Do you remember back during Spring Training in March when everyone was thinking that the AL East was wide open for anyone to grab? Well it turns out not much has changed in the last 5 months. Not only is the AL East the only division with 4 teams above a .500 winning percentage, but the 5th team that is under .500 is arguably one of the most dangerous offenses in the game. As a Mets fan, I am nearing the point in my baseball season where I can stop caring about the Mets demise and I can start paying attention to the contenders whom I’ll be watching come September and October. There is no doubt that the AL East is the most exciting division in baseball and I am going to break down how I feel the final 60 games will unfold and who will reign supreme in the East.
1st Place – Baltimore Orioles
Right now, Baltimore is 3.5 games out of first place trailing both Tampa and Boston. The reason I predict they will finish in first is because they are just too damn powerful in every position to not. I’ve had the pleasure of watching a lot of Orioles games this year because of my addiction to watching Chris Davis At-Bats. (Side note: I haven’t enjoyed watching two powerhouses like Davis and Cabrera go back and forth with bombs so much since the glorious 98′ season with Sosa and McGuire.) The Orioles rank first in baseball in Slugging Percentage, 3rd in Runs and 4th in Batting Average. Rarely do you see so much power mixed with batting average for a whole team. Buck Showalter has the luxury of changing his lineup on a nightly basis based on pitching matchups without ever sacrificing power or average. The one weakness that the Orioles have faced all year long is their uneven pitching rotation. While there have been some glimpses of success, for the most part the Baltimore rotation has sucked. So while I believe that the O’s will power through with their offense for the rest of the regular season, I also think that their dismal pitching will lead to their playoff demise.
2nd Place – Tamp Bay Devil Rays
If you jump back exactly two months from today you would have seen the Devil Rays sitting in 4th place in the AL East. If you look at the standings today, you will find Tampa in sole possession of first place by a half game over the Red Sox. Tampa has been lights out since May 27th by posting a 35-17 record since then. They have had all of their success with a steady balance of offense, pitching and defense. Between Evan Longoria doing what Evan Longoria does and Matt Moore proving in his second season that he is a legitimate Ace in this league, the Devil Rays are set for many more seasons to come. They have also found a nice diamond in the rough who actually used to hover around the Mendoza line while with the Dodgers; James Loney is hitting a remarkable .317 with 10 HR’s and 50 RBI’s after only hitting .249, 6 and 41 all last year between LA and Boston. It also helps that he has stayed healthy all year and has played in 101 of Tampa’s 103 games thus far. (Side note: The Devil Rays just lit up CC Sabathia, who I think is a top 5 pitcher in the AL, for 7 runs making it the third time they scored at least 5 on him this season.) The reason that I feel the Devil Rays will finish as one of the AL’s two Wild Card teams and not with the pennant is because while they are good in a lot of categories they aren’t the best in any of them and to win a division you need the best.
3rd Place – Boston Red Sox
If you tried to tell me before this season started that you believed the Red Sox would be leading the Majors in Runs and On-Base Percentage I would have laughed in your face. Well surprise surprise, that is exactly where they rank with just two months left in the season. Big Papi David Ortiz is having a career year when most people thought he should have been washed up at this point. It should only be a few months before we find out it is all from PED use, but let’s enjoy it while we can. In his 16th season, the ageless wonder has a ridiculous stat line that would easily be up for MVP talks if it weren’t for the seasons that Davis and Cabrera are having. The career .287 hitter is batting .323 with 19 HR’s and 65 RBI’s. With Ortiz proving age doesn’t matter, the emergence of Jose Iglesias and Dustin Pedroia putting up consistently great numbers, the Red Sox offense has been great all year. Their pitching, however, has the same issues that Baltimore’s does. Lester, Lackey and Buchholz have all had streaks this year of great successes but for the most part, their inconsistencies are the exact reason they will lose to the Devil Rays in the one-game Wild Card playoffs. Yeah, that’s right, I think both Wild Card teams this year are coming out of this beast of a division.
4th Place – New York Yankees
While it pains me to say this, the Yankees are the most impressive team, (based on what they have), in this division. Plagued with more injuries than I have ever seen a team suffer through, the Yankees have had to put laughable lineups on the field on almost a daily basis. No Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Granderson has led to lineups filled with the Overbay’s and Hafner’s of the world that would barely make it in the minors. Even with all of this adversity, the Yankees, whom I hate very much, have played way above average ball. In fact, they have been in playoff contention since day one of the season until recently. Even Yankees fans can admit that they did not expect to be above .500 at this point in the season but their roster and skill set are coming back to reality as they are now 7 games out of first. CC has been struggling worse than he ever has in his career and outside of Cano, there is not one bright spot on the entire roster. Thank God for Mariano Rivera who is absolutely killing it in his final year. If there was ever going to be a season where the Mets were going to out play the Yankees it was this one and yet it still didn’t happen. The Yankees have a lot of rebuilding to do over the next few years but they should not put their heads down because this season was way more of a success then it should have been.
5th Place – Toronto Blue Jays
Before this season started I was talking about how the Blue Jays had a great chance to take this division with the offseason moves they made. Turns out I was terribly wrong. My boy, RA Dickey, is proving that there is a huge difference between pitching in the AL East and the NL East. Last years NL Cy Young winner is getting lit up this year with a nearly 5 ERA and a pitiful 8-11 record. It doesn’t help that he pitches in the best hitting division in baseball and in a stadium that seems to give up 10 Home Runs every game played there. The Blue Jays struggles can not all be blamed on Dickey because their entire pitching staff BLOWS! In fact, the best ERA on their starting rotation comes from Mark Buehrle and his awful 4.50 mark. Pathetic! It was a very tough start to the season for Toronto with Jose Reyes being injured and not one person on their team hitting above .300. With the Blue Jays it has been Home Run or Strikeout all season long and it has led them to a pretty disappointing season. The brightest spot on their team this year has been the power surge that Edwin Encarnacion has been on. While his batting average is below .270 he has hit 28 Home Runs already and knocked in 80 RBI’s before August. Unfortunately for Toronto, there is not much to cheer about this year and with the amount of money they spent in the offseason you can expect to see this team dismantled during the Winter.
You might disagree with my predictions for how this season will unfold but there is no denying that the American League East is the premier division in all of Baseball.
The Baltimore Orioles had a few good teams in the 1990’s, lead by Cal Ripken Junior, Roberto Alomar, Brady Anderson and Mike Mussina. Unfortunately, their success took place during the latest Yankee dynasty and therefore the O’s were never able to reach their desired pinnacle of a World Series Title. After the retirement of Ripken, the Orioles dropped off the face of the relevant baseball planet. For over a decade the Orioles looked up at the standings every season and saw the Yankees and Red Sox sitting pretty atop the leader board.
The good news for the Orioles is that they were at least competitive with the Rays and Blue Jays for the battle for 3rd in the AL East. Then in the late, 2000’s, the Rays all of a sudden got talented and began competing with the Red Sox and the Yanks. All of the Rays years of sucking paid off, and their quality draft picks came to the big leagues and took off. Tampa reached the World Series in 2008, a feat Baltimore was unable to accomplish in their 90’s run. As a result of Tampa’s success, there were two basement beaters in the AL East…Baltimore and Toronto.
Then the craziest thing happened this year…The Boston Red Sox and Baltimore switched places. Boston fell apart, the Orioles pushed the Yankees for the division crown and eventually settled for a Wild Card birth and first round matchup vs. New York. Well, the Yankees disposed the Orioles in five games but baseball experts all over the world were saying how successful of a season Baltimore had and that it could be a building block for next year.
Fast forward 6 weeks and the Toronto Blue Jays are the talk of the big leagues. After their blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins, the Blue Jays have put themselves in a position to compete with the rest of the division. Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Mark Beurhle and Josh Johnson are all bonafide big leaguers who will help contribute immediately to a Toronto Blue Jays that already has big league talent on the roster in players like Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie. Then two days ago, the Blue Jays inked Melky Cabrera to a deal and even though he’s coming off a steroid scandal, he’ll still add to their suddenly deep team.
As for Baltimore’s future, I believe the Toronto moves drop them back down to fourth in the division. The Yankees will always be the Yankees because they have the money to retool year after year. The Rays still have the youngest and deepest rotation in the American League and if some of their players like Evan Longoria were healthy all last year, I believe they could have taken the AL East crown from both the Yankees and the Rays. The Blue Jays will be better than the Orioles next year because their talent will have time to go to Spring Training together and mesh, unlike the Dodgers talent collection attempt this past year. The other thing Baltimore needs to consider is that the Boston Red Sox are down right now, but we all know that they will be back in short time. The demand for a winner in Bean Town is too strong and the front office has already stated that they are willing to spend money to build sooner rather than later.
So, Baltimore Oriole fans, if you are out there…sucks to be you! You had a good year, it was cute but you didn’t really accomplish all that much actually. The Yankees beat you in the division race and the playoffs and Yankee fans are disappointed with the end result of 2012! It’s time for you to go back to the dungeon for the next decade or so and let the AL East heavyweights battle it out. Hey, at least the Ravens are relevant….
Where did this freak of nature come from? If you were to try to tell me that nearly at the midpoint of the baseball season the best pitcher in the game would be a 37-year-old knuckleballer on the New York Mets, I would have to ask what you were smoking. Amazingly, R.A. Dickey is just that and over the last three months he has taken the baseball world by storm.
Dickey was drafted out of the University of Tennessee as the 18th overall pick by the Texas Rangers. After being drafted by the Rangers, Dickey was initially offered a signing bonus of $810,000, before a Rangers team physician saw Dickey’s throwing arm hanging oddly in a picture. The Rangers did further evaluation of Dickey, leading to the discovery of a missing ulnar collateral ligament of his elbow joint and reduced their offer to $75,000. Usually when an athletes career starts like that, they don’t turn it around 16 years later.
Tonight, Dickey proved once again that he is without question the most unusual and mesmerizing pitcher in the game. Just 5 days removed from his masterful and controversial 1-hitter against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, where he set a career high with 12 strikeouts, R.A. took the mound against a hot Baltimore Orioles team. And wouldn’t you know it, he did it again. Another 1-hit treasure from Dickey and this time he did it with 13 strikeouts. Jokingly after the game, Mets manager Terry Collins said to the media (referring to his appeal for last weeks 1-hitter to be turned into a no-hitter), “Do I have a chance to appeal that base hit? Anyone dive for that ball…I didn’t see? I had a bad view.” In this game, the Orioles definitely had a line drive hit off of Wilson Betemit’s bat in the 5th. To make matters even better for the Mets, Dickey matched his opponents hit total with a line drive of his own that he eventually came around to score on. This is the first time that anyone has had back-to-back 1-hitters since Dave Stieb for Toronto in September 1988.
It’s not just the last two games that has separated Dickey from the rest of the NL Cy Young contenders for the time being, he has been doing this all year. Robert Allen Dickey is now the first pitcher in baseball with 11 wins this season and is a staggering 11-1 on the year with a minuscule 2.00 ERA. The most incredible part of all this hoopla is that Dickey performs these magical stats with only 1 pitch…the Knuckleball. For decades, hitters have been baffled by the flat and erratic knuckleball, but never has there been a dominance over it like Dickey’s. The knuckleball is supposed to be hard to control for even the best users of it, but Dickey has seemed to figure out a trick that no one else can.
8 days after releasing his autobiography Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball, where he discussed suffering sexual abuse as a child and his struggles with suicidal thoughts as an adult, Dickey took the mound against the Mets division rivals, the Atlanta Braves on April 7th. He came out of the game with a solid victory that would soon become a trend for the Mets. The Mets are 12-2 when Dickey takes the mound and it only seems as if Dickey is getting better every game. I have personally never witnessed such a dominant stretch as Dickey has put on over his last 6 starts where he has gone 6-0 while pitching 48 and 2/3 innings out of a possible 54 and accumulating a ridiculous 63 strikeouts and only 5 walks.
The Mets are an above average team right now and with Dickey on the mound they are nearly unstoppable. I would definitely have to put Dickey as the starter for the NL All-star team and right now he is my front-runner for NL Cy Young. Try and debate that!
More rare than a No-Hitter and even more rare than a Perfect Game, Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers performed a feat that only 15 other players have done before him in the history of baseball. On Tuesday night in Camden Yards, Hamilton blasted 4 Home Runs in one night to not only help beat the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles, but to also help pad is overall American League leading statistics in this young season. Hamilton became only the sixth American League player to drive four balls over the fence and first to do it since Carlos Delgado did it for the Toronto Blue Jays back in 2003 against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Before getting dominated in back-to-back games by the Rangers, the Orioles were boasting the best record in the majors after coming off a sweep in Fenway Park and taking 2 of 3 in Yankee Stadium, but all that momentum could not slow down the train Hamilton and the Rangers are in.
Josh Hamilton has been off to a torrid start to the 2012 season, absolutely dominating anything that anyone throws at him. As of Wednesday morning, Hamilton leads all of baseball in the Triple Crown categories with a .406 BA, 14 Home Runs, and 36 RBI’s. In his most recent game of dominance, Josh even impressed himself.
“I was saying after I hit two that I had never hit three in a game before. What a blessing that was,” Hamilton said. “And then to hit four, it was just an awesome feeling to see how excited my teammates got.
Americans love a great performance, but they love a great story more. Luckily for us Josh Hamilton provides us with both. As a first round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999, Hamilton came into the league to great expectations and left quickly as a huge disappointment. Like many athletes who can’t handle the pressure of the big leagues, Josh turned to drugs and alcohol and was removed from MLB until 2007 when he returned to the Cincinnati Reds. He was quickly traded to the Rangers and he hasn’t looked back. In 2010 he was the American League MVP and yet he is off to an even better start to the 2012 season. He has helped to the Texas Rangers to back-to-back World Series and now has Texas off to their best start in franchise history with a 20-10 record.
“Obviously it’s, other than being in the World Series, the highlight of my big-league career,” Hamilton said of his 4 Home Runs.
With the way the Rangers are playing right now it is hard to argue that they won’t be at the “Big Dance” for a third straight year and I can assure you all that Disney executives are praying they win it because wouldn’t that make a great movie. Yes, I know Disney owns the Rangers division rival Anaheim Angels, but the way they’re playing they don’t look like they have a chance to win it all.
I know it’s early in the season but does this most recent game make the Rangers the World Series favorites? And does this game make Josh Hamilton the AL MVP favorite? Will Hamilton win the first Triple Crown since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski did it for Boston?
Watch Hamilton’s 4 monstrous blasts and how he impressed the baseball world!