Baseball Update (American League)

May 24, 2011

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We’re nearly to Memorial Day, and the baseball races have begun to take shape.  What’s up?

AL East:

The Red Sox were annointed the favorites by many.  Then they stumbled out of the gate, losing their first six games and ten of their first twelve.  They were toast, right?  Nope, they have rallied and stand at 25-22, just a half game out of first place.

The Yankees are in first place, but I suspect that they are going to fall out of the race before the All-Star break.  There’s a lot of age on this team, and you can see it in the stats of some of the players (Jeter and Posada).  Father time can be cruel.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays lost Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena to free agency.  Surely they would feel the losses, right?  Well, the Devils are getting a lot from their pitchers, including a 5-2 record and 2.00 ERA from James Shields.  And before we applaud the Tampa management for the way they built a winner with a reasonable payroll, bear in mind that the foundation of the franchise would built upon a losing history (bad records = good draft picks).  They’ve done a nice job with the picks, but would not have had the chance to draft many of their players if they hadn’t sucked so bad in the past.

Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays is having an incredible year on the heels of his 54 homer performance last year.  He has 19 homers despite being walked frequently.  His 41 walks and .356 batting average give him a lofty .503 on base percentage and absurd 1.330 OPS.

Advantage: Boston’s experience will push them to the title.  They are 23-12 in their last 35 games.

AL Central:

The surprising Indians have opened up a 7 game lead in the Central.  Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera bounced back from injuries in 2010 and is hitting .312 with 10 homers and 34 RBI.  Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin are a combined 11-3 with a sub 2.50 ERA.

The Tigers are seven games back, and Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello all have ERAs of 3.08 or lower.  The Tigers are a solid team, and it’s possible they could cut into the Cleveland lead a bit – but if the Indians push this lead to 11 or 12 games by mid-June, this division race could be over.

Kansas City is going to be promoting some really talented guys very soon – they built a great farm system the Tampa Bay way, through many losing seasons.  Eric Hosmer is already up, and we should see Mike Moustakas at some point.  Alex Gordon seems to be figuring things out, as well (remember, he’s just 27 – not a lost cause).  The Royals will contend in future years, but this isn’t the year.

Advantage: Cleveland.  If they can manage one more hot streak and get the lead to double digits, I think they can turn out the lights on the rest of the division.  Looking up and seeing that the team you’re chasing has a lead of 10+ games is demoralizing.  One thing to watch is Cleveland’s home record.  So far this year, they are 11-11 on the road and 19-4 at home.  Obviously, they won’t win 83% of their home games this year – so watch to see how far this number falls.

AL West

The AL West is the only 4 team division in baseball (The NL Central has 6 teams, all other divisions have 5)  and all 4 teams are within 3 games of first place.

Texas has been without Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz and have still managed to stay in first place.  With the two sluggers back, they may be able to create some distance between themselves and the rest of the division.  Alexi Ogando has burst onto the scene with a 5-0 record and 1.81 ERA.  His success shouldn’t be a complete shock, as he was very effective out of the bullpen last year (1.30 ERA in 41 2/3 innings).

The Angels have lost 1B Kendrys Morales for the year, but are still within a half game of Texas.  Jered Weaver stole the spotlight early on, but Dan Haren is having a very good year, 4-2 with a 1.84 ERA.  Howie Kendrick is hitting .322 and tied with Mike Trumbo (the replacement for Morales) for the team lead with 7 homers.

In Seattle, not surprisingly, it’s all about the pitching.  While Felix Hernandez is off to a good start (3.01 ERA while leading the staff with 77 2/3 innings pitched), 22 year old Michael Pineda has been dominant – 6-2 with a 2.16 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .194 batting average.  The kid hasn’t had a bad game yet, and does a good job of limiting his walks.  The the Mariners were to somehow make the playoffs (they are just 1 1/2 games back) King Felix and Pineda would create a fearsome 1-2 matchup for other teams.

Finally, three games back, we find Oakland.  Their hitting is so mediocre (and their park is so pitcher friendly) that only Josh Willingham and Coco Crisp having a .400+ slugging percentage.  Their pitching, on the other hand, has been quite good.  Trevor Cahill (6-1, 1.79 ERA) leads the group, and the worst ERA in the rotation is 3.39 (Brandon McCarthy).

Advantage: Texas.  They’ve been able to hold serve with their big guys on the bench.  I think they are the most complete team.  I’d love to see Seattle and Oakland make a run, but they need more hitting.

That’s it for the American League.  We’ll cover the NL next week.

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