The trade deadline has came and went, with some major moves that are sure to impact the way things play out. But the larger question is what is going to have a direct effect on the pennant in the American League.
Baltimore and Boston Duking It Out In the East
Proving that the last few years of above average performance were no hoax, the Orioles once again find themselves on top of the American League East well after the mid-way point of the season. With only 45 losses to go with their 59 wins, the team is heating it up on both sides of the diamond. The key is to see if they will be able to sustain this for another few months. Inexperience may be the determining factor, as a veteran Red Sox team is fast on their heels.
In what will be David Ortiz’s final season, Boston is perhaps exceeding expectations. Reality is that they have the pitching and the offense to sustain this breakneck pace. Currently sitting at only a game and a half out, the team looks poised to make another serious run at the postseason. The team has a respectable .289 combined batting average, with six players hitting over .300. If this pace keeps up, other teams will be hard pressed to compete down the wire, as pitching staffs tend to become depleted with injuries. It is interesting to note that the Blue Jays are also right on the heels, actually up on the Red Sox by a game and only half a game back on the Orioles. In fact, it appears an almost certainty that the wild card from the AL will come from the East, so it will be an interesting pennant race to watch for sure.
Cleveland Is Holding Strong In the Central
Could it be that the city of Cleveland wins two major sports titles in the same season, after going through a decades long drought? Given the strong play of the Indians to this point in the season, it is not out of the realm of possibility. Coming out of the All Star Break with a 6 game lead, they lost a little ground now at 4.5 up on the Tigers – it is still their title to lose at this point. In fact, with only 42 losses, they share the top spot in the American League with the Orioles. They are doing it with a well balanced approach. The team batting average stands firm at .259, which will need to improve if they want to compete deep into the postseason. It appears enough, however, to get them through the abnormally weak Central division. With several golden glove contenders on the club this year, the strength is in their defense, and that is positioning them well down the stretch. Do not count out the Tigers or the Royals down the stretch, although both have their work cut out for them.
Texas Reigns In the West
The only real question in the West at this point seems to be which club in Texas will take home the division title. Will it be the Rangers, who currently hold a six game lead, or the Astros who appear to be a team on the rise? Conventional wisdom gives the nod to the Rangers given their experience, but the Astros appear to be playing with that young enthusiasm, which could just put them over the top. The winner will advance, while the loser will likely be staying home, as the Wildcard appears to be elusive to Central Division clubs this season.