Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tight Race in the AL East


I thought the AL East race would be interesting this year and here in June it looks like it will be a hell of a race throughout this season. The Red Sox started out in first early on, then the Yankees overtook them. The Yankees fell off recently and the Red Sox reclaimed the top spot. The Orioles won a walk off last night against the Red Sox to get within 2 and a half games of first. These two teams have 3 more games against each other this weekend. A Orioles sweep would put them in first place. Baltimore's win on Thursday night put them in second place by a half game over the Yankees. The Rays have also been playing good baseball lately and are only 5 games back of first.

The only team not in the picture is the Blue Jays. They were my preseason pick to win the division, but have been a flop so far. Toronto made a big splash in the offseason, acquiring RA Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Melky Cabrera. They sit at 29-36, ten and a half games out of first. Reyes got hurt early in April and is still out. Dickey has been pitching better after a rough start. Buehrle has struggled, and Johnson suffered through injuries and poor performance. The Jays pitching has been really bad this year, which is a big reason why they are in last place. They've had to resort to starting Chein-Mien Wang, Ramon Ortiz(hard to believe he's still in the league), Aaron Laffey, and many other journeyman pitchers due to injuries and demotions.

The Rays are an intriguing team. They have one of the best managers in baseball with Joe Maddon. He's good at mixing and matching starting lineups and handling the bullpen. The Rays have also gotten good play out of low cost acquisitions Kelly Johnson, James Loney, Yunel Escobar, and others. Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce are having good years for them. David Price has been out for a month and Jeremy Hellickson has struggled, but Matt Moore and Alex Cobb have made up for it. Fernando Rodney has fallen off bigtime from his career season in 2012. The Rays also have a very good farm system and is a team that should stay in the race all season.

I might of predicted the Yankees decline too soon before the season. Still, this is an aging team, one of the oldest in baseball. Curtis Granderson has been out most of the season, and Mark Teixiera has just recently came back, but is batting under .200. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez have been out all season, both out til at least the All Star break. A-Rod may not even play this year. They've relied on retreads and aging veterans like Travis Hafner, Jayson Nix, Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, and Ichiro Suzuki. Robinson Cano has been their only All Star caliber player still in his prime for the Yankees this year. The Yankees have always been more of a veteran club, but this team is less star studded than recent Yankees teams.

Despite all of that, the Yankees are 37-29 and only 3 games out of first. The savior of the Yankees has been their pitching, notably their relief pitching. Mariano Rivera is having another terrific season in his final year. David Robertson, Boone Logan, and rookie Preston Claiborne have pitched well out of the bullpen. Their starting pitching has been solid with Hiroki Kuroda having the best season. CC Sabathia hasn't been as sharp this season, having an ERA slightly over 4. The Yankees have the 4th best ERA in the American League.

The Orioles have been hot lately, creeping into second place. They are second in the AL in runs scored and have standout defenders in Adam Jones, JJ Hardy, Manny Machado, and Matt Wieters. Chris Davis is having a monster year, leading the AL in home runs. Jones and Machado are also having All Star type years. With those players along with Hardy, Wieters, Nate McLouth, and Nick Markakis, the Orioles have a deep lineup. Pitching is a weakness for them, they are 13th in the AL in runs scored.

Jim Johnson has struggled a bit after having a dominant season as closer last year. He has pitched better recently and the Orioles have good setup pitchers with Darren O'Day leading the way. Their rotation isn't very strong, especially without injured Wei-Yei Chen. Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman have had solid, unspectacular years. Jason Hammel, the ageless Freddy Garcia, and others have been liabilities. The Orioles lack an ace and could make a move toward the deadline to improve their pitching.

The Red Sox have had a major turnaround this year with new manager John Farrell. Gone is the zoo from the short-lived Bobby Valentine era. Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz have had standout seasons for the Sox this year. The Sox might be the most balanced team in this division, they lead the AL in runs scored, and are 7th in runs allowed. Still, they don't seem to be significantly better than either the Orioles, Yankees, or Rays. The Sox could win this division, but they will have plenty of competition for it. I would expect the leads to change a few more times this season.

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