The American League experienced a major shift in the balance of power in 2008. Not only did the defending A.L. Central champion Cleveland Indians slip to third in the division, but the long-standing dominance of the Yankees and Red Sox in the A.L. East came to an end when the Tampa Bay Rays claimed their first division title in their 11-year history.
Baseball’s most surprising team over the course of the regular season, the Tampa Bay Rays concluded the campaign with a record of 97-65, just one year after they finished 30 games behind the division-winning Red Sox with the worst record in the major leagues. Tampa Bay’s 97 victories placed them two games ahead of Boston in the final A.L. East standings, and eight games in front of the third-place Yankees. The Red Sox made the playoffs as the junior circuit’s wild-card entry, while the Yankees failed to advance to the postseason for the first time in 14 years.
The key to the Rays’ success lay in their improved pitching. Tampa Bay’s staff, which placed second in the league with a team ERA of 3.82, included five starters who posted double-digit win totals. James Shields and Edwin Jackson each won 14 games, Andy Sonnanstine posted another 13 victories, and Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza chipped in with 12 and 11 wins, respectively.
On the other hand, Tampa Bay hardly featured one of the league's most imposing offenses. Despite compiling the fourth-highest home-run total in the A.L., the Rays finished ninth in the league in runs scored and next-to-last in team batting average. First baseman Carlos Pena and A.L. Rookie of the Year third baseman Evan Longoria served as their top two offensive threats. Pena batted just .247, but he led the team with 31 home runs and 102 runs batted in. Longoria finished second to Pena on the team with 27 home runs and 85 RBIs. Second baseman Akinori Iwamura added 91 runs scored and 172 hits, while centerfielder B.J. Upton placed second in the league with 44 stolen bases.
Although Tampa Bay captured the division title, the runner-up Boston Red Sox remained arguably the stronger all-around team. Boston’s team ERA of 4.01 placed them fourth in the league rankings, and the Red Sox also finished second in the league in both runs scored (845) and team batting average (.280).
Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka anchored Boston’s starting rotation. Lester finished 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA, and Matsuzaka led the team with a record of 18-3 and a 2.90 earned run average. Closer Jonathan Papelbon saved 41 games, won five others, and compiled an outstanding 2.34 ERA.
On offense, J.D. Drew batted .280, hit 19 home runs, and scored 79 runs. Despite appearing in only 109 games due to a left wrist injury, David Ortiz hit 23 homers and knocked in 89 runs. Kevin Youkilis earned a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting by hitting 29 homers, driving in 115 runs, scoring 91 others, and batting .312. Dustin Pedroia captured league MVP honors by batting .326, knocking in 83 runs, and leading the league with 118 runs scored, 213 hits, and 54 doubles.
While Tampa Bay rose to prominence in the East, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim remained the strongest team in the West, claiming their second straight division title by posting a major-league best 100-62 record. The Texas Rangers finished a distant second in the division, 21 games off the pace.
The Angels proved to be baseball’s most consistent team over the course of the regular season even though they finished in the bottom half of the A.L. rankings in runs scored (765), home runs (159), and team batting average (.268). Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero served as their primary offensive threats. Hunter hit 21 homers, knocked in 78 runs, and scored 85 others. Guerrero led the team with 27 home runs, 91 runs batted in, and a .303 batting average.
The Angels' greatest strength lay in their pitching staff, which posted a team ERA of 3.99 that placed them third in the league rankings. Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders headed the starting rotation. Santana finished 16-7, with a 3.49 ERA and 214 strikeouts. Saunders compiled a record of 17-7, along with an ERA of 3.41. Jon Garland chipped in with 14 victories, and John Lackey added another 12. Meanwhile, closer Francisco Rodriguez compiled a season of record-setting proportions. In addition to establishing a new major-league record by saving 62 games, the flamboyant reliever posted a 2.24 ERA and surrendered only 54 hits in 68 innings of work, while striking out 77 batters.
The Chicago White Sox claimed the top spot in the topsy-turvy A.L. Central by defeating the Minnesota Twins 1-0 in a one-game playoff. Chicago concluded the campaign with a record of 89-74, just one game ahead of the Twins, who failed to earn a spot in the playoffs. The defending division champion Cleveland Indians finished a disappointing 81-81, 7 ½ games off the pace. The Detroit Tigers proved to be an even bigger disappointment, finishing last in the division with a record of 74-88, after being projected to win the division by many baseball experts. Nevertheless, the Detroit lineup featured one of the circuit’s top sluggers in the newly-acquired Miguel Cabrera, who led the league with 37 home runs and also placed among the leaders with 127 runs batted in and a .537 slugging percentage.
Third-place Cleveland featured the league's best pitcher in Cliff Lee. The left-hander led all A.L. starters with a record of 22-3 and an ERA of 2.54, en route to winning the Cy Young Award.
Runner-up Minnesota featured arguably the American League’s most dynamic offensive tandem in Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Mauer drove in 85 runs, scored 98 others, and won his second batting title with a mark of .328. Morneau hit 23 homers, scored 97 runs, batted .300, and placed among the league leaders with 129 runs batted in and 47 doubles. Mauer earned a fourth-place finish in the league MVP voting, while Morneau placed second in the balloting.
The division-winning White Sox were led on the mound by Gavin Floyd, and at the bat by Jermaine Dye and Carlos Quentin. Floyd compiled a record of 17-8 with a 3.94 earned run average. Dye batted .292, hit 34 homers, drove in 96 runs, and scored 96 others. Quentin batted .288, also scored 96 runs, and finished among the league leaders with 36 home runs, 100 runs batted in, and a .571 slugging percentage.
The White Sox lost their first-round playoff matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays in four games. Meanwhile, the Red Sox upset the Angels in the other Division Series, defeating them in four games as well.
Facing their Eastern Division rivals in the ALCS, the Rays took a commanding three-games-to-one lead against the Red Sox, outscoring them by a combined margin of 22-5 in Games Three and Four. However, Boston refused to go quietly, winning the next two contests to even the Series at three games apiece. The Rays finally put the Red Sox away with a 3-1 victory in Game Seven, with Matt Garza earning ALCS MVP honors by allowing Boston just one run on two hits over seven very strong innings. The Rays subsequently struggled against Philadelphia in the World Series, losing to the Phillies in five games, to end their dream season.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• The members of the BBWAA elected Rich "Goose" Gossage to the Hall of Fame in his ninth year of eligibility. The Veterans Committee also voted in executives Barney Dreyfuss, Bowie Kuhn, and Walter O'Malley and managers Billy Southworth and Dick Williams.
• January 6 – Roger Clemens appeared on CBS's 60 Minutes, denying that he ever used performance-enhancing drugs.
• February 13 – Roger Clemens testified under oath at a Congressional hearing that he never used performance-enhancing drugs.
• April 2 – With his 194th consecutive game without an error, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis surpassed Steve Garvey's major league record (set from 1983 to 1985) for most consecutive errorless games at first base.
• April 8 - Plácido Polanco's record streak of 186 games and 911 chances at second base without an error came to an end when he committed a miscue in the third inning of Detroit’s 5–0 loss to Boston.
• May 12 – Cleveland Indians second baseman Asdrúbal Cabrera turned the 14th unassisted triple play in major league history in the second game of a home doubleheader against the Blue Jays.
• May 19 – Boston’s Jon Lester pitched a 7–0 no-hitter against the Royals.
• May 31 – Boston’s Manny Ramirez hit his 500th career home run during a 6-3 win at Baltimore.
• June 7 – Kevin Youkilis committed an error against the Florida Marlins, ending his record streak of 238 games without an error at first base.
• July 15 – The American League defeated the National League in the All-Star Game by a score of 4-3 in 15 innings, scoring the winning run on a sacrifice fly by Michael Young.
• August 28 – The use of instant replay began in Major League Baseball.
• September 17 – Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki collected his 200th hit of the season, surpassing the 200-mark for an American League record eighth consecutive time (he previously shared the mark with Wade Boggs). Suzuki’s eight straight seasons with 200 safeties tied him with the National League’s “Wee” Willie Keeler (1894-1901) for the major-league record.
• September 21 – In the final game played at the “old” Yankee Stadium, the Yankees defeated the Orioles by a score of 7-3. Andy Pettitte got the win for New York and teammate Jose Molina delivered the last home run ever hit in the storied ballpark.
• September 28 – New York’s Mike Mussina won his 20th game of the season, making him, at age 39, the oldest pitcher to register his first 20-win campaign.
• Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers led the league with 130 runs batted in and placed among the leaders with 32 home runs, 98 runs scored, 190 hits, a .304 batting average, and a .530 slugging percentage.
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- 2008 ALCS, 2008 ALDS1, 2008 ALDS2, 2008 World Series, Akinori Iwamura, American League, Andy Pettitte, Andy Sonnanstine, Asdrubal Cabrera, B.J. Upton, Boston Red Sox, Carlos Pena, Carlos Quentin, Cliff Lee, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Ortiz, David Price, Dustin Pedroia, Edwin Jackson, Ervin Santana, Evan Longoria, Francisco Rodriguez, Gavin Floyd, Ichiro Suzuki, J.D. Drew, James Shields, Jermaine Dye, Joe Mauer, Joe Saunders, John Lackey, Jon Garland, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Jose Molina, Josh Hamilton, Justin Morneau, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Ramirez, Matt Garza, Michael Young, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Mussina, Placido Polanco, Roger Clemens, Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay Rays, Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero