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American League Preview: Let’s try to figure out who’s in the mix for the three Wild Card spots

The American League East is going to be a gauntlet.

FanGraphs projected the Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees to all finish with matching 88-74 records, and even the Orioles might be worth paying some attention to this year.

What about the rest of the American League? Who’s going to win the Central and the West? And what can we expect in the Wild Card race in the new six-team playoff format?

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The American League Central…

The Chicago White Sox cruised to the AL Central banner last season as the Minnesota Twins imploded and the other three teams weren’t actively trying to win. It probably won’t be quite so easy this year, but this is still far from a tough division, and it remains insane that Paul Beeston didn’t want the Blue Jays playing here.

The Twins are better because they’ve added Carlos Correa, though their pitching is still a mess, Cleveland is roughly the same because they decided not to actually pony up cash to keep Jose Ramirez around, the Royals are better because they brought back Zack Greinke and have some good young talent on the way, and the Tigers are better because they added Javier Baez, Eduardo Rodriguez, and former top draft pick Spencer Torkelson will be making his debut.

The biggest obstacle for the White Sox will be themselves, as they’re coming out the gate decimated by injuries. Garrett Crochet will miss the year because of Tommy John while Lance Lynn, Yoan Moncada, Yermin Mercedes, and Joe Kelly will all start the season on the Injured List.

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The American League West…

The Houston Astros have won the AL West in four of the past five seasons, with the one interruption being the 60-game COVID sprint in 2020 when the Oakland A’s took the crown. Despite losing Correa, their WAR leader, to the Twins and Grenkie, their innings pitched leader, to the Royals, it looks like Houston is again this year’s best bet in the West.

Oakland will most certainly not be in the mix to unseat the Astros this year, as they completely gave up this off-season, trading Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Sean Manaea away for prospects. It’s difficult to imagine the Texas Rangers giving them too much trouble either. They spent $600 million on Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, but that’ll only do so much to improve the team’s 60-win result from last year.

The best two bets to challenge Houston are the Seattle Mariners and L.A. Angels. The Angels are a two-man team with no pitching, but Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani could conceivably combine for like 20 WAR, so maybe they do the unthinkable and drag the team to the playoffs. The Mariners won 90 games last year despite having a -51 run differential, but they’re coming into the 2022 season with a much strong roster thanks to the addition of Robbie Ray and an influx of some young talent.

Putting it all together…

Last year’s race for the Wild Card was, as the name indicates, wild.

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The Rays, White Sox, and Astros won their divisions fairly handily, leaving the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Mariners, and A’s fighting to play in the Wild Card game. Oakland cooled down the stretch, Seattle ran out of magic, and Boston and New York clinched their spots on the final day of the season, ultimately resulting in the Blue Jays finishing as the best fourth-place team ever with a 91-71 record.

What can we expect from this year’s race?

Six of the eight teams who were in the mix for playoff spots last year will surely again be in the mix this year, with Oakland being the one team that’s fallen off and Seattle being a bit of an enigma. It’s also fair to assume that a team like Detroit could break out and find themselves in the mix while the Twins could also bounce back after a shockingly bad season. The Angels and Cleveland also have enough high-level talent that they could be surprising, so don’t count them out.

The benefit that teams from the Central and West have over the East teams is a weaker schedule. The Blue Jays, Rays, Yanks, and Sox have to play each other over and over and only get to beat up on the O’s, while no other division features the kind of depth that the East does.

At the very least, the new playoff format ensures that a team can finish fourth in the AL East and still make the playoffs. I don’t imagine that’s what we’ll be looking forward to from the Blue Jays this season, but, hey, that’s some added insurance.

Previously…


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