The New York Yankees captured their ninth consecutive A.L. East title in 2006, finishing the regular season with a league-best record of 97-65 that left them 10 games ahead of the runner-up Toronto Blue Jays. The Boston Red Sox finished third in the division, 11 games back.
The Red Sox stood atop the division standings for much of the year, but they fell well out of contention after numerous injuries caused them to slump badly during the season's final two months. Still, Boston received outstanding performances from several key players. Jonathan Papelbon established himself as one of the game's best closers, finishing the campaign with 35 saves and an extraordinary 0.92 ERA. Manny Ramirez hit 35 homers, drove in 102 runs, and batted .321. David Ortiz earned a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting by batting .287, scoring 115 runs, compiling a .636 slugging average, and leading the league with 54 home runs and 137 runs batted in.
The Yankees also found themselves hit hard by injuries that would have devastated a lesser team. Starting outfielders Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield both went down during the first six weeks of the season, and they were lost to the team for most of the year. Nevertheless, the Yankees led the league with 930 runs scored, and they placed second in the circuit in both home runs (210) and batting average (.285). Meanwhile, New York received a huge lift on the mound from second-year starter Chien-Ming Wang, who tied for the league lead with 19 victories.
Despite losing two of their top hitters, the Yankees’ greatest strength remained their potent offense. Jason Giambi hit 37 homers and drove in 113 runs. Jorge Posada homered 23 times and knocked in 93 runs. Johnny Damon provided outstanding productivity out of the leadoff spot, hitting 24 homers, driving in 80 runs, scoring 115 others, and batting .285. Alex Rodriguez hit 35 homers, led the team with 121 runs batted in, scored 113 times, and batted .290. Robinson Cano knocked in 78 runs and finished third in the A.L. batting race with an average of .342. Shortstop Derek Jeter had perhaps his finest all-around season, earning a close second-place finish in the league MVP voting by placing second in the batting race with a mark of .343, driving in 97 runs, scoring 118 others, collecting 214 hits, stealing 34 bases, and winning his third straight Gold Glove Award for his outstanding play in the field.
While the Yankees won their ninth straight division crown, the Oakland Athletics replaced Anaheim at the top of the A.L. West standings after finishing second to the Angels in each of the previous two seasons. The A’s concluded the campaign with a record of 93-69 that left them four games ahead of the runner-up Angels in the final standings.
Although the Angels failed to advance to the postseason for the first time in three years, they received another outstanding performance from Vladimir Guerrero. The slugging right-fielder hit 33 home runs, drove in 116 runs, scored another 92, batted .329, and collected 200 hits.
The only member of the A’s who even approached the numbers Guerrero compiled for the Athletics was Frank Thomas. After coming over from Chicago during the off-season, the veteran DH provided the A’s with a much-needed power bat in the middle of their lineup. Thomas earned a top-five finish in the league MVP balloting by hitting 39 home runs and knocking in 114 runs.
Meanwhile, Oakland continued to boast one of the league’s top starting rotations, featuring four pitchers who posted double-digit win totals. Barry Zito and Joe Blanton led the staff with 16 victories apiece, while Dan Haren and Esteban Loaiza added 14 and 11 wins, respectively. Sophomore reliever Huston Street saved 37 games coming out of the bullpen.
Easily the most competitive and intriguing division in the American League over the course of the season, the A.L. Central featured three teams that surpassed 90 victories. The Detroit Tigers spent most of the year in first place, compiling a record that left them 40 games over the .500-mark at one point in early August. However, they slumped down the stretch, going just 19-31 over their final 50 games. Meanwhile, after posting a record of only 25-33 as of June 7, the Minnesota Twins compiled the best record in baseball the remainder of the year, winning 71 of their final 104 games. The Twins’ exceptional play during the latter stages of the season allowed them to sneak into first place when the Tigers lost their final five games. The Twins captured their fourth division title in five years, concluding the campaign with a record of 96-66. Despite blowing a seemingly insurmountable lead, Detroit advanced to the postseason as the American League’s wild-card representative, finishing just one game behind Minnesota with a record of 95-67. The Chicago White Sox finished third in the division, six games off the pace, with a mark of 90-72.
The defending champion White Sox slipped to third in the division due to their ineffective pitching. In fact, Chicago's team ERA of 4.61 exceeded their previous year’s mark by exactly one run per-game. However, the White Sox possessed one of the league's top offenses, leading the A.L. with 236 home runs and placing near the top of the league rankings with 868 runs scored and a team batting average of .280. Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, and Jermaine Dye wielded the most potent bats in Chicago’s lineup. Konerko hit 35 homers, knocked in 113 runs, and batted .313. Thome homered 42 times, drove in 109 runs, scored 108 others, and batted .288. Dye batted .315, scored 103 runs, and finished among the league leaders with 44 home runs and 120 runs batted in.
In spite of their poor play over the season’s final two months, the Tigers were the division's most well-balanced team. With a league-leading team ERA of 3.84, Detroit had arguably the A.L.'s best pitching staff. The Tigers also had a solid offense that finished high in the league rankings with 203 home runs and 822 runs scored.
Justin Verlander and Kenny Rogers anchored Detroit’s starting rotation. A.L. Rookie of the Year Verlander finished 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA, while Rogers posted a record of 17-8 with a 3.84 earned run average. Hard-throwing Jeremy Bonderman gave the Tigers a third solid starter, winning 14 games and leading the staff with 202 strikeouts. Closer Todd Jones saved 37 games, while set-up man Joel Zumaya finished 6-3, with a 1.94 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 83 innings of work.
Although the Tigers lacked a singular dynamic presence in the middle of their batting order, they featured one of the junior circuit’s deepest lineups. Marcus Thames hit 26 home runs in only 348 at-bats. Left-fielder Craig Monroe led the team with 28 home runs, knocked in 92 runs, and scored another 89. Third baseman Brandon Inge went deep 27 times, drove in 83 runs, and scored 83 others. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez batted .300 and helped stabilize Detroit's young pitching staff. Right-fielder Magglio Ordonez hit 24 homers, knocked in 104 runs, and batted .298. Shortstop Carlos Guillen hit 19 home runs, drove in 85 runs, and led the team with 100 runs scored, 20 stolen bases, and a .320 batting average.
The division-winning Twins were also a well-balanced club, leading the league with a .287 team batting average and placing second in the circuit with a team ERA of 3.95. Their staff featured the American League's best pitcher, one of its brightest young stars, and one of its premier closers. Joe Nathan converted 36 of his 38 save opportunities, finished a perfect 7-0, compiled a brilliant 1.58 ERA, and struck out 95 batters in 68 innings of work, while allowing only 38 base hits. Although an injury forced Francisco Liriano to miss virtually the entire second half of the season, the 22-year-old left-hander established himself as a future star, going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and striking out 144 batters in 121 innings pitched. Johan Santana earned his second Cy Young Award in three seasons by leading all A.L. starters in wins (19), earned run average (2.77), strikeouts (245), and innings pitched (234).
The quartet of Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau paced Minnesota on offense. Cuddyer hit 24 homers, drove in 109 runs, scored 102 others, and batted .284. Hunter hit 31 home runs, knocked in 98 runs, scored another 86, and batted .278. Mauer became the first catcher in American League history to win a batting title by topping the circuit with a mark of .347. Morneau edged out Derek Jeter for A.L. MVP honors by hitting 34 home runs, knocking in 130 runs, scoring 97 others, and batting .321.
In spite of their outstanding team balance, the Twins fell victim to the Oakland A’s in the Division Series, losing to the Western Division champions in three straight games. Meanwhile, the Tigers rebounded from their poor finish to defeat the Yankees in four games in the other Division Series matchup. They then swept the A’s in four straight games in the ALCS, outscoring their overmatched opponents by a combined margin of 22-9.
Entering the World Series as heavy favorites against a St. Louis Cardinals team that won only 83 games during the regular season, the Tigers seemed to lose their edge following a one-week layoff, making critical defensive mistakes and failing to deliver at the plate. Detroit batted just .199 as a team and committed eight errors in the field, in losing to St. Louis in five games.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• March 30 – Commissioner Bud Selig appointed Red Sox director and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell to head a probe into the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in the major leagues. Although the investigation was initially limited to events since September 2002, when such drugs were banned in the major leagues, Mitchell was granted authority to expand its scope.
• April 18 - A sellout crowd of 42,191 watched the Chicago White Sox lose to the Detroit Tigers by a score of 16-0 in the first game played at the new Comiskey Park.
• June 6 – U.S. federal officials raided the home of Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley looking for evidence that he was a distributor of human growth hormone and other performance-enhancing drugs. They found he had received a package. A day later, Grimsley quit the Diamondbacks, and it was announced he gave authorities the names of people he knew that took steroids and HGH.
• August 13 – Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner hit his sixth grand slam of the season, tying Don Mattingly for the major league season record.
• October 11 – Days after his Yankees were eliminated from the postseason, pitcher Cory Lidle was killed when the plane he piloted crashed into a Manhattan apartment building.
• Detroit’s Kenny Rogers tossed 23 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason.
• Boston’s Curt Schilling reached the 3,000 plateau in career strikeouts.
• Toronto closer B.J. Ryan saved 38 games, compiled a 1.37 ERA, and allowed just 42 hits in 72 innings of work.
• Blue Jays teammate Vernon Wells hit 32 home runs, knocked in 106 runs, scored 91 others, and batted .303.
• Toronto third baseman Troy Glaus hit 38 homers, drove in 104 runs, and scored 105 others.
• Cleveland’s Travis Hafner hit 42 home runs, knocked in 117 runs, batted .308, led the league with a .659 slugging average, and placed second in the circuit with a .439 on-base percentage.
• Indians teammate Grady Sizemore hit 28 homers, drove in 76 runs, batted .290, and led the A.L. with 134 runs scored and 53 doubles.
• Rangers shortstop Michael Young batted .314, knocked in 103 runs, and finished second in the league with 217 hits.
• Texas teammate Mark Teixeira hit 33 homers and drove home 110 runs.
• Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett died on March 6 at age 45.
• On July 1, Baltimore's Miguel Tejada became the seventh player in major league history to play in 1,000 consecutive games.
• With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Michael Young slammed a two-run triple that gave the American League its ninth straight All-Star Game victory.
• Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels led the American League with 47 saves.
• Randy Johnson registered his 4,500th career strikeout - the third most in major league history.
• New York’s Mike Mussina became the first pitcher in American League history to win 10 or more games for 15 straight seasons.
• Yankees closer Mariano Rivera recorded his 400th career save.
• Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki batted .322, scored 110 runs, stole 45 bases in 47 attempts, and led the American League with 224 hits.
• The Baseball Hall of Fame's Special Committee on the Negro Leagues selected 17 former Negro League players for induction.
• The members of the BBWAA elected pitcher Bruce Sutter to the Hall of Fame.
• In November, the Red Sox paid $51.1 million for the rights to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. They subsequently signed him to a multiyear, $51 million contract.
- Placido Polanco won the ALCS MVP
- David Eckstein won the Babe Ruth Award
- Johan Santana won the Cy Young
- Derek Jeter won the Hank Aaron Award
- Jim Leyland won the Mgr of the year
- Justin Morneau won the MVP
- Francisco Rodriguez won the Rolaids Relief
- Justin Verlander won the Rookie of the Year
- Johan Santana won the Triple Crown
- Johan Santana won the TSN Pitcher of the Year
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