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American League Playoff Preview

Oh, yeah. There's another league. We don't speak about it much - it's the one with the DH - but in case you are interested (and since there are no Yankees or Red Sox, I presume ESPN aren't), here are the participants...

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 30: Wild-card, Athletics @ Royals
Oct 2-8: ALDS (2-2-1), Wild-card @ Angels
Oct 2-8: ALDS (2-2-1), Tigers @ Orioles
Oct 10-18: ALCS (2-3-2), lower seed @ higher seed

Pennant odds from
  • Los Angeles Angels 2/1
  • Detroit Tigers 11/4
  • Baltimore Orioles 3/1
  • Oakland Athletics 6/1
  • Kansas City Royals 7/1

Record: 98-64 (1st)
OPS+: 109 (2nd)
ERA+: 102 (8th)
Best player: Howie Kend... Nah, I'm kidding. Mike Trout, of course, 7.9 bWAR
Strength: Mike Trout
Weakness: Inability to clone Mike Trout

Probably the closest thing to a consensus favorite for a pennant, the Angels are fronted by likely American League MVP Trout. But it's worth noting all eight players who had 300+ PAs for them had an OPS+ above 100, so it's not a case of their line-up being Trout and the Seven Dwarves. Albert Pujols still wasn't worth $23m, but came closer, while Kole Calhoun is perhaps the least-known 4 WAR player. The loss of Garrett Richards will test their rotational depth, though Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are hardly chopped liver. Huston Street has been very solid since coming over from San Diego, so they look solid in save situations too.


Record: 88-74 (5th)
OPS+: 99 (8th)
ERA+: 116 (1st)
Best player: Josh Donaldson, 7.4 bWAR
Strength: Best rotation in the AL
Weakness: Billy Beane's "shit doesn't work in the playoffs"

Ah, what would the postseason be with the A's? They have made the playoffs seven times since 2000, but have exactly zero wins past the Division Series since then. If they fail again, pundits will not doubt blame the mid-season trade of Yoenis Cespedes, with Oakland having gone 22-33 since the deal. They did beef up their starting, not just with the acquisition of Jon Lester (who will face the Royals on Wednesday) in that swap, but also getting Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs. But if their offense cannot escape the collective post-Cespedes funk in which it has found itself, this may be enough year which adds to the myth and legend of Beane.


Record: 96-66 (2nd)
OPS+: 106 (3rd)
ERA+: 111 (4th)
Best player: Steve Pearce, 6.0 bWAR
Strength: Probably the least hyped team in the post-season
Weakness: That might be for good reason.

While all the fuss has been concentrated on the Royals, overlooked has been the Orioles' march to their first AL East title since before the Diamondbacks existed. Pearce is probably the best 6 WAR player you've never heard of: not bad for a 31-year-old who came in to this year with a career OPS+ of 87, and signed as a free-agent for $700K. They are the masters of the one-run win, going 32-23, the best record in the league, but not a great predictor of post-season success, and they're not a great K team either, a pitching staff that ranked 10th in the league in K's. I just can't see them going very far.


Record: 89-73 (4th)
OPS+: 91 (15th)
ERA+: 115 (3rd)
Best player: Alex Gordon, 6.6 bWAR
Strength: Outfield
Weakness: Can't hit for toffee

Seriously. They had a collective .694 OPS this season, the lowest by an AL team to make the playoffs in over 40 years, and nine of the 11 players to get even 100 PAs had an OPS+ below 100. Of course, Royals' fans, much like those of the Pirates last here are in full-on "just happy to be here" mode, since regardless of what happens on Wednesday, it's their first playoff action since 1985. The good news is, the Royals went 5-2 against the Athletics when the two sides faced off during regular season games. The bad news? Both losses were against Jon Lester. Maybe the third time, with James Shields starting for Kansas City, will be the charm.


Record: 90-72 (3rd)
OPS+: 109 (1st)
ERA+: 100 (9th)
Best player: Max Scherzer, 6.0 bWAR
Strength: Can send out last three AL Cy Young winners
Weakness: Bullpen

Know how twitchy Addison Reed and his 4.25 ERA made Arizona fans? Tigers' supporters have to handle Joe Nathan and his 4.89 ERA, part of a relief contingent which overall ranked 13th in the American League by ERA. It's also true to say that those three Cy Young winners - Scherzer, David Price and Justin Verlander - are not all equal. I had Verlander on my fantasy team this year: I know this. But they can hit, putting up a line of .277/.331/.426 during the regular season - no-one else in the league even hit .260. They'll go as far as their hitting can take them, unless their relievers blow the leads they inherit.