Relaying the Signs: Re-evaluating the AL East
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Welcome back to Relaying the Signs, a weekly column dedicated to anything and everything that is Major League Baseball. In last week’s initial installment, I shared my skepticism regarding Ryan Braun’s contract extension. This time around, I take you back to your college days for a good ol’ fashioned lecture on the state of the American League East to this point in 2011.
Whether due to your unwavering allegiance to the senior circuit, those distracting NBA playoff games or because, well, you have better things to do, if you’re in need of an American League East refresher, class is now in session. For analogical sake, we’ll call this course, AL Eastern Philosophy 162. Clever, I know.
Aside from undeniable wit, of course, what is required of your typical AL Eastern Philosophy professor? Well, the irreparable social sacrifice of a recluse combined with a mind for baseball greater than that of any mere mortal.
Well, that, or simply an inordinate amount of hours spent watching various teams around the league on a daily basis, plus a little foresight and the ability to form an opinion. Now, while my qualifications regarding the latter two may be suspect in your eyes, I can assure you that the former is not an issue — thanks, MLB.TV!
Anyway, consider this your ALE Phil 162 syllabus. The final exam will not be cumulative as the subject matter is likely to change and not all that we discuss will remain topical come October. Which subject matters you ultimately chose to focus on is entirely up to you. Don’t bother asking me, your professor, because I don’t have all the answers — I just like to pretend like I do. Besides, this is, after all, a philosophical course.
Isn’t college fun? On to lesson number one.
American League East: current events
The East division has been semi-surprising to this point, in the fact that Tampa Bay finds itself in contention and the Red Sox haven’t already clinched a playoff spot. The standings, as they are now, aren’t quite indicative of the way the division has played throughout the entirety of the first month and they will likely change before the conclusion of May. Here’s a quick rundown of the present standings and how they came to be.
While New York finishing April atop the East is a surprise, albeit a small one, the way in which they’ve done it sure isn’t. Despite playing the fewest games in the league, thanks to three separate rainouts, the aptly named Bronx Bombers’ offense is among the top five in runs scored, home runs and walks. Their league leading .458 slugging percentage is more than 50 points higher than the next best team from the East, Toronto (.404). Also, fueled by some resurgent pitching performances from the likes of Freddy Garcia (1-2, 2.88 ERA) and Bartolo Colon (2-1, 3.00 ERA), the Yankees managed to roll through the first month of the season without losing a single series. Then again, they’ve played just one against a team with a winning record.
Speaking of winning records, who’d have thought that the Rays — despite the abrupt retirement of their assumed designated hitter, Manny Ramirez, after just five games — would score enough runs to hover above .500? Sam Fuld, that’s who. Alright, but who is Sam Fuld, you ask? Well, when Johnny Damon shifted from the outfield into the vacant DH role left by Man-Ram, it was Fuld who indirectly replaced Ramirez’s spot in the everyday lineup. After playing less than 100 career games prior to this season, all he’s done is lead the league in stolen bases and ESPN Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems. While the offense as a whole has not exactly been explosive, per se, it hasn’t had to be. Their collective staff ERA is the best in the East, at 3.43. A rotation led by James Shields and Wade Davis has been backed by a brilliant patchwork bullpen and the emergence of Kyle Farnsworth as a reliable closer.
The rebirth in Baltimore, headed by new manager, Buck Showalter, has stalled a bit in the first month of the season. Not to say that it is surprising to find Baltimore towards the bottom of the standings, it’s just disappointing in the way that it has transpired for O’s fans. The front of the starting rotation, Jeremy Guthrie (3.00 ERA, .247 BAA, 1.08 WHIP) and Zach Britton (5-1, 2.63 ERA, .226 BAA) have been phenomenal. However, their contributions haven’t been enough to overcome an anemic offense and poor outputs from the rest of the pitching staff, which has the team’s collective ERA nearly dead last in the league. It hasn’t helped that their strength of schedule has been abnormally unkind thus far.
With their first 11 games coming against four of the American League’s current top teams, in addition to playing very, very poorly during that stretch, it’s still surprising that Boston began the season 2-10. The fact of the matter is that Boston, a team with enough star power that NASA is considering naming Fenway Park a certified constellation, should never go 2-10. Ever. Yet, for the first two weeks of the season, Boston’s pitching was terrible and the offense was even worse. Since then, however, they have gone 12-5 thanks to incredible performances from the starting rotation and appear to be back on track, for the most part, offensively. Unfortunately, it’s not 2012 and at least for now, there is still just one Wild Card spot. Can Boston defy the odds and climb out of their early hole to reach the postseason?
Like the Orioles, Toronto has had one of the toughest schedules in the season’s initial month. Also similar to Baltimore is the fact that, outside of a few individuals, nobody on the team is pulling their weight. In the Blue Jays’ case, the few rare positive performances have come on the offensive side of things. Sluggers Adam Lind and Jose Bautista are keeping the team in games with their plate production, but the starting rotation is doing everything it can to spoil that. Newly appointed manager, and former Boston Red Sox pitching coach, John Farrell only wishes he had Buck Showalter’s back end of the rotation woes. Just one of his starting pitchers has an ERA under 4.40 at the moment.
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