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MLB Playoffs 2012: AL contenders

- - Thursday, October 4, 2012

NEW YORK YANKEES

Credentials: 95-67, AL East champions

Last postseason appearance: 2011, lost to Tigers 3-2 in ALDS

Best postseason finish: World Series champions (27 times, most recently 2009)

Manager: Joe Girardi (18-11 postseason record)

Player to watch: 2B Robinson Cano

Pitcher to watch: LHP CC Sabathia

The skinny: The Yankees continue to maintain a postseason presence nearly every year, but they have won it all only once since 2000. Nonetheless, they're in position to claim their 28th title in a wide-open AL field. Cano remains their most consistent offensive force, but Derek Jeter has been surprisingly effective and led the league in hits at age 38. Pitching, however, has been a struggle, with Sabathia and Hideki Kuroda holding up the staff and Rafael Soriano leading the post-Mariano Rivera bullpen.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Credentials: 94-68, AL West champions

Last postseason appearance: 2006, lost to Tigers 4-0 in ALCS

Best postseason finish: World Series champions (nine times, most recently 1989)

Manager: Bob Melvin (3-4 postseason record)

Player to watch: LF Yoenis Cespedes

Pitcher to watch: RHP Jarrod Parker

The skinny: The A's have come out of nowhere after winning 74 games last season, embarking on a magical run with a roster featuring castoffs such as Coco Crisp and Brandon Moss (.291, 21 HR). Josh Reddick has been impressive in his first full season in the majors after coming over from Boston, and Cespedes has validated the A's decision to bid for him last winter. Former Nats prospect Tommy Milone, who was part of the Gio Gonzalez deal, has been a rotation stalwart.

DETROIT TIGERS

Credentials: 88-74, AL Central champions

Last postseason appearance: 2011, lost to Rangers 4-2 in ALCS

Best postseason finish: World Series champions (1935, 1945, 1968, 1984)

Manager: Jim Leyland (31-28 postseason record)

Player to watch: 3B Miguel Cabrera

Pitcher to watch: RHP Justin Verlander

The skinny: Detroit could be home to a second consecutive AL MVP if Cabrera's Triple Crown nets him the award a year after Verlander won it, but the Tigers' focus is their first title since 1984. Prince Fielder is the key difference from last year's team, and the first baseman has lived up to his billing. The pitching staff has some impressive arms beyond Verlander, including Max Scherzer (16-7, 231 Ks). Closer Jose Valverde hasn't been as dominant as he was last year, but Papa Grande can still get it done.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Credentials: 93-69, Wild Card

Last postseason appearance: 1997, lost to Indians 4-2 in ALCS

Best postseason finish: World Series champions (1966, 1970, 1983)

Manager: Buck Showalter (3-6 postseason record)

Player to watch: CF Adam Jones

Pitcher to watch: RHP Jim Johnson

The skinny: Baltimore has outperformed all expectations to reach the postseason for the first time in 15 years, making it this far despite scoring only seven more runs than it allowed this season. Jones is the centerpiece of a modest offense that has excelled in the clutch, leading the Orioles to a 16-2 record in extra-inning games. Johnson has been stellar holding up the back end of a patchwork pitching staff that has had 12 different pitchers start games. Jason Hammel might be the key guy if he's healthy after battling knee problems for three months.

TEXAS RANGERS

Credentials: 93-69, Wild Card

Last postseason appearance: 2011, lost to Cardinals 4-3 in World Series

Best postseason finish: AL champions (2010, 2011)

Manager: Ron Washington (18-15 postseason record)

Player to watch: CF Josh Hamilton

Pitcher to watch: LHP Matt Harrison

The skinny: The two-time defending AL champions don't have momentum on their side after limping into the playoffs with a September collapse that cost them the West title. Hamilton has missed a good chunk of time recently with blurred vision, so his readiness for October remains to be seen. Deep as the Rangers' lineup is, they need Hamilton producing to make a run. Yu Darvish has made an impact in his first major-league season, striking out 221, but Harrison has been even better with a 3.29 ERA and four complete games.