As you know this year, the American League has dominated the National League and created a disparity between the leagues like we haven't seen for forty years (when the NL reigned with its multicultural flavor). Due to the interleague mismatches, only five American League teams are below .500 (Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, KC, and Seattle).
The other nine are either involved in heated playoff races or on the cusp of their respective divisional battles. Here's a team-by-team breakdown of each potential playoff contender.
Boston Red Sox (71-56, 5.5 GB, AL East): Boston didn't respond to the Yankees at the trade deadline and injuries to Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon and Tim Wakefield cost them dearly. The Sox have played abysmal baseball since Varitek got hurt, and it doesn't look like their captain will return until the middle of September. Wakefield looks even more iffy with a back problem, and even Manny's feeling a little dejected. Perhaps the West Coast trip is a good thing because they're out of Boston, where the vultures are circling.
Toronto Blue Jays (67-60, 9.5 GB, AL East): With any other manager, the Jays would be in the thick of it. John Gibbons is absolutely in over his head. He chased Shea Hillenbrand out of town and instigated a fight with Ted Lilly after Lilly failed to hold an 8-0 lead against the A's. Roy Halladay has been outstanding (16-3), BJ Ryan's been worth the enormous contract, but Toronto fans must be asking themselves, "can the Jays please fire Gibbons so we can make a run at this?" All that talent is going to waste up there.
Detroit Tigers (81-47, 1st place, AL Central): Detroit is the surprise team of the year, perhaps the new century. None of the ESPN analysts saw this coming, but no-nonsense manager Jimmy Leyland has the Tigers playing better than anyone in the bigs (and he's locked up another Manager of the Year award). The Tigers have the best team ERA in baseball, which is even more remarkable because they play in a league with a designated hitter. Ace #1 Justin Verlander could be Rookie of the Year, and Ace #2 Jeremy Bonderman is beginning to realize his vast talent. The offense is a real team effort, with eight guys who can burn you.
Chicago White Sox (75-52, 5.5 GB, AL Central): Although they've dominated Detroit (11-5 against the Tigers), the defending champions have needed to slug their way to the top this year, and the Detroit pitching has won out against the rest of baseball. Now with Thome hurt, the vaunted but underachieving ChiSox rotation needs to pick it up. Jon Garland is finally finding form and could lead the staff into the playoffs. Jose Contreras needs to regain his first-half form and Freddy Garcia, Mark Buehrle and Javy Vazquez need to do more than just keep them in the game.
Minnesota Twins (74-52, 6 GB, AL Central): Despite the loss of Francisco Liriano, the Twins have hung in there. Their offense has finally come to the party, with Joe Mauer leading the world in hitting and Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau surprising everyone with their production. Johan Santana has held the staff together and is on his way to another Cy Young and Brad Radke's pitched with a torn labrum all year, but has done a remarkable job. Joe Nathan is as good a closer as there is outside of Mo. The Twins and ChiSox play a huge series in Chicago this weekend, which could decide a lot of things in that wild card.
Oakland A's (72-55, 1st place, AL West): Oakland has defied the odds. They've been battered by injuries even more so than the Twins, but have opened up the lead over the competition. Frank Thomas is over the hill, but he's been the power source for the A's. Eric Chavez and Bobby Crosby have gone AWOL, Rich Harden is hurt, Huston Street is hurt, Nick Swisher can't hit lefties, but they're still chugging along.
Anaheim Angels (67-61, 5.5 GB, AL West): Their starting pitching matches up to anyone, their bullpen is second to none, but the Angels can't seem to gain traction, especially in the division race. Vlad Guerrero has NO protection in that lineup anymore. Orlando Cabrera's had a career year, but nobody else in that Anaheim lineup besides Vlad scares you in the least.
Texas Rangers (66-63, 7 GB, AL West): Texas can hit with anyone, we all know that. Carlos Lee makes their lineup beastly. They actually have a solid closer in Akinori Otsuka, but getting to him has been a problem. Kevin Millwood is good on his day, but erratic overall, Vincente Padilla is a psycho, Adam Eaton's back off the DL but has been as inconsistent as Millwood, and I couldn't even name you the rest of their rotation.
So there you have it, the American League playoff picture. September will be a great month for AL baseball.