The American League has shaped up to be an interesting race in this first half of the season. A couple of teams, like the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are seemingly impossibly last, coming in at 22 and 17 games out of first, respectively. The AL Central has the Detroit Tigers coming in at second, 6.5 games behind first, and the Houston Astros find themselves in a similar position, holding the second place spot in the AL West, 6.5 games out of first. In the AL East, there is a much tighter race, as the Toronto Blue Jays are just 2 games behind in second place, and the Boston Red Sox trail closely behind in third at 3 games out. However, three teams have been able to propel themselves above the American League race, and stay ahead of their divisions.
AL East: Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles are in a World Series state of mind, as their first World Championship team will be honored before their game Friday night for its 50th anniversary reunion. The 1966 squad won the club’s first World Series, and this year’s team is potentially seeking their first since 1983.
Much of the Orioles’ success this season has been due to their offensive feats. The team has an average slugging percentage of .465, which is good for second in the league, and the team’s collective batting average comes in at .271 for fourth place in the league. Mark Trumbo currently leads the league in home runs after racking up 26 so far this season, while 24-year-old Manny Machado stands out with a .321 batting average.
However, Baltimore’s success cannot be completely attributed to its offense. Right-handed pitcher Chris Tillman has racked up the wins in 2016, going 11-2 on the season so far. Most recently, Tillman pitched seven innings against the Dodgers, allowing only one earned run. Zach Britton has been a phenomenal closer for the Orioles this year. His sinker—considered one of the best pitches in baseball right now—has allowed him to collect an American League leading 25 saves on the season.
Baltimore is coming off a long, 14-inning victory over the Dodgers, which gave them a crucial series victory after being swept by the Seattle Mariners in their previous series. Next up, the Orioles will face the struggling Angels in their last series before the All-Star Break.
AL Central: Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians have been one of the League’s best teams lately, coming off a 14-game winning streak in late June and putting the city in an unfamiliar position after the Cavaliers’ NBA Championship.
The Indians will hope to keep their success going with the help of their emerging star, Francisco Lindor, who has contributed in a multitude of ways. Lindor is able to make incredible defensive plays like this one, while also leading the team with a .298 batting average, and providing 10 home runs and 43 RBI. Other than Lindor, the Indians have received offensive run support from several different contributors, such as veteran Mike Napoli, who has earned 57 RBI on the season, and Jose Ramirez, who has a current OBP of .355.
Cleveland has also been powered by 26-year-old pitcher Danny Salazar, who is holding a 2.36 ERA, good for the best earned run average in the American League. Salazar has also tallied a whopping 113 strikeouts to go along with his 10-3 record on the season.
The Indians fell to the Yankees in the first game of the series Thursday night, but will take on New York for three more games before heading into the break. As for the rest of the season, the Indians will hope to continue to piece wins together and bring more magic back to Cleveland.
AL West: Texas Rangers
While the Texas Rangers have gone 3-7 in their last 10 games, the team has racked up enough wins in the earlier part of the season to keep their first place spot.
The Rangers’ offense has had to keep the team alive as of late, as consistent pitching has been a difficult thing for the Rangers to keep going recently. Texas has called upon the help of centerfielder Ian Desmond, who is the team leader with a .319 batting average. Desmond has come through in some clutch spots for the Rangers, including a 10th inning solo home run over the Minnesota Twins to give the Rangers the close, 3-2 win last week.
However, one pitcher has been able to consistently excel for the Rangers this season, and he is 32-year-old Cole Hamels. The 10-year Major League veteran has posted a 2.93 ERA so far, and has a 9-2 record in 2016. The lefthander had a great June, going on a 5-game winning streak over the month. The Rangers simply can’t seem to find a better option right now, as Hamels also leads the team in earned run average, wins, and strikeouts.
Of course, the Rangers still value their signature player, Adrian Beltre, who coaches and players say leads the clubhouse with his years of experience. The 37-year-old is currently batting with a .278 average, and has 12 home runs and 53 RBI on the season–not bad at all for a player who has been in the league now for 18 years.
Next, the Rangers will face the AL West last-place Twins. Texas will be hoping to finish strong before the All-Star break, but the Rangers have lost their last three games against the Twins this season.