In the playoff picture in the American League, the East is full of chaos with the Tampa Bay Rays coasting and the balance of power between the Yankees and Red Sox shifting throughout the year; the division has been a year-long roller coaster.

In the West and the Central, the divisions have almost been locked-in for the year based on steady tides (with all due respect to the A’s and Mariners, who are still trying to fight for their lives).

The two dominant, consistent monsters have wrapped them up with depth at every single position group: they hit well in lineup spots one through 9, they have a bullpen and starting pitching depth, and they rarely, if ever, get embarrassed and lose a series.

They are the Houston Astros and the Chicago White Sox, and they’re both bad boys for very different reasons.

They’ll be riding that narrative into October, hoping to hoist a trophy in the face of their haters.

Houston Astros

The Astros have the bad boy narrative that is fairly obvious for those who have kept up with baseball at any time within the last several years: the putrid stench of the banging trash can cheating scandal that won them the World Series in 2017 and their reaction to it. While only several players left from that team cheated after many jumped ship, it’s so egregious, inexcusable, and embarrassing a scandal that it might be impossible for those players and the team to live it down. George Springer left for the Blue Jays and still received some boos this season at a home game in Buffalo.

This is the first season with fans in the stands to have the opportunity to boo them, and their villainy is not something people league-wide want them to get off the hook for. Sure, cheating may happen in baseball, but the fact that they went about it in such a way that was so complex and planned is seen as disgraceful, and it won them a title.

Photo: Alex Trautwig/MLB

The players have had to defend themselves knowing that they went from the lovable, little-engine-that-could team led by a star in Jose Altuve that stands at only 5’6 to the despicable machine with a bad reputation. They needed to prove that they can still perform without the aid of sign-stealing, and they haven’t slowed down one bit. Last year, they nearly made the World Series again if not for the Rays’ clutch performance. They know that the league has called them out. They’ve embraced the role of the villain and know that the boos will reign in. After winning their first series with the Twins, shortstop Carlos Correa came out and said, “I know a lot of people are mad. I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here, but what are they going to say now?” stomping on the throats of the haters.

They’ve only continued to be a steady, domineering empire this year. They’re 77-53, 2nd in the American League, and they’re top-5 in ALL of these categories: batting average, hits, runs, on-base %, slugging %, ERA, and team defense. Simply put, they’ve been better than you at almost everything. 

It’s not just that they’re always winning in the face of league-wide hatred either- it’s the way they carry themselves while they’re doing it. They don’t use flash. They don’t strut or taunt; they kill you in silence as the bad guy. Their ace, Zack Greinke, wins with groundouts and death by a thousand paper cuts approach and shows no emotion whatsoever. The best hitter on their team, Michael Brantley, gets on base repeatedly with a .320 average without being considered one of the league’s stars. They are the evil men in suits in a dystopian novel that can’t be stopped. They are the machine.

Chicago White Sox

There’s a different type of bad boy in the AL Central: the bat-flipping, chain-wearing, swaggering Chicago White Sox. They play with flair and flash. They pimp their home runs. Their pitchers scream at you as they strut into the dugout and pound their chest. They’ve been the kings of the brutally weak division for the entire year and show no signs of slowing down.

They also happen to be playing with this level of fun and flash as if to spite their own manager, Tony La Russa, the 76-year-old curmudgeon of a manager who criticized his own player, Yermin Mercedes, when he hit a home run in a blowout against the Twins for running up the score. The players didn’t like that he didn’t back up the team and instead said Mercedes made a rookie mistake. 

La Russa seems completely out of touch with his team, a young, diverse roster who loves to have fun, but at this point, they’re continuing to be themselves because the formula is working. The Sox are 76-56 and bludgeon their easy schedule. Tim Anderson is batting .305 and throws his bat to the moon after he homers. Jose Abreu is the reigning AL MVP. They have two Cy Young contenders in their rotation, Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon, in the top 5 in ERA. They had a top 5 closer in Liam Hendriks, and then they traded for a top 10 closer of ALL-TIME at the trade deadline in Craig Kimbrel. They’ve also done all of this winning without even being fully healthy, with Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, and Yasmani Grandal all missing significant time.

They’re finally assembling a top-to-bottom-filled juggernaut that is young, hungry, and will smirk at their own manager filled with fiery spite while doing so.
The American League Championship trophy might as well be a leather jacket this year if the Astros or White Sox take it.

Featured Image: Jim Benson/The Pantagraph
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