Postseason breakdown: American League

MINNESOTA — The Rays, Yankees, Twins and Rangers are all different heading into the postseason, but they all have a lefty at the top of their rotations, solid eight- and ninth-inning guys and, come Wednesday, they’ll all be 0-0 and 11 wins away from World Series glory. 

With the start of the American League Division Series now less than two days away, here’s a team-by-team glance at what we’ve got. 

(And a prediction that’s hopefully more successful than my regular-season picks.) 
Rays (96-66)

Potential lineup

John Jaso, Cap-price-rays-celebrates-playoff-berth.jpg

Ben Zobrist, RF
Carl Crawford, LF
Evan Longoria, 3B
Carlos Pena, 1B
B.J. Upton, CF
Willy Aybar, DH
Jason Bartlett, SS
Sean Rodriguez, 2B

Potential rotation

David Price, LH

James Shields, RH
Matt Garza, RH
Wade Davis, RH
Key relievers

Rafael Soriano, RH (CL)
Joaquin Benoit, RH
Randy Choate, LH 
Grant Balfour, RH

Key reserves

Kelly Shoppach, C
Dan Johnson, 1B
Reid Brignac, INF
Matt Joyce, OF

Why they’ll win: The Rays have a potential (or favorite?) Cy Young winner in Price, they have a back end of the bullpen that makes the late innings a nightmare — with Benoit in the eighth and Soriano in the ninth — and their speed element — led by Crawford and Upton — is as unique as it is excruciating to defend. Tampa Bay finished 2010 first in the AL in relief pitcher ERA, third in fielding percentage and, despite an inconsistent offense, third in runs. All big keys to success in my book. 

Why they won’t: As threatening as they are on the basepaths, the Rays’ offense has been rather inconsistent this season, because those surrounding Longoria (fully recovered) and Crawford have been very streaky. The big key will be Pena, the power-hitting first baseman who hit just .122 since the start of September. The importance of Pena to the offense is matched by the importance of Shields to the rotation. Joe Maddon surprised me by naming him the No. 2 starter behind Price, despite his 7.59 ERA in his last six starts. He’ll need to be “Big Game James” and give this up-and-down rotation another solid option if the Rays are to make a return trip to the World Series. 

Yankees (95-67)

Potential lineup

Derek Jeter, SSalg_yankee_stadium_crew.jpg

Nick Swisher, RF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Lance Berkman, DH
Jorge Posada, C
Curtis Granderson, CF
Brett Gardner, LF

Potential rotation

CC Sabathia, LH
Andy Pettitte, LH
Phil Hughes, RH
A.J. Burnett, RH

Key relievers

Mariano Rivera, RH (CL)
Kerry Wood, RH
Joba Chamberlain, RH
Boone Logan, LH

Key reserves

Francisco Cervelli, C
Ramiro Pena, INF
Marcus Thames, OF
Austin Kearns, OF

Why they’ll win: Because they’re the Yankees. They’re the defending champions, the payroll monsters and the ones with all the mystique. Their lineup is loaded with dangerous hitters from top to bottom and sprinkled throughout with gritty postseason performers who know what it takes to win this month. So does their ace, Sabathia, and their closer, Rivera. With names like those, along with A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira, Posada and Cano, the potential MVP, it’s hard to ever bet against the Yankees. Wood has also been a key addition and makes the Bombers yet another team in these playoffs with the eighth and ninth pretty much locked down. 

Why they won’t: Because the starting rotation won’t let them. That’s the only glaring weakness I see for the Yankees in this postseason (though, granted, it’s a big one). Joe Giradi has been mum on who follows CC in the rotation — and maybe he doesn’t even want to think about it. Seriously, who do you go with? Burnett has been awful this season, especially lately. Hughes has been up-and-down and has far-exceeded his previous career-high innings mark. Pettitte isn’t far removed from a long stint on the shelf (and he’s 38). And Vazquez’s struggles have pretty much exiled him from the postseason rotation. 

Twins (94-68)
Potential lineup
Denard Span, CF

alg_gardenhire.jpg

Orlando Hudson, 2B
Joe Mauer, C
Delmon Young, LF
Jim Thome, DH
Michael Cuddyer, 1B
Jason Kubel, RF
Danny Valencia, 3B
J.J. Hardy, SS
Potential rotation
Francisco Liriano, LH
Carl Pavano, RH
Brian Duensing, LH
Nick Blackburn, RH
Key relievers
Matt Capps, RH (CL)
Brian Fuentes, LH
Jon Rauch, RH
Jesse Crain, RH
Key reserves
Drew Butera, C
Nick Punto, INF
Alexi Casilla, INF
Jason Repko, OF
Why they’ll win: In their previous five appearances in the postseason, the Twins have advanced past the first round just once. But this time, they’ll start with home-field advantage in their beautiful, brand-new ballpark — Target Field — and a resilient team will play on it. Their bullpen is one of the best in the bigs, and though the starting pitching and offense isn’t flashy, the Twins find a way to get the job done in those areas, too. 

Why they won’t: Because the injuries will just be too much to stomach. The Twins have already dealt with the long-term losses of closer Joe Nathan and main run producer Justin Morneau. But Ron Gardenhire‘s club may have to overcome more, if Mauer’s knee and Thome’s back prove troublesome throughout the playoffs. Also, is Liriano the type of ace that can match up with the front-line lefty starters of the other three teams? 

Rangers (90-72)

Potential lineup


josh_hamilton.jpg
Michael Young, 3B
Josh Hamilton, LF
Vladimir Guerrero, DH
Nelson Cruz, RF
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Mitch Moreland, 1B
Bengie Molina, C
Julio Borbon, CF

Potential rotation

Cliff Lee, LH
C.J. Wilson, RH
Colby Lewis, RH
Tommy Hunter, RH

Key relievers

Neftali Feliz, RH (CL)
Darren Oliver, LH
Darren O’Day, RH
Alexi Ogando, RH

Key reserves

Matt Treanor, C
Jorge Cantu, INF
David Murphy, OF
Jeff Francoeur, OF

Why they’ll win: The Rangers have it all in this postseason — a potent lineup, a solid rotation, a deadly relief corps and a wealth of depth. The biggest cause for concern heading in was the health of Hamilton, but the MVP candidate dismissed that by looking good in the regular season’s final weekend. Now, he can nestle into a lineup that boasts Guerrero, Young, Cruz and Kinsler. Rotation-wise, the Rangers knew they’d have an ace in Lee — who proved last year his regular season success translates to the playoffs, too — but it would’ve been hard to predict the rotation behind him would be as solid as it has been. 

Why they won’t: I think the Rangers are the best, most complete AL team in this postseason. But that’s only if Hamilton and Lee are performing the way we all expect. Can we be sure they will? Hamilton, as you know, missed about a month with two fractured ribs. Lee, as you may not, struggled mightily in August, a month that saw him post a 6.35 ERA in seven starts. Also, Ron Washington is the only skipper in these playoffs with no previous postseason managing experience. 
AL CHAMPION: Rangers. 

– Alden Gonzalez

* Look for the NL version tomorrow, and follow @Alden_Gonzalez for coverage of the Yankees-Twins ALDS. 

1 Comment

At this point, I personally would not coidnser trading Montero for Liriano or Buehrle. Weaver would be fine realizing you’d probably have to sweeten the pot. But I don’t see the Angels trading Weaver unless they are way out of contention, which probably is not likely. They may not trade him period. Besides, Boras and the Yanks aren’t exactly a sweet couple nor is Boras and any team for that matter.[]

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