Divisions have been won, playoff berths have been claimed, October baseball has arrived.
The field of 30 teams has been reduced to 12 remaining World Series hopefuls. There are some clear contenders among the group, but even the league's best teams have flaws.
Here's a strength and weakness for each American League playoff team.
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The Baltimore Orioles rarely allow losses to pile up, which is obvious for the team with the best record in the American League. But they have not been swept in a series since May 15 … of last season. That date coincides with what is the team’s true strength: Adley Rutschman. The first overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, a switch-hitter who is also elite defensively and has earned the trust of his rotation with his pitch-calling ability, made his big-league debut days later and the Orioles have been difficult to beat ever since.
Weakness: How will their pitching hold up?
For a team with the second-best record in the league, the starting rotation won’t exactly frighten October lineups. There’s no shutdown ace, no big strikeout pitchers and not many innings eaters. Kyle Gibson is a Game 1 starter candidate, having led the team with 15 wins and 187 innings pitched, but his 4.86 ERA is alarming. The Orioles also lost a Cy Young candidate when closer Felix Bautista suffered a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last month. The loss of a shutdown closer with a 1.48 ERA is never easy to replace, but the Orioles luckily had a solid replacement with Yennier Cano.
Tampa Bay Rays
Strengths: Power hitting, bullpen
The Rays have power in the lineup and the bullpen. They feature six players with 20 or more home runs this season, led by Isaac Paredes with 31, trailing only the Rangers, Twins and Angels in the AL. Their relief pitchers, after a rough start to the season, have settled in, with each of their main relievers posting sub-2.00 ERAs. It’s an important combination for the Rays because …
Weakness: Starting rotation
The Rays lost the majority of their starting rotation this season, including their ace Shane McClanahan after it was announced he would require Tommy John surgery and join Shane Baz, Drew Rasmussen, Jeffrey Springs and Josh Fleming on the IL. Tyler Glasnow has ace stuff when healthy but has an injury history of his own, including missing nearly all of the 2022 season due to Tommy John surgery.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays had the best team ERA in the league until the final days of the season, finishing fourth with a 3.78. Four of their starting pitchers – Chris Bassitt, Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi – have posted sub-4.00 ERAs while reaching double-digit win totals.
Weakness: Hitting with runners on
No lineup in the American League this season has left more runners on base than the Toronto Blue Jays. Contending teams that score a lot of runs sometimes have this problem, but the Blue Jays don’t produce at an elite level, sitting below league average in runs scored this season.
Strength: Quiet pitching depth
Sonny Gray and Pablo Lopez have quietly been one of the better 1-2 pitching combinations in baseball this season, even if the win-loss records don’t reflect that. Gray has gone 8-8 but posted a 2.79 ERA and allowed just eight home runs over 184 innings pitched. Lopez has gone 11-8 with a 3.66 ERA and 234 strikeouts. They also have Joe Ryan (197 strikeouts) and Bailey Ober (3.43 ERA), who all combined have helped the Twins strike out the most batters in the league and post the sixth-best team ERA at 3.67.
Weakness: They're the Twins
The Twins have become a perennial one-and-done playoff series type of team, having failed to advance beyond the division series since 2002. The Twins’ pitching staff may lead the league in strikeouts, but so does their lineup, although they are also tied for third in the league in home runs.
Strength: Hit for power and average
The Rangers, unlike some of their postseason counterparts, are among the league leaders in both home runs and average. They feature 10 players with double-digit home run totals, four of whom have over 20, led by Adolis Garcia who is second in the AL with 39. All combined, they lead the AL in home runs. And their .263 team batting average trails only the Braves, who lead the league in both categories.
If the Rangers’ pitching staff was fully healthy, the team might be a near lock to win their first World Series in franchise history. But their marquee free agent signing, Jacob deGrom, was lost to injury early in the season and their trade-deadline acquisition, Max Scherzer, suffered an injury on Sept. 12 and his availability for the postseason is in doubt. They enter the playoffs with Jordan Montgomery as their ace, and he certainly has pitched like one since the Rangers traded for him. But beyond Montgomery, there aren’t many trusted pitchers on the staff or in the bullpen.
Strength: They're the Astros
The Astros are this era’s New York Yankees. They are looking to advance to their third straight World Series and fifth in seven years. They have reached the American League Championship Series for six straight seasons. And, simply put, they have a deep and experienced lineup and rotation that can get them there and beyond again.
Weakness: Home runs allowed
The Astros have given up nearly as many home runs as they’ve hit this season. Their 201 home runs allowed was the most among playoff-bound teams, and there has been an uptick since the All-Star break. Peak Framber Valdez and Justin Verlander, who at 40 years old has shown flashes of his younger, Cy Young-winning self, would certainly help keep the ball in the ballpark in October.