Oakland went into the All-star break with the best record and best run, but stumbled out of the gates in the second half. The A’s acquired starters Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and Jon Lester to bolster their rotation. In a very rare instance of a contender trading away a middle-of-the-order bat, the Athletics parted ways with Yoenis Cespedes to obtain Lester.
The moves did not work out for the A’s who had a .433 winning percentage in the second half, the worst mark ever for a playoff team. Oakland barely made it that far; they won the second wild card spot after nearly being caught by the Mariners. In the wild card game, the A’s were leading the Royals 7-3 with just six outs to go before they would advance. The wheels came off when Lester allowed three runs in the eighth inning and the bullpen allowing the Royals to tie it in the ninth. When Salvador Perez walked off with a single in the 12th, the A’s historic collapse was complete.
The Royals, having won the wild card game, were afforded the chance to play the league’s top-seeded team in a best-of-five series. The Angels came in as heavy favorites to defeat Kansas City but the Royals outlasted the Angels by winning the first two games in 11 innings. The Royals completed the sweep on Sunday with a home win, eliminating the 98-win Angels from contention.
In the other ALDS, Detroit was favored even though the Orioles had collected six more wins in the regular season. In game one, the teams were in a heated battle until the Orioles plated eight runs in the eighth. In game two, starter Justin Verlander and regular season starter but playoff reliever Anibal Sanchez held Baltimore at bay. When the ball was handed to the Tigers bullpen, the weakest link of the team, the Orioles struck back and captured a one-run victory. To complete the sweep, Nelson Cruz hit his 16th career postseason homerun Bud Norris stopped the Tigers’ bats. The Tigers pitched the last three Cy Young winners, but the Orioles managed to win each game and handed losses to Max Scherzer and David Price.
The Athletics, Angels and Tigers were all eliminated early. The Royals and Orioles are facing each other in the ALCS, a huge deviation from preseason, and even in-season expectations. If we learned anything from these surprises, it is that MLB has plenty of parity amongst its teams. Despite quick series, the American League provided some great games, and we are thankful for it.