Current Record: 64-54
Division Standing: 1st (1/2 game lead)
On July 21 the Kansas City Royals were 48-50 and eight games back of the AL Central leading Detroit Tigers. Since then, they have been the hottest team in baseball, winning 16 of their last 19, which includes a current eight game win streak. Kansas City's recent surge has helped propel them to their first division lead in August since 2003.
Good starting pitching, solid defense and areliable bullpen has been the key to success for a large portion of the season. The only phase of the game that had kept the Royals from hitting on all cylinders was an inconsistent offense.
The Royals bats have suddenly decided to wake up in the month of August. The veteran, Billy Butler has been a large reason for the recent surge. Over Butler's last seven games he is hitting .370 with five doubles and seven runs batted in. A possible reason for Butler's recent success could be the insertion of him as an everyday first baseman. Playing both sides of the ball allows him to stay involved in the game. "Country Breakfast" has typically been a better second half hitter and you can probably expect more of the same as this season hits it's final stretch.
It's also worth mentioning that the Royals speed and smarts on the base pads can't be matched by any other team in the AL. The Royals are 17 base robberies ahead of the number two team in the league.
When it comes to pitching, Danny Duffy probably has the highest ceiling of any starter the Royals have. When he's on his "A" game, he's one of the best pitchers in the league. Duffy has twice flirted with a no-hit bid this season. He still needs to work on his command a bit, but he has located the ball much better since coming off Tommy John Surgery.
"Big Game" James Shields certainly lived up to his nickname with a complete game shutout in his last start against the San Francisco Giants. Shields is a model of consistency. He rarely ever has a bad outing, which means his team is always going to be in the game. His experience will be key in big games down the stretch.
You can't talk about the Royals without mentioning the fact that they have the best setup/closer combination in all of baseball. It's a wonderful sign when Wade Davis is pitching even better than an almost automatic Greg Holland. It's also worth pointing out that Kelvin Herrera sports a 1.62 ERA over 50 innings out of the pen this year.
Lastly, the Royals couldn't have picked a better time to play their best baseball. After their current four game series with Oakland, Kansas City plays 18 of their next 19 against teams with a .500 or worse record.
Prediction: 93-69 (AL Central Champions)
Current Record: 63-54
Division Standing: 2nd (1/2 game back)
Wild Card Standing: 2nd (tied)
The Detroit Tigers are perhaps the most talented team in all of baseball. Detroit has been constructed to beat their opponents with dominate starting pitching and a dangerous power hitting lineup. The Tigers starting staff features the past three AL Cy Young winners in Max Scherzer, David Price and Justin Verlander.
With as much talent as Detroit has on paper, they have been falling a part at the seams lately. The Tigers have been polar opposite to Kansas City, as they are 10-15 since the All-Star break.
Verlander certainly hasn't been himself this season. With that being said, over his career he has proven to pitch well in big games late in the season. But if Verlander can't find his rhythm, Scherzer and Price will have to carry the pitching staff with Anibal Sanchez recently going to the disabled list.
Miguel Cabrera is obviously the most feared slugger in Detroit's lineup due to the consistent success over his career. With that being said, Victor Martinez has probably been the best Tiger in the lineup this season. Martinez leads the team with 23 home runs and a .322 batting average. With the addition of off-season acquisition Ian Kinsler and the emergence of young star J.D. Martinez, Detroit has the potential to hit with anybody in the league.
The only real struggle this Detroit team faces is the ability to hold leads late in the game. Tigers closer Joe Nathan used to be one of the best in baseball at shutting the door on his opposition late in games. This season, Nathan has been anything but automatic. The Tigers reliever currently holds a 5.23 ERA and has only converted on 80 percent of his save opportunities. Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria aren't exactly the most reliable relievers out there either. In order to make a deep run in October, Detroit will have to rely heavily on gaining a relatively large lead heading into the later innings. They can't afford to put a close game in the hands of their bullpen.
Predicton: 92-70 (AL Wild Card)
Current Record: 68-50
Division Standing: 1st (6 1/2 game lead)
The Orioles roster features one of the best outfield combinations in all of baseball. Nelson Cruz supplies the power, Nick Markakis knows how to get on base and Adam Jones is about as close to a five tool player that there currently is in the majors.
Baltimore's biggest strength is hitting the ball out of the park, as they lead the majors with 150 home runs. Part of their offensive success comes from playing in a smaller, hitter friendly park. At the same time, there is no denying that this offense is loaded with power.
With as well as the O's have been hitting, Chris Davis has struggled mightily from the plate. He has hit 21 home runs this season, but a .197 batting average is dragging this offense down.
Manny Machado brings a lot to Baltimore defensively by making plays that remind you of some Brooks Robinson used to make in the franchise's heyday. Machado has also swung a much better stick lately after struggling tremendously from the plate early on in the year.
Unfortunately for the O's, Machado came up lame with a knee injury after an at bat against the Yankees. As of right now, there is some uncertainty to how serious the injury is. Baltimore will find out more after Machado has a MRI evaluation.
Perhaps the Orioles biggest weakness is the starting rotation. Unlike most teams in the AL playoff race, they don't have a true ace that's going to go out and take over a game. Their offense may be enough to carry them to the playoffs, but guys like Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen aren't going to be enough to get to the World Series.
Trying to replace star catcher Matt Wieters is another problem the Orioles have been dealing with. Wieters is out for the season with Tommy John Surgery. In Wieters' absense, the O's lose a solid middle of the order guy and more importantly they lose an experienced game caller behind the plate.
Prediction: 94-68 (AL East Champions)
-Toronto Blue Jays-
Current Record: 63-58
Division Standing: 2nd (6 1/2 games back)
Wild Card Standing: 4th (2 games back)
You never know what Toronto Blue Jays team is going to show up to the ballpark. Will it be the team who won nine in a row in May or the team who lost nine of 11 in July? It's really hard to predict where this team will finish.
A large reason for the inconsistency in Toronto is due to a weak pitching staff that owns the fifth worst ERA in the league and has surrendered the second most walks in the AL.
The Blue Jays have found success this year in large part to the bats of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera. All three are among the top 11 in OPS in the AL. Encarnacion is currently on the 15 day DL but should be healthy and back in the lineup in time to help the Blue Jays make a run at the playoffs.
Prediction: 86-76 (no playoffs)
Current Record: 61-57
Division Standing: 3rd (7 games back)
Wild Card Standing: 5th (2.5 games back)
The stars that brought success to New York are obviously aging. Mariano Rivera is gone, Derek Jeter is in his final season, C.C. Sabathia is on the DL and Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira's play has declined.
Although the Yankees roster is constantly changing every year, they have done a nice job to bring in new pieces. Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka have by far been the best off-season moves for New York. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Tanaka is going to be out for awhile with an elbow injury.
The Yankees starting rotation has been surprisingly good this season with the circumstances they have been put in. With that being said, the injuries to their roster are probably going to be too much to overcome.
Prediction: 87-75 (no playoffs)
Current Record: 73-46
Division Standing: 1st (3 1/2 game lead)
The Oakland Athletics don't necessarily have the household names that jump out at you but they have proven to be the most complete team in baseball up to this point.
Billy Beane brought in not one, not two, but three new pitchers into the starting rotation in a span of about a month. Jon Lester, Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija are now joined with young gun Sonny Gray and veteran Scott Kazmir to create what now is arguably the best pitching staff in all of baseball.
There's no surprise that Beane was desperately looking for starting pitching after both A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker hit the 60 day DL. What is surprising is that Beane was willing to deal away arguably his best power hitter in Yoenis Cespedes.
Over the past few years, the A's have typically found success with good starting pitching, solid defense and a reliable bullpen. This year the emergence of the offense has put them in position to make a deep run into October.
Oakland statistically has one of the worst batting averages in the AL, but just like Beane preaches in the film "Moneyball," getting on base is the key to winning. Oakland has done just that. The A's lead the AL in walks which has resulted to them scoring the most runs in baseball up to this point.
Prediction: 99-63 (AL West Champions)
-Los Angeles Angels-
Current Record: 69-49
Division Standing: 2nd (3 1/2 games back)
Wild Card Standing: 1st
It looks like all the money spent on the Angels roster has finally paid off in 2014. After four straight years of disappointment, the Halos look as if they will reach October.
You look around the diamond and see some of the best players in the game. Albert Pujols is arguably the greatest player of the 21st century and Mike Trout is said to be the next big "thing." Both players have the numbers to prove that they are among the very best the game has to offer.
With the second most runs scored in the AL, the Angels can hit with anybody. The true question is, can they pitch well enough to be a serious contender? Outside of Jered Weaver, their pitching staff is below average, which is cause for concern.
The recent acquiring of Huston Street adds stability to the bullpen, but the starting rotation has to find a way to get him a lead late in ball games.
Prediction: 92-70 (AL Wild Card)
Current Record: 64-55
Division Standing: 3rd (9 games back)
Wild Card Standing: 2nd (tied)
Felix Hernandez has arguably been the most consistent pitcher in the AL over the past decade and this year has been no different. Hernandez is currently the front runner in the AL Cy Young race with a 13-3 record and a 1.95 ERA.
Hernandez is accompanied by Hisashi Iwakuma who is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. Iwakuma finished third in the Cy Young voting last season and has certainly earned his role as the two starter in Seattle. In fact, he could be an ace on half the teams in baseball.
To go along with one of the best one-two starting pitching combos in baseball, the M's offense has played a viable role in the team's success.
Robinson Cano is definitely the best hitter in Seattle's lineup. He currently sports an impressive .333 batting average. Kyle Seager has shown potential to hit the ball out of the yard. Lastly, the recent addition of Austin Jackson brings speed and experience to Seattle's offense.
Prediction: 89-73 (no playoffs)