With teams like the Yankees, the Rangers and the Tigers set to make the playoffs, it may seem like business as usual in the American League.
However, with the Orioles ending a 15-year playoff drought, and the Athletics becoming the first team to make the playoffs as the second wild card team, this postseason promises to be anything but ordinary.
One thing that certainly seems the same is the dominance of the Yankees. Prior to the season, it seemed like they were poised to storm through the AL East, but key injuries — such as the early loss of recent acquisition Michael Pineda or the recent struggles of Mark Teixeira — slowed them to winning a paltry 90 plus games.
Despite these issues, Robinson Cano and C.C. Sabathia have steadied the team, and despite Baltimore’s late charge, they have held onto superiority in the division.
But the Orioles are not to be taken lightly. While they seemed like an early season fluke, a career year from Adam Jones has helped keep them afloat through some midseason struggles.
Jones was the key piece of the lopsided Erik Bedard trade and after years of solid — if unspectacular — play, he now leads the team in batting average, home runs, runs, and OPS.
His brilliance has been matched by the steady performance of the pitching staff, led by Wei-Yin Chen’s 4.02 ERA and 154 strikeouts. Nobody really expected much from the 27-year-old’s debut season, yet he has been a big part of why the Orioles will be playing in October.
Chen has not been alone in unexpected seasons, however. Closer Jim Johnson has saved 50 games after a previous career high of 10 saves, and the bullpen’s continued resiliency will play a major role in Baltimore’s chances in the postseason.
After making the last two World Series, the Rangers are anything but unexpected, yet no less formidable. They lead the major leagues in runs scored once more, largely in thanks to Josh Hamilton’s ludicrous power numbers.
However, he has not been alone in making their lineup the most frightening in the league. After missing 59 games due to injury last season, Ian Kinsler bounced back to play in nearly every one of Texas’ games, currently leading the team in runs. Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre has proved his worth, rivaling Hamilton’s numbers in every major category.
The pitching staff is what makes this Rangers team even more dangerous than in years past. Yu Darvish has been every bit the phenom he was advertised to be, striking out 221 batters on the year, while Matt Harrison’s 3.26 ERA is even better than the career high numbers he posted last year.
Their numbers may not be as impressive, but the Rangers’ AL West rival A’s are looking to make some noise in the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Josh Reddick was not a household name coming into the season, but the outfielder’s 32 home runs for Oakland have put him on the map. The lineup may not have much besides Reddick and Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes, but the pitching more than makes up for it.
Flamethrower Grant Balfour has anchored the bullpen, while the unheralded Jarrod Parker has led the staff with a sparkling 3.47 ERA.
While Oakland may consider themselves underdogs heading into the playoffs, the Tigers are the true sleepers after scraping out a division win with only 87 victories.
They have been propelled by Miguel Cabrera’s astounding Triple Crown chase and Justin Verlander’s continued excellence. While many assumed these players could not keep up the astronomical numbers they have racked up, Cabrera has continued to tear the cover off the ball with a shocking 1.001 OPS and Verlander has added another 200 strikeout season to his already impressive career.
Every team in this field seems like a competitive one, but it is hard to argue with the recent brilliance of Detroit or the well-rounded composition of Texas.
It may be same old, same old to predict the Rangers make it back to the World Series for the third straight year, but in a season filled with surprises, a little consistency may be just what is needed.