American League Team By Team Analysis:
New York Yankees (100-62)
Strengths: A strong bullpen, loaded offensive lineup, the Yankee Stadium postseason effect, and three above average starting pitchers.
Weaknesses: Defense from the catcher, third base, and sometimes second base positions. A lineup that is prone to striking out. The fourth starting pitcher?
X-Factor: C Gary Sánchez. With the highlight on the historic offensive onslaught that the Yankees have had, an often overlooked point of emphasis is the struggling season that catcher Gary Sánchez has had. He’s always been more known for his bat rather than his defense, but this season, he struggled to hit and never found himself in a rhythm, while providing below average defense behind the plate. He hit .186 on the season, with 18 home runs, combining to show a poor .697 OPS. The Yankees have shown that they can win with Sánchez struggling, but they are undoubtedly better when his bat is providing hits and runs for them. He could be the difference between an early exit for the Yankees or a long run to glory.
Oakland Athletics (97-65)
Strengths: A stellar bullpen, veteran leadership, a solid lineup of hitters.
Weaknesses: Starting pitching, offense and defense from the catcher position, and bench depth.
X-Factor: RHP Mike Fiers. Fiers has been just what the doctor ordered in terms of what he’s brought to the Oakland Athletics to help them to their postseason run. A waiver trade deadline acquisition from Detroit, Fiers has pitched well when called upon for the A’s, making nine starts, with a 5-2 record and 3.74 ERA. He brings an extreme amount of experience and veteran leadership to a rotation that is heavy with it. He was on the Houston Astros 40-man roster during their World Series run in 2017, and was apart of that experience whilst not seeing the field during the playoffs. Fiers will need to continue pitching at a high level if Oakland wants to go far this postseason, and he will likely see the field on Wednesday against the Yankees. He is the big difference maker for the A’s, and he will be a crucial piece to their October run.
Cleveland Indians (91-71)
Strengths: A strong rotation filled with talent, a strong and well-balanced lineup, a plethora of veterans and guys with postseason experience.
Weaknesses: A weak bullpen that struggled putting away games, competition during the regular season was not very encouraging, a bench with not much depth.
X-Factor: 3B Josh Donaldson. The Indians have so many guys to choose from when it comes to a postseason X-factor, but Donaldson is my obvious choice. Not long ago was Donaldson one of the best players in baseball, and a popular player amongst fans. While he’s still beloved by many, Donaldson’s final few seasons in Toronto were plagued by injuries, leading many to believe that the former MVP may never be back to his old form. Donaldson was dealt to Cleveland on the final day of the waiver trade deadline for a player to be named later. He wasn’t activated until September 11th, but has made a positive impact on the team as they prepared for the stretch run. He’s made 60 plate appearances, hitting three home runs, with a .920 OPS. He will be a huge piece for the Tribe as they look to make a run for the pennant.
Houston Astros (103-59)
Strengths: Best pitching rotation in baseball, returns wealth of last year’s World Series championship squad, terrific bullpen, solid lineup.
Weaknesses: Staying healthy, competing every night with the top offenses in the MLB.
X-Factor: SS Carlos Correa. It was really hard to find weaknesses for this Astros team. Carlos Correa’s struggles have been well-documented throughout the season and he has been a weakness in their lineup since the All-Star break. Correa is undoubtedly one of the most talented players at his position, but he’s been awful as of late, and Houston will expect him to pick it up as the show rolls on. He’s been plagued with injuries in 2018, but he’s fully healthy now, and needs to get his bat going. He’s been hitting .180 since the midsummer classic, and only has a .728 OPS on the season. If Correa breaks through during October to be the player we’ve seen in the past, Houston could very well be on their way to a second consecutive World Series championship.
Boston Red Sox (108-54)
Strengths: Offensive production, balanced lineup, and an above-average to postseason rotation.
Weaknesses: Who will be the Red Sox bridge to getting Craig Kimbrel in for the save in the 9th inning? A weak backend of a starting rotation. Lineup that struggles to hit lefties.
X-Factor: LHP David Price. David Price has excelled in 2018, bouncing back to top end starter caliber form. He started 30 games for Boston, going 16-7 with a 3.58 ERA. He’s been affected by some injuries throughout the campaign, but appears to be fully healthy heading into the postseason. Price will need to continue to be this player if Boston would like to continue their stellar season. His postseason struggles have been well-documented, as he’s started nine career postseason games, losing eight of them, and having a combined 13.50 ERA. His pitching will be the crucial difference between an early exit for Boston or hoisting up another World Series championship for the franchise.