BY: VINCENT SAMPERIO
The spring brings us sunshine and brings a sense of optimism for 30 major league baseball teams. Summer brings heat and a sense of reality for about half of these ball clubs. As autumn approaches and the leaves begin to fall, so do many teams leaving us with just a handful of teams in contention. The Major League Baseball playoffs begin and end in October. For many teams, the prospect of adogpile and champagne celebration is out of reach by the time September ends; however, these next few teams have the ability to turn that dream into a reality.
The American League has the home field advantage due to their victory in the 2013 MLB All Star game. The 2012 runner-up Detroit Tigers are looking to return to the Fall Classic with a rotation that is anchored by Justin Verlander and current Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer. The Tigers lineup includes the 2012 MVP and Triple Crown champion Miguel Cabrera along with Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and newcomer ToriiHunter. They have a weakness in their bullpen bridging the gap to closer Joaquin Benoit. The Boston Red Sox are led by an offense with JacobyEllsbury, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. The bullpen is solid after the emergence of closer KojiUehara. Clay Buchholz has been injured and Jon Lester has been inconsistent making their rotation a potential weakness.
The Oakland Athletics have once again pieced together a solid team led by young pitching and timely hitting. Youngsters A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker and veteran Bartolo Colon lead a solid starting staff, while the hard-throwing bullpen has been the strength all season led by Grant Balfour. The offense can become stagnant if Home Run Derby champion Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick struggle.
The Texas Rangers collapsed in 2012 but are back again looking to redeem themselves. The offense is strong with Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre leading the way. The bullpen is strong led by closer Joe Nathan and Yu Darvish continues to blossom into a perennial Cy Young candidate. However, injuries to the starting rotation have led to inconsistency and a reliance on Matt Garza and Derek Holland.
The Tampa Bay Rays rely on pitching and defense for their success. The rotation is strong with David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. Fernando Rodney has struggled this season but can be lights out when needed. CSULB alum Evan Longoria continues to provide clutch hitting, but the offense has had many cold streaks during the season.
In the National League, the Atlanta Braves are led by an offense with Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann. They hope Jason Heyward can recover from a broken jaw. The bullpen is once again staunch led by closer Craig Kimbrel and lefty Luis Avilan. The rotation lost Tim Hudson to an ankle injury and must rely on unproven starters Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Kris Medlen.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a rotation anchored by former Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, along with Rookie of the Year candidate Hyun-Jin Ryu. The offense has been fueled by rookie sensation Yasiel Puig but is led by Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez. Kenley Jansen seized the closing job but the bullpen has been troubled by inconsistency at times.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have their first winning season in 20 years and look to continue their success in the postseason with an offense led by MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen and post-deadline acquisitions Marlon Byrd and Jason Morneau. Francisco Liriano has once again emerged as an ace and Mark Melancon leads the bullpen. The team is fairly young and has little postseason experience, which could cause problems.
The St. Louis Cardinals look to sustain their recent playoff success with an offense that has hit exceptionally well with runners in scoring position led by Allen Craig. Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday make the lineup one of the best. The bullpen has been a strength with Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica; however, there are a few question marks in the rotation behind ace Adam Wainwright.
The Cincinnati Reds have a tough lineup with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo. Hard-throwing lefty Aroldis Chapman has been lights out all season closing out games. The rotation lost Johnny Cueto, who may not return as a starter, putting more pressure on Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo.
Look for the National League pennant to come down to the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cardinals have playoff savvy, while the Dodgers have become a more complete team since June 22. In the American League, the Detroit Tigers will look to repeat and will go against the wild card Tampa Bay Rays in a battle of pitching rotations. Each team’s rotation will be able to overcome their other deficiencies.
In the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers will face off against the Detroit Tigers. Strong rotations and strong lineups will battle with the team’s bullpens being the x-factor. The Dodgers have a slight edge in that department and will end the season the 25-season World Series drought in a tough seven game series.