American League Playoffs: Great Teams or Artificially Enhanced

Twice is Nice for Houston?

Logic and data dictate that the Boston Red Sox will go to the World Series. Hold the confetti; it might not be as easy as it seems. Three AL teams won 100 or more games: the Red Sox, the Astros, and the Yankees. Oakland was close (97 wins) and the Indians won a healthy 91 games. Does this mean that the AL is powerhouse of talent?

Maybe. It could also mean that several very good teams look like the Legion of Superheroes because their adversaries were the sports equivalent of skim milk. Three teams (Orioles, Royals, White Sox) lost more than 100 games and the Tigers and Rangers came close to that ignominious low bar. In fact, take away the five playoff teams, and only Tampa Bay and Seattle won more than half of their games. From where I sit, none of them is the 1961 Yankees or the 1971 Orioles. Let’s take an alphabetical look at the contenders.

By any measure, the Boston Red Sox had a phenomenal year. That said, there are reasons for concern.


·       If Mookie Betts isn’t the MVP, voters should be hanged. And if J. P. Martinez isn’t the runner up, cut the voters down and have them drawn and quartered. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Mike Trout worshippers.)
·       Bogaerts had the quietest incredible year in memory. Benintendi reminds me of a young Freddie Lynn.
·       Joey Cora has a happy clubhouse, which is as rare in Boston.
·       On paper, the Red Sox have a dominant pitching staff.


·       And on the field, none of those pitchers has ever won a single playoff game.
·       Chris Sale must be a concern. For the second straight year he wore out late in the season. If he’s not healthy, the Green Monster will weep.
·       If the Sox get the Yanks, David Price will have to shed the Bronx monkey, which he never seems to do.
·       Porcello and Rodriguez wave similar caution flags. Each blows brilliant or chunks. Porcello is a soft 17-7 with an ERA north of 4.
·       Kimbrel has had a few rough patches, but getting to him will be the biggest challenge. Can you trust Workman, Barnes, Evoladi, and Velazquez? It's clear that Joe Kelly can’t be.
·       Aside from Jackie Bradley, who can’t hit, the Red Sox defense is often leaky, especially Devers at third.

The Cleveland Indians are the dark horse pick this year—mainly because they get the Astros in the first round.


·       Pencil in Jose Ramirez for # 3 in MVP balloting. Brantley, Lindor, and Gomes aren’t Mantle, Maris, and Berra, but they have the knack for coming up big when it matters.
·       Terry Francona is the best manager in the AL, bar none.
·       It begins and ends with pitching for the Indians. Kluber is a marvel and Carrasco is solid, though why he was wasted in a meaningless final game baffles me. Bauer is a solid # 3.


·       In my view, the Indians simply aren’t good enough to beat Houston. If Francona pilots them into the World Series somehow, don’t wait for retirement; put him in Cooperstown now.
·       Encarnacion and Kipnis had lousy years and struck out a lot. 
·       Andrew Miller was a hero last year, but this year he’s been injured and a shadow of his former self. Cody Allen hasn’t been very good either.

The Houston Astros are the defending Series champions and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they repeat.


·       Red Sox pitching gets more attention, but Verlander, Cole, Mofton, Keuchel, and McCullers make up the league’s best staff. Unlike the Red Sox, these guys do have postseason victories under their caps.
·       Alex Bregman isn’t a household name, but he had an amazing year and don’t think “who?” when he inflicts playoff damage.
·       Jose Altuve gives hope to short guys everywhere. He’s the ‘Stros Mookie Betts.
·       Springer, Gurriel, and Reddick are clutch players.


·       I’m not fond of Osuna or Rondon in the bullpen. It’s best to hope you don’t have to use either of them.
·       Gattis can’t get it together and this once-touted catching prospect looks like a bust. Too bad, as Brian McCann looks like he’s toast.

The New York Yankees won 100 games and had to settle for the Wild Card.


·       Ten players had more than ten homeruns, and the Yankees set a new MLB record for dingers in a season. So maybe Judge, Stanton, and Gregorius are the new Mantle, Maris, and Berra!
·       Torres has lived up to the rookie hype only to be surpassed by Andujar, who should be the Rookie of the Year. (Ohtani will win it even though he missed a big chunk of the season; he’s the darling of the SABR crowd.)
·       J. A. Happ stabilized the Yankees’ rotation and has been magnificent in Pinstripes.
·       McCutchen supplanted Gardner at the top of the order and has been very good.
·       Luke Voit might be a flash in the pan, but for now you’d better put on sunglasses.
·       On paper, the Yankees pen (Chapman, Betances, Green, Britton, Holder, Robertson) is so good they could each throw an inning and a third and win the game.


·       They have to win the Wild Card game to move on to a show down with Boston. One game? Victory is surely not a given.
·       Severino is an emerging ace, but every now and again, he throws a real stinker. Tanaka is the opposite: so-so during the season and a warrior in the playoffs. Will the law of averages catch up with Tanaka?
·       Let’s not sugarcoat: Gary Sanchez sucked this year, both at and behind the plate. He shouldn’t even be on the playoff roster.
·       Defensive woes seem to be contagious. The Yankees collectively qualify for the Dick Stuart Stinking Glove Award.
·       Health has been an issue again this year—can someone explain to me why the entire conditioning staff hasn’t been canned?—and I suspect half of the team (Hicks, Judge, Gregorius, Chapman, Stanton, Torres) is playing at considerably less than 100%.
·       Gardner has fallen off he cliff. Great guy, but he seems older than Sabathia.
·       The Yankees score in big batches and then not at all. I’d give up a bunch of those homers for a higher on base percentage.
·       Aaron Boone? Thus far not one of MLB’s brighter lights, the team’s record notwithstanding.
The Oakland A’s weren’t supposed to be here, yet they are.


·       Just go with it when you overachieve.
·       Is there anyone who doesn’t know that Khris Davis is a homerun threat?
·       Chapman, Piscotty, Lowrie, and Olson had wonderful seasons. Were those seasons outliers? Like I said, go with it.
·       Bob Melvin must be given serious consideration for Manager of the Year.
·       Trienen emerged as the closer and is a big reason Oakland made it this far.


·       Things would look rosier if their best pitcher, Sean (no-hitter) Manaea wasn’t the latest Tommy John surgery victim.
·       Are Fiers, Petit, and Cahill enough for the post season? Probably not.
·       If the A’s have to use Rodney or Familia, run up the white flag.
·       Other than Davis, there’s no one in this lineup who scares anyone. If you don’t make dumb mistakes, you can beat the A’s.


1. Wild Card: A’s over Yankees. I just don’t like teams that rely on homeruns all the time. In a five-game series, go with the Yankees; in on, too many strikeouts and poor defense hands the game to Oakland.

2. Round One: Red Sox over Oakland 3 games to 1.
                         Astros over Indians 3-0.
Conditon: If the Yankees defeat Oakland, I pick them to beat Boston 3-2. I don’t think Sale is healthy and Price is never right versus the Yankees.

3.  AL Champ: Astros. An abundance of good pitching, great fundamentals, and a reliably solid and consistent roster prevail.

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