When baseball signed it’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement recently, one of the things added into that agreement is the addition of an extra wild card team in the playoffs. Basically, the two wild card teams in each league will get one game to show they belong in the final four of the playoffs. The assumption being, it is going to keep the interest of more teams and their fan base. It will do that of course, but what Bud Selig and everybody else didn’t see coming was the beast of the……… the West? The Los Angeles Angels.
And yes, I refuse to put Anaheim in their name.
With our focus on Motor City Bengals being the Detroit Tigers and everything Central Division on this site, sometimes I can lose site of the big picture. The bottom line is, the recent truckloads of money given to Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson affect the Tigers just as much as anyone. You see, with the traditional divisional power being the East, the American League wild card has already been pretty tough to obtain outside of New York, Tampa, and Boston. Now, with the West getting a steroid like boost from the Angels, the Central Division’s chances of placing more than one team into the playoffs just got substantially smaller. Even with the added playoff team.
The Tigers are more than likely going to have to win their division folks to go playoff dancing.
Now, I am not suggesting that the Tigers are going to have trouble making the playoffs in 2012, they are clear favorites to win the Central again next year, and maybe even beyond. They won the division last year rather handily, and despite the lack of appreciable improvement thus far in the off-season, the other teams in the Central have enough ground to make up, that the Tigers should still win this division. At least on paper.
After 2012, things get a little dicey. If we are going by things on paper (and I am), all things equal, the Tigers don’t appear to stand much of a chance obtaining a playoff spot without winning the division. With the addition of Houston to the American League, the schedules start getting a little more even in 2013. Let’s be honest, the Tigers dominated their division in 2011, and that played a big role in their winning 95 games. After this next season, the advantage of playing a large portion of games against the weaker Central division is taken away.
Looking at the rosters of the East teams, it is clear that the Yankees, Red Sox, and the Rays aren’t going anywhere soon. In 2013, these teams are going to be good given Boston’s and New York’s resources, and Tampa’s youth and talent level. The Toronto Blue Jays have been hovering around .500 the past couple of years as well, and given that they are a pretty young team with a loaded farm system and some talent, it appears that they will have some say in the playoff race as well.
The real issue for the Tigers in the balance of playoff power is now the Angels have joined the Rangers as serious contenders for post-season play. The Angels might have made the playoffs last year if it wasn’t for an anemic offense, one that instantly got better when Albert Pujols signed on the dotted line. There is also hope for them that they will see the return of 1B Kendry Morales. Adding pitcher C.J. Wilson to an already excellent rotation means that there isn’t too many teams in baseball outside of Philadelphia that can boast the rotation that the Angels do, and it might push them to favorite status for that division.
We certainly can’t discount the Texas Rangers either. After all, the Rangers are two-time defending American League champs. Losing Wilson was a blow, but given their farm system, the Rangers can add a starter like Gio Gonzalez or Matt Garza in a trade should they want to do so. They are also heavily involved on Japanese import Yu Darvish as well. The Rangers also still own one of the most dynamic offenses in baseball, and can boast some of the best position guys in the game with Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus.
Even the Mariners are getting a little bit better. They are still way too offensively challenged right now to be a serious contender for a wild card, but their pitching is already pretty good, and more is on the way. Starters Danny Hultzen and James Paxton should be added to Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda soon. The offense is largely going to be focused on Dustin Ackley and a few other young guys, and they would do well to tailor that team to their spacious ball park.
Even from within their own division the Tigers competition is on the rise. Cleveland is getting better, and as we have noted on this site before, the Royals are a team on the rise. They could even be the Tigers biggest competition in 2012, but their lack of quality starting pitching should keep them at bay. The Central is always volatile because of the Twins and White Sox. There is talent on both of those clubs, they just need to stay away from injury and perform to their capabilities to give the Tigers a run for their money.
Heading into 2012, it is clear to me that the Central Division is the weakest in the American League and despite Kansas City and Cleveland getting better, it appears it will be that way for years to come. That plays nicely into the Tigers hands with another year of the unbalanced schedule coming. There is enough wins to be had in the Central to compete for a playoff spot in any form. Come 2013, when the East and the West will play less games within their own divisions, and the schedule balances out, things will get tougher for the Tigers.
I’m not by any means predicting doomsday for the Tigers, just suggesting the realities of a power balance of the league existing outside of the Central division. The competition for playoff spots just got a lot tougher in the American League in the past week.
The Tigers goal going forward is going to remain the same. Win the Central division. If they don’t, even with an extra wild card spot, the Tigers could be on the outside looking in.
Tags: Adrian Beltre Alber Pujols Boston Red Sox C.J. Wilson Chicago White Sox Danny Hultzen Dustin Ackley Elvis Andrus Felix Hernandez Gio Gonzalez Ian Kinsler James Paxton Kansas City Royals Los Angeles Angels Matt Garza Michael Pineda Minnesota Twins New York Yankees Tampa Bay Rays Toronto Blue Jays Yu Darvish