AL teams best positioned for October

Updated: August 28, 2012, 11:25 AM ET
By Buster Olney

We have arrived at that time of year when six-month projections no longer matter, and when, in one week, a journeyman call-up like Nate McLouth can impact a pennant race more than MVP candidates. Baseball is a summer-long game, but the last bricks of legacies are placed day by day, inning by inning, which is how Howard Ehmke and Al Weis became legends, and how the weakest lineup in World Series history stunned the baseball world in 1988.

There are no super teams now, and all the contenders have needs and holes that they try to plug game to game.

Brett Anderson opened spring training on the disabled list, recovering from Tommy John surgery, and now he is arguably the most important player in the American League wild-card race. When this spring started, Lew Ford hadn't played in the big leagues in five years, Nate McLouth was trying to win a job with the Pittsburgh Pirates. On Monday, Ford and McLouth hit home runs in the midst of a pennant chase that could be decided by one or two big swings.

"McLouth and Ford are great stories," Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter texted late Monday night in response to a question. "They love to play and don't take a single day in the major leagues for granted."

The stretch drive has started with every team seeking solutions. Here's a look at what needs to happen for each current AL contender to make the postseason.