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.
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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
The Coyote finally got what he was after. Behind another stellar performance by goalie Mike Smith, who recorded his first career postseason shutout, the Blackhawks could not force a game seven last night in front of a standing room only United Center crowd.
The Hawks looked good in the first stanza as they peppered Smith to the tune of 16 shots while limiting the Coyotes to a measly two shots. Two shots! Corey Crawford may as well have sat on the bench while the Hawks skated with an extra attacker.
However, that strategy likely would have not have altered the outcome the way the Hawks have played with the man advantage, one goal on 19 power play opportunities. A depressing statistic when you consider the offensive talents on the Hawks. The absence of Marian Hossa alone is not enough for the special teams to be so atrocious.
Facing a goalie coming of a season like the one Mike Smith has means you need to take advantage of these opportunities when they are presented. Much like a starting pitcher in major league baseball, a hot goalie can neutralize, rather take over and dominate a playoff series more so than any other position in professional sports. Mike Smith did just that as he stopped all 39 shots he faced Monday night. Outside of a couple late third period goals from the Hawks in the series, the Phoenix net minder was near perfect. Not Phil Humber perfect, but a one man team, nonetheless in dispatching the Hawks.
Where do they Hawks go from here?
Two years ago The Hawks were a team of destiny as they hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup and paraded down Michigan Avenue. Salary cap restraints mandated that the team be broken up, and ever since the summer of 2010, Hawks Gm Stan Bowman has been trying to get the band back together. Just how much blame should be leveled at his feet? It was his decision to stand pat at the trade deadline, rather than try to fill the void of a second line center, a position that has been neglected as much as a number one receiver for the Chicago Bears.
It was also his decision to sign a number of aged, broken down, decrepit veterans that failed to show up in crunch time. A veteran blue liner would have had more composure and hockey intelligence than what Nick Leddy displayed while he was being undressed by Mikkel Boedker in overtime of game four.
I have to wonder what happens to Corey Crawford now. Despite facing a minimum number of shots for the bulk of the series, he was thoroughly outplayed by Smith. Backup Ray Emery was inked to a contract extension, but he is not a starting goalie in this league. Will a “goalie by committee” situation be what Hawks fans have to look forward to? Teams don’t win Stanley Cups with that strategy. Crawford is still relatively young and has just finished his second season with the Hawks, but how much longer can they stick with him while the team is ready to win now?
Stan Bowman has a lot of decisions to make this offseason. In many ways it can be a career defining summer for the son of the immortal Scotty Bowman.
Does he make a bold trade and trade Patrick Kane for an All-Star Goalie? Perhaps he makes a trade involving Patrick Sharp for a Defenseman.
Or maybe he makes a move that isn’t as sexy or as drastic as the aforementioned ideas and makes a shrewd move and acquires a diamond in the rough and maximizes his value and talent with the surrounding players on the roster. Something similar to what the resurgent Blues did by acquiring Jaroslav Halak from the Canadians AND Brian Elliott from Ottawa. They were two goalies that anyone could have had last summer. And now the Blues finished the season with the second best record in the Western Conference and are the highest remaining seed in the West after another early ouster from the Canucks.
Speaking of the Western Conference, isn’t it weird not to see the Red Wings, Sharks, Canucks, and Hawks not in the second round of the playoffs? One doesn’t need to do too much investigation to realize why the teams that beat them, Predators, Blues, Kings, and Coyotes, respectively, have done to win in a best of seven series. The answer is in the net. Pekke Rinne, Brian Elliott, Jonathan Quick, and Smith have had outstanding seasons and paced teams that in many ways were far less talented than the teams they defeated, yet the overriding difference maker is the guy that doesn’t score any goals or make any deft passes.
Hopefully Stan Bowman is taking notes.
Playing in front of a raucous sellout crowd at the United Center, the Blackhawks may have just played their last home game of the season after dropping another game in overtime to the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Blackhawks and Coyotes battled it out to a scoreless through two periods before Shane Doan put one past Hawks backstop Corey Crawford following a Johnny Oduya turnover. Not even a minute later the Coyotes had a two goal lead and the United Center crowd was as quiet as a library at midnight.
However, in his first action in the series, veteran Brendan Morrison fired a shot at Coyotes goalie Mike Smith and the deflected shot hit the back of the net to give the Hawks a glimmer of hope with 10 minutes left in regulation.
The Hawks playing from behind for what feels like the whole series up to this point did it again with their third goal in the last 90 seconds of the third period when MIchael Frolik recorded his second goal in the series to force overtime.
Overtime didn’t last deep into the night, however, as Mikkel Boedker scored his second overtime winner in as many games, slipping one through the legs of Crawford as hawks defenseman, Nick Leddy chased him from the blue line.
Hawks lose a must win 3-2 in front of a sell out crowd which left wondering of that was the last time they will see their squad this season.
The Hawks look to extend their season Saturday night in Glendale, AZ and they will have to do it without Marian Hossa, a shaky goaltender, and a power play unit that can’t light the lamp.