Eleven days ago, we wrote about the highest payroll teams all being out of the playoffs based on the standings. It’s definitely still early, and over the last two weeks, we’ve seen those teams begin to step up, particularly the Anaheim Angels, who have won 8 of the last 10. Only Detroit has a losing record in their last ten games among the highest payrolls.
The Yankees have since moved into position for the last wildcard spot, refusing to give up on the season. The other four are still chasing as we enter June. So, which of those remaining four is most likely to surge, and which one is least likely to make the postseason?
Let’s do a quick assessment.
Boston Red Sox: 26-25 (5th place, 1.5 games back of last wildcard, 3 back of division)
A lot has gone wrong for the Boston Red Sox. Jacoby Ellsbury has been out injured, Youkilis missed time and now looks to be on the way out. The pitching hasn’t been very good. Their fans are from Boston, and the manager says dumb things. Add in that Adrian Gonzalez is not having a good year so far, and you probably wouldn’t guess this team was over .500.
Detroit Tigers: 24-27 (3rd place, 3.5 back of last wildcard, 5 back of division)
Last year, the Tigers used somewhat of a stars and scrubs approach, relying on the brilliance of players like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera to mask other areas. That is doubly true this year. Verlander is still, well, pitching like a beast. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are having solid if not spectacular years for their standards.
After that, Austin Jackson has been having a great year, and Alex Avila is again providing quality catching work. Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer have not stepped up at all, while plenty of other hitters are not providing support (Ryan Raburn with an OPS+ of 16? really?)
The pitching staff is in place. The problem has been the offense. Pujols was the big signing and the public face of that, and while his recent surge has him near league average now, nobody else was stepping up. Howie Kendrick is not following up his all-star year last season so far, Torii Hunter was out with a family issue, and no one else besides Pujols has more than 6 home runs.
Philadelphia Phillies 27-25 (5th place, 1.5 back of last wildcard, 3 back of division)
Hitting–or lack of it–and age, which goes somewhat in hand with that, are responsible for the Phillies’ problems. Add in that Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have yet to play, and now the ace of the staff, Roy Halladay, is on the DL, and the pitching has not been enough to carry the team so far. Clifford Lee and Cole Hamels are enough to keep them afloat. Where would this team be without the huge contribution from Carlos Ruiz so far? (.422 OBP, .615 SLG).
The Phillies’ offensive problems are real, and likely not to rebound a great deal. They weren’t great offensively last year, the players are a year older, and relying on Chase Utley’s bad knees when he returns may be hoping for too much. The Nationals are for real, and it is a tough division. The pitching should keep them in contention for that new fifth playoff spot in the National League, where finishing 3rd in the East may be enough. The Tigers are in the best position, needing to catch the White Sox. Their play is also most concerning, as it is not driven by key injuries to players who will return, like the other teams here. The Angels have the pitching, but are in the worst divisional situation behind the Rangers. The competition for Los Angeles is really the AL East teams. The Red Sox group of disfunction probably has the greatest upside. Trade Youkilis for a moving part in the bullpen. Ellsbury returns and Gonzalez starts raking in the summer, and the pitching, while flawed, has to be better. However, the AL East is a gauntlet, with the Yankees and Tampa Bay likely in front of them, which means they must hold off the Angels while catching the Blue Jays and Orioles.
I’ll take, in order, Anaheim to get a wild card spot, Tigers to win the division, Boston for a wild card spot, and Philadelphia for a wild card spot.
[photos via US Presswire]