The reigning AL champion Minnesota Twins proved how badly they want another crack at a World Series title by dominating the North, seemingly locking up the division by the All-Star break. In the West, Oakland edged Seattle in the last few games of the season to earn the #1 seed and, more importantly, a first-round bye. But the loser of of this division race still gets the good fortune of drawing KC in the first round.
Rounding out the playoff field are the #3 and #6 seeds, and division rivals, Baltimore and Boston. This will likely be the more intriguing matchup in the first round, so let's take a closer look.
#3 Baltimore Orioles (gydk) 100-62, 988 RS (1st), 755 RA (5th)
#6 Boston Red Sox (Stewart_UK) 95-67, 840 RS (5th), 705 RA (4th)
Season Series: BAL 8-2
Baltimore's making their first playoff appearance despite winning 90 and 88 games in seasons 2 & 3. The bats have carried them into the postseason, as they've put up staggering numbers at the plate. There is power throughout the lineup, but the glue is still RF Harry Price. Boston's ace Joaquin Gongora needs a good outing as the shaky back end of the rotation will rely heavily on the bullpen, which is fortunately very solid. The biggest factor could be "super reliever" Zack Damon- with Baltimore's offense he should see a lot of action, especially relieving the 3 and 4 starters.
The Baltimore rotation is solid throughout, but they lack a true ace. Graham McCartin has been the closest thing to it this season, and he will be available after an injury to throw Game 1 if gydk chooses. The biggest weakness for the Oriole staff is giving up the long ball; fortunately for them, Boston hit the second least HRs in the AL. But they make up for their 5th lowest team SLG% with a very efficient offense. Second in the AL in AVG and 3rd in SBs, expect to see some small ball out of Boston. Young CF Mike Fasano sets the table for guys like 1B Kyle Graves to knock em in.
Prediction: Boston's top-heavy rotation should make things interesting, but in the end Baltimore has too much offense. The Orioles pitching, while not spectacular, is just good enough to keep the Red Sox' scoring low enough to let the Baltimore bats lead the way. Baltimore in four.
#4 Kansas City Royals (grissom97) 73-89, 800 RS (12th), 855 RA (10th)
#5 Seattle Mariners (letchkins) 101-61, 803 RS (10th), 624 RA (2nd)
Season Series: SEA 7-3
The AL West has been the running joke throughout the season, although it's mostly been the teams in the division making those jokes. Nevertheless, after beating out Nashville for the division title the Royals are not planning on going quietly. What makes them dangerous is their ability to manufacture runs, as evidenced by their league-high 285 SBs. Midseason call-up Johnny Rowan has added some much needed pop to this lineup, but the Royals will need some other bats to get hot to score against the Mariners' pitching. Kyle Powell and Bernie Cordero make up a dangerous 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, followed by uber-prospect Mike DeJean who's hit the ground running in his rookie season.
The Royals pitching is only marginally better than their hitting. Midseason acquisition Tim Truby is the only starter who's shown some consistent success, so expect to see a lot of the Royals' bullpen in this series. The good news for KC is that the Mariners offense had some troubles of its own. The potent heart of the order is their 2-3-4 combo of Fisher, Escobar and Hendrick. They'll be doing all the heavy lifting, but will need some contributions from others if they want to make a deep playoff run.
Prediction: On paper, Kansas City looks completely outmatched... and they are. Barring some truly inspired performances by Royals players who haven't done it all season, Seattle should be making flight plans for Oakland in round 2. Seattle in four.
Waiting in the Wings
#1 Oakland Athletics (pstrnutbag44) 104-58, 891 RS (4th), 633 RA (3rd)
"The Commish" has put together quite a team, posting the best record in the ML. The offense will get on base a lot, having drawn 75 more BB than the next closest AL club. MVP candidates Turk Weaver and Terry Heffner get most of the attention, but the lineup also has three other hitters with an OBP of .400+ and a SLG of .475+.
Two young SPs, Steve Kennedy and Fernando Rosado, head a solid rotation front to back. If any starters run into trouble early, pnut doesn't worry too much as Lance Woolf picks up the slack.
Outlook: Likely facing Seattle in the second round will be a test, but the A's should get by in six. From there they want a rematch with arch-rival Minnesota and a chance to go to the World Series. Grab your popcorn for that series, it should be a dandy.
#2 Minnesota Twins (zbrent716) 102-60, 808 RS (9th), 579 RA (1st)
The Twins will be the team to beat in the AL until proven different. They've made it to the ALCS all three previous seasons, going to the World Series in two of those seasons. So now zbrent's only goal is finishing up and getting the title. Minnesota's offense has a ton of power, but the reliance on a couple youngsters makes it somewhat inconsistent. Herbert Lieberthal and midseason pickup Hiram Bang (very fitting name) are an imposing duo, even moreso with the power hitters that surround them.
As scary as the Twins lineup can be, the pitching is what makes this train go, setting a Major Leagues World team record for least runs allowed. Of course the spotlight will stay on soon to be four-time Cy Young Award winner, C.Y. Nen. But Nen's not alone, Jang and Bellhorn would be #1's on most teams in the league and will follow in the rotation. The bullpen is solid, and a healthy Twins rotation will make life difficult for any opposing lineup.
Outlook: I can't see Baltimore beating this team more than twice, but I'll go ahead and take the Twins in five. In a short series, you'll probably only see a three-man rotation from Minnesota and even Baltimore's offense won't consistently put up runs against these guys. Then it's on to Oakland.
ALCS Prediction: In a rematch of last season's ALCS, the question is can Oakland take the next step? I don't think this is the year. Last year's Twins team made it to game 7 of the WS despite losing all but the batboy to injuries, so there's no reason to think this team won't get back to the October Classic. Minnesota in seven.