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