Factors in the Race for the AL Top Seed

As the 2022 MLB season winds down, the postseason picture is becoming clearer. With the new playoff format, the top two seeds in each league get a bye in the first round. Where we stand, entering August 9, it appears that the top two seeds have already been determined in the American League. The New York Yankees and the Houston Astros appear to have a strong grip on the top two seeds. However, the order is still to be determined. Currently, the Yankees hold a one-game lead over the Astros for the AL top seed.

Obviously, guys like Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Jose Altuve, and Justin Verlander will impact this race. There are other players on each team though, that will have to step up if their team is going to be the one seed at the end of the year. These are x-factors that can determine the race for the AL top seed.

Yankees X-Factors

The Yankees have a pair of former MVPs on their roster in Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson, but the biggest x-factor is Donaldson. The 36-year-old third-baseman has provided stellar defense with seven Outs Above Average this year. However, he has underperformed at the plate. Donaldson enters Tuesday with a .715 OPS and a career-high 27.2% strikeout rate. The veteran has a long track record of success and the Yankees need him to tap into that in order to hold on to the one seed.

On the pitching side, New York needs Domingo German to elevate his game. With Luis Severino on the IL and Jordan Montgomery being traded at the deadline, German is an important piece to the puzzle. The right-hander missed the start of the season with shoulder issues. In four starts since returning, German has given up ten runs in 17 2/3 innings. If the Yankees are going to fend off the Astros, German will be a major factor.

Astros X-Factors

One of the pleasant surprises of the Astros first half was the incredible play of rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena. Before the All-Star Break, the 24-year-old was slashing .263/.310/.454. In 17 games since the break, Pena is slashing .191/.222/.324. The rookie was a key part of the Astros offense in the early portion of the season, but he is searching for it at the plate. If Pena makes the adjustment, he will be a big factor in the race for the AL top seed.

Similar to Pena, Kyle Tucker had a great first half, but he has been lost in the second half. In the first half, Tucker slashed .253/.344/.475 with 18 home runs and 62 RBI. Since the break, he is hitting .173 with one homer and five RBI. Houston’s pitching has been great all year from top to bottom. However, the offense has been somewhat inconsistent. There are a few reasons for the inconsistencies, but the streaky play of Pena and Tucker is partially responsible for it. If the pair get back on track, the Astros could overtake the Yankees for the one seed.

The Yankees and the Astros have been the best in the AL all year. Time will tell which of the two will end the 162-game season on top. The AL top seed is still up for grabs, and it will be a fun storyline to follow for the rest of the regular season.

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Players Mentioned:

Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Jose Altuve, Justin Verlander, Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson, Domingo German, Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, Jeremy Pena, Kyle Tucker