favorite to represent the AL in the World Series belongs to The Texas Rangers. Obviously, this is nothing new as the Rangers have taken the American League crown the past few seasons. Despite their success, they didn’t reach their ultimate destination.
This year, the Rangers look as hungry as ever to get the elusive ring that every professional athlete yearns for. This Texas -sized hunger is shown through sending baseballs long distances with a lack of remorse for the unsuspecting balls. The Rangers number one scoring offense is powered by the sweet swing of outfielder Josh Hamilton who leads the Major League in both home runs and runs batted in, but all-stars Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus refuse to let this be a one man show.
Not to be overshadowed are the New York Yankees. The diminishing skills of the MLB’s highest paid player, Alex Rodriguez ($25 million dollars a year, about $15,432 dollas a game) have yet to slow the Bronx Bombers as they lead the Major Leagues in home runs.
This can be contributed to the home run or strike-out style of centerfielder, Curtis Granderson, and the all around batting excellence of Robinson Cano. The most impressive attribute of the Yankees is their ability to spread out the offensive workload. Including Granderson and Cano, the Yankees currently have 10 players with doubledigit home run outputs. Clearly the almost little league sized right field corner of the house that Jeter built is helping, but they are still able to give fans souvenirs in other ballparks too.
The AL wild card race looks to be one of the most exciting in years. The Athletics, Orioles, Rays and Angels are trying to extend their seasons into the playoffs, but only two can earn the chance.
The Athletics and Angels are my picks to actually make it. The Athletics superb pitching staff and emergence of young sluggers Yoenis Cespedas and Josh Reddick, make the Athletics a sleeper team that many “experts” will likely pick.
The Angels are led by an impressive pitching staff, solidified by flamethrowers Jered Weaver and Zach Greinke. Not to be forgotten are the Angels offense, led by three legitimate superstars in Mike Trout (AL Rookie of the Year favorite), Mark Trumbo and the ever consistent Albert Pujols.
In the National League, the once atrocious Washington Nationals are now the NL’s team with the best record in the conference. Like the bullied middle school child that hits a sudden growth spurt, they are seeking revenge on the teams that used to laugh at their expense.
A fantastic pitching staff, led by former first overall pick Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, along with an above average offense, makes the Nationals one of the most well-rounded teams in the Major League. Clearly being the worst team in the MLB for two straight years is somewhat useful as they were able to select two of the best prospects in consecutive years—the aforementioned Strasburg and the volatile (if hitting yourself in the head with a bat isn’t volatile, I don’t know what is) but extremely talented Bryce Harper.
Nipping at the Nationals’ heels for the best record in the NL are the Cincinnati Reds. The launching pad that is the Great American Ball Park clearly shows as the Reds are currently third in home runs. This also can be attributed to the power numbers of right fielder Jay Bruce and the all-around hitting display of Brandon Philips. The fact that the home run numbers are so high but the Reds are still second in the NL in lowest earned run average is very impressive. Cy Young candidate, Johnny Cueto, gives them a stabilizing force as the pitching staff’s ace. Matt Latos has given the Reds an exquisite one-two punch. Also, former Cuban defect Aroldis Chapmen and his 100mph fastball has given them a shut-down closer, which is very important for a deep playoff run.
The NL Wild Card race is essentially down to four teams: the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. They all have a chance to play in October. My two favorites to make the playoffs are the Braves and the Dodgers.
The Braves, like the Reds and Nationals, are a very balanced team who might have the best hitting lineup in the NL. This might not show exactly in team rankings, but their strength lies in that their lineup, one through seven, can all hit the ball for contact or power depending on the player. On the pitching staff, there is not one pitcher that completely sticks out, but they are good collectively. Furthermore, they benefit from having a bullpen led by closer Craig Kimbel, making it one of the better bullpens in the league.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have probably the best team on paper. The Dodgers lineup reads like an all-star team with early season MVP favorite Matt Kemp and the trade deadline additions of Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Shane Victorino.
The pitching rotation is headlined by Cy Young candidate, Clayton Kershaw, and the talented but inconsistent, Josh Beckett. The main reason that the Dodgers aren’t living up to their potential is glaring inconstancies and, untimely, injuries, but a spark can make them a very dangerous team in the playoffs.
Well, the stage is set for the playoffs and I can’t wait to see what happens. Nothing ever seems to go as planned when October comes around.
Email Joe at: