AL East and West Races Heat Up
All of a sudden, things are beginning to look a little more interesting in the AL playoff picture. The Angels have pulled to within 2.5 games of the Rangers in the West, which isn't all that unexpected when you consider how well Jered Weaver and Dan Haren have been pitching lately. My money is still on the Rangers to win the West, but a 2.5-game lead with more than two weeks remaining in the season is a bit precarious.
The real story this week concerning the AL playoff picture is the resurgent Rays. Following a three-game sweep of the Red Sox in St. Pete, the Rays are now just 3.5 games back of the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card spot with 17 games left to play. The really intriguing part of this story is that the Rays still have four games remaining versus the Red Sox, though all four will be played at Fenway, and even get three tune-up games against the Orioles before heading to Boston this weekend in the series that could determine who wins the Wild Card. Meanwhile, the Red Sox only trail the Yankees by 3.5 games for the AL East lead, meaning that all three of these teams are separated by just seven games. Plus, with MLB back loading the schedule with divisional match-ups, most of the games left on the schedule will pit two of these teams against each other. Buckle your seatbelts, folks, because this one could get bumpy.
It's a foregone conclusion that two of the three teams will make the Postseason, as no other team is in legitimate striking distance to push for the Wild Card. Of the three, Tampa Bay has the best rotation by a long shot, and the Yankees and Sox both have stronger lineups than the Rays. Boston has seen their wheels completely come off in the last two weeks, and in their last ten games, they've won just two games. With Pedroia struggling at the plate, and Kevin Youkilis still trying to bounce back from a back injury that has pestered him all season, I'm beginning to wonder if the Red Sox will have what it takes to hold on until the end of the season. I think the Yankees will make the Postseason without issue, but their rotation has some serious question marks, and if the Rays (who still have four games left against the Yankees as well) continue to play the way that they have been, I wouldn't be surprised to see them overtake the Yankees for the division lead.
You have to give a ton of credit to Joe Maddon and the Rays for continuing to play hard even though most people had written them off. They have announced loud and clear that they are far from done, and though they sport one of the younger teams in baseball, a lot of the guys on the roster have been to the Postseason before and are eager to get back.
In short, I think the Red Sox may be incapable of overcoming this late-season swoon, and will give up too much ground to the Rays, who will make the Postseason at their expense.
Who do you think will emerge from the crowded AL East? Tweet me @rwags614 and let me know.