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MLB Analysis: American League Title Contenders

Astros, Yankees Leading Way Among Playoff Hopefuls

The regular season is winding down and the playoff picture is coming into focus in the American League.

Is there a team that can spoil the anticipated showdown between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees?

The Houston Astros
The Houston Astros | Greg fiume/getty images/afp

Let’s check the latest MLB picks, stats, injury reports, and MLB predictions. We’ve plenty of MLB expert picks for you to consider.

A Look at AL Division Winners

Houston Astros

  • Record: 101-53
  • Odds to win the World Series: +400

The AL West has belonged to the Houston Astros all season long. They currently hold a 17-game lead on second-place Seattle and are six games up on the Yankees for the top record in the American League.

    • Strengths: Let’s start with Justin Verlander as he is 17-4 with a 1.83 ERA. The ultimate competitor, Verlander should thrive in the pressure moments in the postseason.

Eight players have at least 12 home runs, led by Yordan Alvarev with 37. However, Houston can also score in other ways with Kyle Tucker, Jose Altuve and Jeremy Pena all with more than 10 stolen bases.

    • Weaknesses: Not too many to speak of. Is the rotation deep enough for the Astros to win when Verlander isn’t on the mound. Lance McCullers is showing positive signs since making his season debut in August.

It has been a bit of a struggle late in the season for youngsters Jeremy Pena and Chaz McCormick. There haven’t been many pressure-packed situations for the Astros as they have run away with the division title. Will that be an issue moving forward with the players without post-playoff experience?

New York Yankees

  • Record: 94-58
  • Odds to win the World Series: +500

The New York Yankees are closing in on the American League East title and the No. 2 seed in the American League. The second half of the season has been a bit of a struggle after the Yankees got off to a sensational start.

    • Strengths: Let’s start with outfielder Aaron Judge as he is vying for not only the Triple Crown but also is on the verge of breaking Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs. There is a reason why the MLB predictions have Judge as the MVP favorite.

With Judge leading the way, the Yankees lead the majors with 241 home runs so when the balls are flying out of the park, this is a hard team to deal with.

New York’s pitching staff has swing-and-miss stuff as the Yankees trail only the Houston Astros in strikeouts among American League teams.

    • Weaknesses: The home runs are great but, when they aren’t coming, the Yankees struggle to score runs. If not for Judge having a spectacular second half of the season, the AL East race would look much different. Teams are more than willing to walk Judge and take their chances on the other players beating them. That is more likely to happen in the postseason.

The bullpen lost key arms Chad Green and Michael King for the season and it shows. Closing out games has become an adventure and what will happen when the starters leave the game?

Cleveland Guardians

  • Record: 86-67
  • Odds to win the World Series: +3000

The question was whether a team would take control in the AL Central and the Guardians have obliged. With all the focus on the Astros and Yankees, Cleveland has been flying under the radar. The Guardians are currently on a seven-game winning streak and are 40-23 in the second half.

    • Strengths: Shane Bieber and Cal Quantrill are a combined 16-3 since the MLB All-Star Game. The return of James Karinchak gives the Guardians four relievers with at least 15 innings of work in the second half of the season with ERAs of 1.53 or lower.
    • Weaknesses: There is a reason why the Guardians’ record is lagging behind both the Astros and Yankees in the AL standings. The first three starters are rock solid, but things could get interesting if the depth of the staff needs to be tested.

Young players like Steven Kwan, Andres Giminez and Amed Rosario have been solid all season. It is worth watching to see how they handle the postseason. It could be interesting to see how those who bet online view the team with the longest odds to represent the American League in the World Series among the six likely contestants.

Breaking Down Contenders

The three wild-card spots seem to be secure unless the Baltimore Orioles can make a late surge so let’s take at likely teams that will be filling out the field in the American League.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Record: 86-67
  • Odds to win the World Series: +1600

Toronto is 12 games over .500 since the MLB All-Star Game and this won’t be a fun team to play in the postseason with a deep lineup and some young arms.

  • Strengths: Bo Bichette has come to life late in the season as he is hitting .326 over his last 59 games. Both Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr. have 10 home runs in the second half.

Alek Manoah is a legitimate No. 1 starter and Jordan Romano is among the top closers in the game.

  • Weaknesses: Matt Chapman has plenty of power, but he is batting just .246 in the second half of the season with 76 strikeouts in his last 60 games. Catcher Alejandro Kirk has slowed down a bit after a slow start.

After Manoah, there are more questions than answers with the starting pitching staff.

Bo Bichette #11
Bo Bichette #11 | Mark blinch/getty images/afp

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Record: 84-69
  • Odds to win the World Series: +2800

The Rays are starting to get healthy. Shortstop Wander Franco recently returned to action and now it is looking like pitcher Tyler Glasnow could return later this month while third baseman Yandy Diaz may also be coming back soon.

    • Strengths: Pete Fairbanks and Jason Adam have been delivering out of the bullpen and getting stronger as the season moves on.

Randy Arozarena is a proven postseason producer and he is just one of the talented hitters for Tampa Bay.

    • Weaknesses: It has been a struggle in the second half for Shane McClanahan, who was being touted by the MLB betting lines as a Cy Young Award candidate earlier in the season. Overall, there are questions about the rotation and how they will be utilized.

Seattle Mariners

  • Record: 83-69
  • Odds to win the World Series: +2500

Seeing rookie outfielder Julio Rodriguez on the injured list is not what Marines fans want at any time, but especially not now. He has been dealing with ailments in the second half of the season.

    • Strengths: Eugenio Suarez and Cal Raleigh have combined for 27 home runs since the All-Star Game.
      George Kirby, Robbie Ray, Luis Castillo and Logan Gilbert give the Mariners four reliable starters.
    • Weaknesses: The only hitter with at least 100 at-bats in the second half of the season batting over .240 is the injured Rodriguez, so will the Mariners be able to string rallies together?
      The Mariners have squandered six save opportunities in the second half of the season.

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