The American League East was considered by many to be the best division in baseball. Heading into the season with the Yankees and Red Sox fielding All-Star lineups and the Rays employing the divisions best Manager, Joe Maddon, and the division’s best pitching rotation, the East figured to have two playoff contenders in the expanded wildcard playoff format this season.
What nobody failed to mention is that the Baltimore Orioles may be one of the two teams to earn a post-season berth. Tied for first place with the Rays and playing inspired ball under Manager Buck Showalter has Orioles fans optimistic that this isn’t a flash in the pan start to the year.
With budding stars in Adam Jones and Matt Wieters carrying a line-up which also features JJ Hardy, Chris Davis, and Nick Markakis, the Orioles believe they can compete with the big boys of the division into September.
The Yankees are in third place, but will not be counted out from making a run at the division just yet. Mark Teixeira is starting to get hot and display his All-Star bat. Derek Jeter leads the AL in hits. Curtis Granderson is mashing homeruns, and they have the best second baseman in baseball, Robinson Cano, ready to explode once the weather warms up. Alex Rodriguez lurks in the line-up and if he stays healthy and gets hot, the line-up will be a nightmare for opposing pitchers to deal with.
Speaking of pitchers, CC Sabathia continues to be the team’s unquestioned ace and have Andy Pettitte throwing well after coming out of his retirement, which has helped offset the season-ending injury to starter Michael Pineda, whom they acquired for Jesus Montero in the offseason from Seattle.
Injuries have hurt the club more than any other team in the division the first two months of the year. The aforementioned injury to Pineda was a huge blow to a young power arm that was counted on for close to 200 innings of work.
The biggest blow was the loss of Mariano Rivera to a torn ACL and meniscus while shagging fly balls in the outfield during batting practice. The games best closer was replaced by All-Star set-up man David Robertson who immediately landed on the disabled list as well. Thankfully for the Yankees they have former closer for the Rays and Braves, Raphael Soriano to fill the void until Robertson gets back.
The Yankees have to be on the minds of the Orioles who will have to contend with the Bronx Bombers this summer to maintain their lofty perch in the best division in baseball.
The division has flipped upside-down when the Rays and Orioles brought up the rear in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox dueling to determine who would win the division and who would have to settle for the wild card berth.
This year sees the Red Sox playing 500 ball and having to yet again deal with off-the-field controversies. Last year it was pitchers eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games. This year its players clashing with Bobby Valentine as manager, he even questioned long-time Sox third baseman, Kevin Youkilis’ toughness and Josh Beckett golfing days after his start was skipped because of injury.
Fans in Boston have to be second guessing themselves for running two-time World Series Manager Terry Francona out of town this off-season. The Red Sox have the talent and pedigree to win 90-plus games in the league, but for the reasons mentioned above, it doesn’t seem likely that the team will see post-season action this year.
Canada’s only baseball team is the forgotten team in the division with the upstart Orioles stealing headlines, the darling Rays easy to root for, and the mainstays in New York and Boston having rapid fan bases.
Jose Bautista is the team’s best player having hit a plethora of homeruns the last two seasons, but he is hitting only .224. The Jays have gotten a nice year from Edwin Encarnacion and with one of the game’s best young players, Brett Lawrie, in the fold the Jays have two pieces to build around Bautista moving forward.
However, the Jays have been trying to build a team since they traded Roy Halladay to Philadelphia three years ago, and are not a prime destination for free agents. The next season and a half will be telling for fans as they will either need to trade Bautista to rebuild or give him the necessary protection in the lineup, and a few more arms in the rotation and bullpen to compete with the big dogs south of the border.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt
Patrick is a diehard Chicago sports fan and an avid college football fan, particularly the SEC. Patrick is the host of “The Wake-up Call,” a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com every Wednesday morning from 8-10. View his show’s website here
With Memorial Day a few days away and backyard bbq’s and pool parties about to be set off in full bloom this weekend, let’s take a minute to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to help make the United States the greatest country in the world.
Memorial Day is also the unofficial day when baseball teams realize they are who they are, not to steal from Denny Green’s famous postgame rant in a Monday Night loss to the Chicago Bears years ago, but sometimes teams are not who we thought they are.
Take a peek at the top of the standings across Major League Baseball and you will see five of the six division leaders are not the team that won the division a year ago.
The biggest surprise has to be the Baltimore Orioles who entered Saturday as owners of the best record in the American League. They are one up on the Tampa Bay Rays, four and a half on the New York Yankees, and six and a half on the cellar dwelling Boston Red Sox.
Will they maintain their hot start into the dog days of summer?
Who knows, but Buck Showalter has his team playing as good as they have in a long time.
The American League Central sees the Cleveland Indians two and a half games on top of the Chicago White Sox and five games on everybody’s preseason darling, the Detroit Tigers.
It will be interesting to see if Cleveland acquires a bat or another arm to keep the Sox and Tigers in their rear-view mirror in the AL Central standings. Much like the Orioles, many don’t think they will be in first place at the end of the season, let alone the All-Star break.
However, I beg to differ because this division will beat up each other because I don’t see a complete team dominating in the summer and putting some distance between the other teams in the division. This could be a three team race well into September.
The American League West is the only division to have last year’s winner atop the standings. The Texas Rangers are poised for a third straight trip to the World Series and will look to win their first title behind Josh Hamilton, who is the front runner for the Most Valuable Player award, and a lineup that strikes fear into even the best of pitchers.
Jered Weaver can attest to that. The Angels starter gave up eight runs in three and a third innings of work in a start vs. the Rangers after yielding only one earned run in his previous 21 innings of work, including tossing a no-hitter.
The Rangers own a six game lead on the Athletics but could see a run by the Angels who are six and a half games back after a sluggish start.
The National League East sees the Washington Nationals leading the Atlanta Braves by two games. Inspired by their Manager Davey Johnson and teenage sensation, Bryce Harper and flame throwing Steven Strasburg, the Nationals are turning their immense potential into wins. Leading the NL in ERA, the Nationals are a fun team to root for behind the ageless Davey Johnson.
The Nationals have a slew of questions to answer if they are to keep their place atop the standings in the East.
Does Harper start playing like a 19- year old?
What happens when Strasburg hits his innings mark? He is only allowed 160 after Tommy John surgery ended his rookie season two years ago.
How will injured stars Ryan Zimmerman , Jayson Werth, and Michael Morse fit in the lineup and will they stay healthy?
Who closes? The team has adopted a closer- by- committee approach but have All-Star set-up man Tyler Clippard ready to step into the ninth inning.
The NL Central leaders are Joey Votto’s Cincinnati Reds who head into Memorial Day weekend with a half game lead over the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals recently lost their All-Star first baseman, Lance Berkman for eight to ten weeks after he required knee surgery and are already playing without Allan Craig and his .373 batting average as he nurses a hamstring injury.
Can the Reds put some room between themselves and the Red Birds while they deal with injuries?
With stars like Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce they figure to score enough runs to keep their fifth ranked pitching staff in games. The biggest question is how recently promoted Cuban flame- thrower, Aroldis Chapman handles closing duties.
So far the early results are good as he is yet to give up a single run all season while striking out 43 batters in 24.1 innings.
The NL West boasts the team with the best record in all of baseball and very well could have the MVP, CY Young award winner, and Manager of the year all on the same team. Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, and Don Mattingly have the Dodgers comfortably in first pace and have done so with a dominating home field advantage.
Winners of 19 of the teams 24 home games have given Vin Scully’s Dodgers a six and a half game lead on the San Francisco Giants. A balanced attack that sees the LA squad second in ERA and second in batting average, the Dodgers seem poised for a return to the playoffs.
Of the six teams currently in first place the Rangers and Dodgers are the only two teams I see atop the standings come October.
Meaning the fun is just beginning!
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt
Patrick is a diehard Chicago sports fan and an avid college football fan, particularly the SEC. Patrick is the host of “The Wake-up Call,” a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com every Wednesday morning from 8-10. View his show’s website here. And read more of Patrick’s blogs here.