MLB

Biggest Needs for Every AL Contender

During my first week of class for Sport and the Media, my professor went on a tangent about how the Cubs could go 162-0 and still find a way to break his heart. He said if he ever walks in late to class it is because he is painstakingly watching the Cubs. Without missing a beat, the student next to me whispered, “wait, baseball is still going on?”

Yes, non-baseball fans, the MLB’s 162-game marathon has not yet run its full course. With 30ish games left in the regular season, the American league is beginning to take shape. Even with some teams having a stranglehold over their divisions, that does not mean they are impervious to a postseason letdown. Here is what each American League contender needs in order to be ready for October.

Boston Red Sox

Photo Courtesy: sonsofsamhorn.com

First Place; AL East
(99.9% chance of making playoffs)

Biggest need: Bullpen relief

For a team that was on pace to win 116 games a week ago, there are a lot of uncertainties around Boston’s roster.

On the field, the Red Sox don’t have dependable seventh and eighth inning relievers that can consistently shut down elite offenses. Yes, the team’s bullpen ranks sixth in the league in ERA and opponent’s batting average. However, Alex Cora hasn’t been able to find someone he can consistently call on in tight situations.

Earlier in the season, Carson Smith seemed like he was going to be the guy to take over setup man duties. His season ended after throwing a tantrum in the dugout and injuring his throwing shoulder in the process. Tyler Thornburg, who was out all of last season with a shoulder injury, was supposed to be one of the best setup men in baseball. He currently has a 4.19 ERA and has been a disappointment after the Sox traded away prospects to get him. Matt Barnes (3.51 ERA) and Heath Hembree (4.02 ERA) have been asked to be thrown into the fire and haven’t produced. Of course, there is Joe Kelly whose only contribution to the team this year is punching Yankee first basemen Tyler Austin in the face (1:38 mark).

It isn’t like Boston doesn’t have any help in later innings. Ryan Brasier boasts a 1.23 ERA and 0.73 WHIP since getting called up. While his numbers have suffered since the all-star break, Craig Kimbrel is still one of the best closers in baseball history and is always dependable. The Sox could out-bash teams in the playoffs, but history tells us a different story. The Sox need the bullpen to come alive with one month left of the season.

New York Yankees

Photo Courtesy: nypost.com

Second Place; AL East
(99.9% chance of making playoffs)

Biggest need: Getting Aaron Judge healthy and Severino back on track

The Yanks’ chances of making the postseason are misleading since they would have to win a winner-take-all game to advance to the ALDS. The starting pitching has been questionable all season, and that won’t work in New York’s favor in a sudden death duel. With all of that said, the Yankees have all of the pieces to compete come playoff time.

The biggest concern the Bombers have right now is the uncertainty around Aaron Judge’s availability. Judge broke his wrist over a month ago and has yet to receive the green light to pick up a bat. Even with its star out, New York still has Giancarlo Stanton and his 33 home runs to anchor the lineup. General Manager Brian Cashman softened the blow of Judge’s injury when he acquired former MVP, Andrew McCutchen. The Yankees have been throwing out Neil Walker, who is primarily an infielder, in the outfield while Judge makes his way back to full health. McCutchen isn’t the same player he used to be, but the Yankees don’t need him to be an MVP. Adding a veteran with playoff experience will help when the stakes are higher in October.

The Yankees will also need Luis Severino to be the Cy Young candidate he was before June ended. Going back to his start on July 1st, Severino’s ERA has increased with each outing. Here is a list of his ERAs going into each start:

7/1: 1.98 ERA
7/7: 2.12 ERA
7/12: 2.31 ERA
7/23: 2.63 ERA
7/28 2.94 ERA
8/03: 3.08 ERA
8/08: 3.11 ERA
8/13: 3.27 ERA
8/18: 3.28 ERA
8/26: 3.27 ERA

The Yankees need Severino to be the anchor of the rotation when the playoffs come around. His stuff is too good for him to crash and burn for over two months. If he’s on, Severino is a sure win in a playoff series.

Cleveland Indians

Photo Courtesy: sportingnews.com

First Place; AL Central
(99.9% chance of making playoffs)

Biggest need: Reestablish the game’s best bullpen

The Indians are a lock to make the playoffs, and that is not because they are one of the most dominant teams in baseball. While the offense ranks in the top ten in the MLB, the Indians have lost what used to be the best bullpen in baseball. Andrew Miller hasn’t been able to stay healthy and Cody Allen, once a dominant closer, has an atrocious 4.59 ERA. The lefties on the team, Oliver Perez, and Brand Hand have been remarkable for manager Terry Francona but right-handed heavy lineups could take advantage of them come playoff time.

It might be the case where Cleveland doesn’t need to lean on its relievers as it has in past postseasons. The Indians’ top four starters have a collective 2.92 ERA this season. Trevor Bauer and reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber will be a ruthless 1-2 punch in October while Carlos Carrasco is a solid no. 3 starter to tab for a potential Game Three scenario. But every good playoff team, including the Indians’ 2016 World Series team, has a dependable bullpen once fall comes around. If Allen can figure it out in September, Cleveland is set up to succeed.

Houston Astros

Photo Courtesy: ftw.usatoday.com

First Place; AL Central
(99.9% chance of making playoffs)

Biggest need: getting healthy and hope the A’s cool off

With all the hype around the Red Sox and their major league-leading 93 wins, the Astros are in the best shape roster-wise for October. The only problem they might run into is the Cinderella Oakland A’s sizzling at the right time (more on them soon…like literally the next section).

The Astros haven’t had their starting lineup together for most of the year, making their 82 wins even more impressive. Last year’s World Series MVP, George Springer, has been dealing with injury woes all year and hasn’t been the same hitter he was in 2017. Same can be said for Carlos Correa whose batting average has plummeted to .247 after he hit .315 last year. Even Jose Altuve made his way to the disabled list for the first time in his eight-year career.

Through all of that, Houston can throw out Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, and Charlie Morton for games 1-4 in a playoff series. To think that Keuchel, a former Cy Young winner, is the fourth best pitcher in this rotation is terrifying. With that rotation depth, it won’t matter if Oakland comes out as the division champs. The Astros can start any one of those pitchers and still have three aces to choose from if they were to move onto the ALDS.

Oakland Athletics

Photo Courtesy: medium.com

Second Place; AL West
(85.5% chance of making the playoffs)

Biggest need: Starting Pitching

Every time the A’s make their way towards playoff contention, there is a collective “WHAT THE F***?! HOW IS THIS HAPPENING AGAIN?!” from the MLB fanbase. I have no explanation other than Billy Bean must be putting something in the water cooler in Oakland. Whatever it is, the A’s rank in the top five in total bases, doubles, home runs, and slugging.

What the team lacks is elite starting pitching to compete in October. Oakland has been on a tear, but that might end soon as the team decided to shut down Sean Manaea, the club’s only pitcher with 100 or more innings. He is also the only one on the team with nine or more wins or 90 or more strikeouts. Wins are considered to be an outdated statistic, but there is something to be said for feeling like you have a chance to win when an ace toes the rubber. The A’s don’t have that.

Oakland has seemingly always found a way to defy the odds and make it to the postseason. However, in the Billy Bean era, Oakland hasn’t gotten past the ALCS and have maybe leaned too far on getting the most out of veterans past their prime. This season looks like it will end the same way for the A’s.

For all the Seattle fans who want a section written here: your team has a negative run differential. Only three teams have ever made it to the playoffs while giving up more runs than it scored. Get out of here and be happy that your playoff chances are somehow at 14.4 percent.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Biggest Needs for Every NL Contender - NGSC Sports

  2. Pingback: Biggest Needs for Every AL Contender – James M. Kay

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