The 2023 season has been one of the most exciting for baseball largely because the teams making it to the playoffs aren’t necessarily the ones that were expected to succeed. While the New York Yankees and the Mets, two of the highest payrolls in baseball, are excluded from this narrative, teams like the Orioles and the Rangers have cemented their place as leaders in the American League. With one last week to play, the AL pennant races have separated in three stories:
AL East: A Tale of Two Schedules
In the AL East, the pennant race will be highly influenced by the Orioles’ and the Rays’ schedules.
Baltimore has the easier path to becoming the AL East Champions. With a lead of 2.5 games, they will play the Red Sox and the Nationals, two teams who are struggling to hit .500 by the end of the season. In his second year in the majors, catcher Adley Rutschman has left his mark on the season. He is second on the team in batting average (.276), and he hit 19 home runs. Alongside Ryan O’Hearn and Anthony Santander, Rutschman will hope to lead his team into their first playoff run since 2016.
The Tampa Bay Rays will have to end the season the way they started: scoring runs and winning games. Notable absentees include Wander Franco, their shortstop placed on indefinite leave, and Shane McClanahan, one of the Rays starting pitchers who is out with a left arm injury. The team will have to rely on the offensive output of Yandy Díaz, Randy Arozarena and Isaac Paredes who have hit 21, 23, and 30 home runs respectively. Their schedule isn’t the easiest, closing the regular season with a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays. However, they start a series two-game series against the Red Sox tomorrow.
AL West: All to Play For
The AL West will be the pennant race to watch for baseball fans who love chaos.
The Rangers currently lead Houston by 2.5 games and Seattle by 3, meaning that every game those three teams play is especially crucial. Texas will need to win against the Angels to allow themselves breathing room going into their series against the Mariners. Jordan Montogomery has been lights-out for Texas with a 2.92 ERA and only five home runs allowed in his starts. This made Max Scherzer’s forearm injury a bit more tolerable, but his absence as a veteran pitcher with playoff experience will be noticeable.
Houston will play the Mariners and the Diamondbacks to close their season. Kyle Tucker is having arguably one of his best seasons to date. He needs two more home runs to tie his career record of 30, and he has already surpassed his career total RBI (109). Yordan Alverez and Jose Altuve will have to continue their offensive successes to lead their teams to another pennant. Pitcher Framber Valdez helped the Astros stay competitive with a 3.39 ERA and .522 win-loss percentage. However, the importance of veteran players like Justin Verlander cannot be understated. Verlander has led the team to multiple World Series championships and understands the importance of playing under pressure.
— Houston Astros (@astros) September 25, 2023
Seattle’s Julio Rodríguez and JP Crawford will lead their team in the hopes of chasing down the Rangers. The Mariners have the hardest road ahead, playing both the Astros and the Rangers to close off their regular season. But, they are still close enough to both teams to do a lot of damage. Rodríguez, the 22-year-old superstar, needs to continue hitting home runs and try to reduce the amount of GDP (Double Plays Grounded Into). Crawford needs to continue to be healthy and aim for about 20 home runs to end the season. And, if Luis Castillo continues to be as dominant as he is, Seattle’s future looks hopeful.
AL Central: Locked in For the Playoffs
Minnesota locked in the AL Central Pennant and now is looking at how to best succeed in their playoff dreams. One nightmare has already been eliminated: The New York Yankees. The Yankees have haunted the Twins for four out of the last five Twins’ playoff appearances. With New York out, the only other substantial problem is the injury bug. Correa, Lewis, Gallo, and Buxton are all on the 10-day injury list with varying degrees of hope of a return. However, their pitching rotation has shut down opposing hitters. Sonny Gray is a serious Cy Young Candidate, and Pablo López has also demonstrated star-potential. The Twins no longer have to worry about the pennant race, but they do face major concerns looking ahead to the playoffs.
2023 AL Central Champions: YOUR MINNESOTA TWINS!!! pic.twitter.com/fhUS29J8TB
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) September 23, 2023