Not all playoff berths are created equal. Depending on the team, reaching the post-season can mean simply living up to expectations or quelling an uprising amongst the fanbase and everything in between. As we enter the final games of the season, let's take a look at which of the still alive American League teams "need" to reach the playoffs the most.
Texas Rangers – Playoffs? No, the Rangers don't "need" the playoffs. What they need is a championship after coming up short the last two seasons. The playoffs are just a means to the end of avoiding "One Strike Away Twice" becoming synonymous with "Wide Right." It is World Series Champs or bust for the Buffalo Bills, errr… I mean the Texas Rangers.
New York Yankees – There is always a major need for the Yankees to not only make the playoffs but go deep. Should they somehow find a way to blow their division lead and then fail to secure a Wild Card berth, the reaction in the Bronx might very well be what triggers the predicted Mayan Apocalypse. However, just reaching the post-season may not be good enough. Even though the Yanks have been hampered by injuries of late, they are starting to get healthy, so it is hard to believe that the Steinbrenners would be happy if the Yanks took an early exit in the LDS for the second consecutive season.
Chicago White Sox – Sorry, but the White Sox don't really need the playoffs. This season is already a huge win for them. Everyone thought they were destined for doom thanks to a flawed roster, a totally inexperienced manager and an off-season plan by the front office that nobody really understood. That they are leading their division this late in the season is one of the biggest surprises of the year and yet almost nobody is talking about it. Even if they can't hold on to the AL Central, the Pale Hose have to feel pretty good about what they've accomplished in 2012.
Detroit Tigers – Detroit's "need" is pretty huge. The Tigers were supposed to cruise to an easy division crown in the weak AL Central after they opened up their wallets to add Prince Fielder in the off-season. Instead of clinching the division in mid-July like so many expected, the Tigers are fighting to claw their way past the White Sox. If they fail to do so, heads, specifically Jim Leyland's, could roll once the regular season comes to an end.
Baltimore Orioles – The YOLOrioles just aren't ever going to die are they? That's probably for the best because the AL East is so loaded that this might be their only shot at reaching the post-season, and thus ending their 14-year playoff drought. So, yeah, even though the O's have a good amount of young talent in the pipeline, Baltimore "needs" the playoffs desperately, unless their contract with the Devil was a multi-year pact, of course.
Oakland Athletics – In a lot of respects, the A's "need" level is simlar to the Orioles because they too are stuck in a brutally tough division, however it does appear that their success so far this year is more substantitve, it just came a year or two before anyone expected it to. That should set them up to compete for the post-season over the next few seasons, but they still face a pretty high degree of difficulty. But what really amps up the need in Oakland is the way that the franchise has antagonized its own fans for the last few years with the budget cuts, fire sale-ish trades, change in broadcasters and, most of all, their constant pining to move to San Jose. Throw the fans a bone, Oakland, and give the fans a post-season run.
Los Angeles Angels – Take the Tigers' situation and double it. The Halos spent hundreds of millions of dollars this last winter to reload their roster with the likes of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Then they got the manna from heaven that is the superlative Mike Trout. Yet they still are on the outside looking in at the second Wild Card spot in the AL. Their "need" got knocked down a notch earlier this week when Arte Moreno came out to give Mike Scioscia a public reprieve in the midst a flurry of reports that he could get fired if the Angels didn't win a playoff spot. Still, no team will go down as a bigger disappointment in the 2012 season if the Halos can't find a way to rundown the A's or O's for a Wild Card berth.
Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays have made the post-season three of the last four years, so there is no urgent need to qualify just to keep the fans and ownership happy. Alas, the Rays are working under different circumstances than most teams. With their strictly limited resources and ultra-competitive division, you just never know how long they can remain competitive, even with their fantastic front office and coaching staff. Sooner or later their farm system is going to run dry and until that day comes, they need to take as many bites at the apple as they can get.