Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Orioles Up, Red Sox Down in AL East

The American League East is typically a tough division and this year is no exception. The Yankees and Red Sox have been the traditional powers of the division, finishing 1-2 eleven times since 1995. The Rays became a power in this division four years ago and continue to be with one of baseball's strongest farm systems. The Blue Jays are usually decent, but never good enough to overtake the top teams. Since winning the division in 1997, the Orioles haven't had a winning season since. This year, every team is at least .500 so far. With an unbalanced schedule these teams will beat up on each other, but its very possible both wild card teams will come from this division in the first year of the new playoff format.

After almost two months of play, the Baltimore Orioles sit in first place with a 29-20 record. I mentioned earlier they haven't had a winning season since 1997. I'm sure people in Baltimore have to be excited, but this team was not expected to contend this year. In 2005, the Orioles sat atop the division at the All Star break. However they fell apart in the second half, and had to deal with the Rafeal Palmeiro positive PED test fallout. This year's teams is much different, led by star center fielder Adam Jones, catcher Matt Wieters, and shortstop JJ Hardy. Jones was recently locked up to a long term deal. They also have a much better manager than they did in 2005 in Buck Showalter.

Showalter has a track record of turning teams around. When he became the Yankees manager before the 1992 season, they were horrible and were on one of the worst stretches in franchise history. They challenged for the division title in 1993, had the American League's best record in the 1994 strike season, and made the playoffs in 1995. Showalter was fired after losing in an exciting Division Series against the Mariners, and the Yankees won the World Series in 1996 under Joe Torre.

Showalter later became the Arizona Diamondbacks first manager. They won 100 games and made the playoffs in their second season. However, Showalter was let go after the 2000 season. Strangely, the Diamondbacks won the World Series the next year. The Texas Rangers hired Showalter before the 2003 season and they struggled despite having MVP Alex Rodriguez on the team. A couple months before the 2004 season, the Rangers dealt A-Rod and his massive contract to the Yankees. The 2004 Rangers made a strong push for the postseason, but fell short. Showalter left the Rangers after 2006, and they eventually became a World Series team a few years later.

Showalter took over a miserable Orioles team in August 2010 and they went 34-23 down the stretch. The Orioles dissapointed in 2011, only winning 69 games and finishing in last place. This year, the Orioles have been one of baseball's big surprises. I'm not saying that the Orioles are a shoo-in for the playoffs, but they are a much better team than they were in the past. They improved their pitching, and new acquisitions Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen. Their bullpen has been solid, led by closer Jim Johnson. In my opinion, highly touted prospects Brian Matusz and Zack Britton need to reach their potential for the Orioles to sustain success. They have a pretty good offense, so their pitching needs to stay solid to be in the playoff race in September.

The Red Sox have been a dissapointment the last couple of years, and this season isn't off to a good start under new manager Bobby Valentine. Thier collapse down the stretch last year led to manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein's departures. Their were rumors about Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz drinking beer and eating chicken in the clubhouse during games they didn't pitch. This year, big money free agents Lackey and Carl Crawford haven't played at all. Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis are also hurt. Valentine has also angered Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia over some comments made about Youkilis. Beckett was recently questioned about golfing on a day off after he hurt himself and pitched poorly.

I don't think Bobby Valentine is the right manager for the Red Sox. I think he's an overrated manager with a giant ego. He also creates alot of drama around teams he manages. I don't think he has the same effect that Showalter has on the Orioles or Joe Maddon has on the Rays. If Boston continues to struggle this season, Valentine's tenure their could be a short one. Still, every team in this division feels like they have a legitimate shot at the postseason. One thing for certain, the AL East is alot more exciting this year than in year's past.


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