The 2016 MLB season has the potential to be a wild one for playoff purposes. You could argue that half the league has a legitimate shot at the playoffs, but only 10 spots are available.
The early going has seen many teams come out of nowhere to lead their divisions while other stalwarts are faltering big-time. Which MLB playoff hopefuls are contenders, and which are pretenders?
In the first part of a 2-part series, let’s take a look at the Junior Circuit, the American League.
Baltimore Orioles (17-12, First in AL East)
The pesky Orioles are proving that the American League East really is anyone’s division. Thought to be a bubble playoff team, the Orioles started the season 7-0 and still maintain first place in the division.
However, the O’s have faltered lately. They are probably a starter short right now, but if they improve their starting pitching, they’ll be very dangerous.
Boston Red Sox (17-13, Second in AL East)
All of the big money that GM Dave Dombrowski spent this offseason has paid off so far, as the Red Sox are off to their best start in years. They have been the MLB’s best-hitting team and most successful baserunning club.
But pitching is the great equalizer in the AL East, and the Red Sox look a bit skimpy in the rotation. I don’t see the Red Sox keeping up with this success in the long run either.
Toronto Blue Jays (16-16, Third in AL East)
The Blue Jays have stumbled in 2016. They’ve gotten surprisingly good starting pitching from the 3-5 spots, but their offense hasn’t been quite as potent as it was last year, when it was the MLB’s best.
It would be tough to count the Blue Jays out; they have the best makeup in the AL East. Their bats will take off, and their unexpectedly solid depth will make them dangerous.
New York Yankees (11-17, Fifth in AL East)
The 2016 season couldn’t have started worse for the Yankees, who have dealt with injuries, poor pitching, and a dead offense.
It is risky to ever count the Yankees out though. They only sit 4.5 games out of a playoff spot despite their lousy record, so they aren’t done yet. Still, the deck is probably stacked too strongly against the Bronx Bombers for them to contend.
Chicago White Sox (21-10, First in AL Central)
The biggest surprise so far has been the ChiSox, who have been the AL’s team to beat. They have been scoring runs left and right, and their pitching has exceeded expectations.
I remain skeptical on the White Sox, but if they can remain consistent, the AL Central is theirs to lose.
Cleveland Indians (14-13, Second in AL Central)
The Indians have been a good-but-not-great team for a couple of years now, and the trend is continuing in 2016 despite lofty projections. The return of Michael Brantley from injury will help, but the Indians have been a bit underwhelming.
If the Indians don’t pick it up, they’ll miss the playoffs for the 8th time in 10 seasons.
Kansas City Royals (15-14, Third in AL Central)
Things haven’t gone according to plan for the defending World Series Champions. Ned Yost’s club never makes things easy, often coming on later in the season.
The Royals could use another starting pitcher, but other than that they are a complete team among the AL’s best.
Detroit Tigers (14-15, Fourth in AL Central)
An expensive offseason got many in the Motor City amped for 2016 baseball, but the Tigers have been the same inconsistent bunch that they were last year. For instance, on a recent 9-game homestand, they won the first 5 games, scoring 7 runs a game, before losing the last 4 and scoring only 2 runs per game.
The Tigers are simply too streaky to contend this year.
Seattle Mariners (18-12, First in AL West)
The M’s were a trendy pick last year (in fact, they were my pick as AL Champions), but failed miserably. This year, the lowered expectations have made the Mariners sneak up on the competition. They have looked like the class of the AL West through Mother’s Day, playing .600 baseball.
The M’s have the rotation and the big bats to contend, they just need to put it all together. Rookie manager Scott Servais will have his hands full as the Mariners look to take the next step.
Texas Rangers (17-14, Second in AL West)
The Rangers charged late last year to the AL West division crown, and looked poised for more this year. They took a while to get going, but the Rangers look just as good now as they did last season.
When healthy, the Rangers have an imposing lineup and quality pitching. The Rangers have been bit by the injury bug in recent years. If they can stay off of the DL, they should be a playoff club.
Houston Astros (11-20, Fifth in AL West)
The Astros’ amazing season last year had some doubting their ability to repeat, suggesting that they peaked one year too early. I didn’t buy into the notion, predicting them as AL Champions.
Unfortunately, the critics were right. The young, inexperienced Astros appear overmatched so far this year, not resembling the 2015 squad at all. Their inability to win on the road (4-11 road record) will cost them dearly.