Season cools down as playoff race heats up

Max Petrunya

With less than two weeks remaining in the Major League Baseball regular season, the AL playoff picture is starting to take shape. At this point, the Yankees have a solid hold on the East, and the Oakland Athletics should take the West. The race to win the division and wildcard has shifted from the East to the Central as the White Sox, Tigers and Twins are in a three-horse race to make it to the playoffs.

New York Yankees

The Yankees, as always, come into the playoffs with a solid lineup on both sides of the ball. Derek Jeter leads their loaded batting lineup, one of the best from top to bottom in MLB. The Yankees lead the AL in runs this season, driving in 852 for the year, nearly 40 more than the next best team, the White Sox. Coupled with Joe Torre’s playoff record and experience, the Yankees have the potential to make it to the World Series every year. This season, however, pitching has been the Yankees’ downfall. Despite the fact that they have the game’s most dominant closer, in Mariano Rivera, pitching has been a problem this season resulting in a 4.41 ERA. Struggles with starting pitching and middle relief may be the demise of the Yankees this post season.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s and Billy Beane have once again made it back into the playoffs. Their solid lineup, which is littered with young talent like Nick Swisher and sprinklings of veteran experience in Frank Thomas, can earn runs almost on command. Their pitching staff, led by Barry Zito and Esteban Loiza, has a 4.11 ERA and leads the league in saves with 50, thanks to Huston Street who was just activated last week. Although the A’s have always struggled to match their consistent regular season success in the playoffs, their pitching and defensive talent could lead them to a World Series win and show critics that they can not only win games in the regular season, but also in the playoffs.

Chicago White Sox

The defending World Series champions enter the playoffs with the same lineup as last season, with the addition of Jim Thome. Thome has found new life in the White Sox’s lineup, with 39 homeruns and 99 RBI during the regular season. Thanks in large part to MVP candidate Jermine Dye, the White Sox have outscored their opponents by 101 runs this season. Manager Ozzie Guillen brings his signature style of “Ozzy Ball” back to the playoffs, along with the White Sox’s always dangerous pitching staff. Bobby Jenks could be the hero yet again this postseason as the Sox make a run at a second consecutive World Series title. The White Sox are consistently dangerous. Look for them to have a great postseason.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins have a very talented team led by Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer and MVP candidate Justin Morneau. They have solid bats with a team average of .285, the highest of any AL playoff team this year. The Twins also play fantastic defense, going into the playoffs with only 76 errors, the least of any playoff team. Although they lead the American League in strikeouts with 1,086, the loss of Franscio Liriano could be too much to overcome in the playoffs. While the Twins have an advantage playing at home, they lack the pitching to be successful this postseason.

Detroit Tigers

Manager Jim Leyland came out of retirement to take the reigns of what used to be one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball. This season, however, Leyland has completely turned the Tigers around. They now sit atop the Central division, primed for a deep playoff run. Although they have struggled at the end of this season, allowing Chicago and Minnesota close the gap on their once double-digit lead, they have all the intangibles of a great baseball team. The Tigers can hit, field and pitch with the best of them. They lead playoff teams in triples with 35, and their pitching staff boasts the lowest ERA in the league at 3.75. Their X factor this season has been their powerful middle relief, led by Joel Zumaya and his 1.98 ERA. Pitching has always been the difference-maker during the playoffs, and given the depth of the Tigers’ staff, they should be successful in the playoffs.