Who’s your favorite in the AL East with July right around the corner?

June 18, 2013 | Luke Jones

Who’s your favorite in the AL East with July right around the corner?

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The American League East is what we thought it would be — sort of.

The Orioles entered play on Tuesday trailing the first-place Red Sox by only two games and fourth-place Tampa Bay was only five games back in what’s been a very competitive division. The biggest surprise might be the unexpected flip-flop of Boston and Toronto as the Red Sox were regarded by many as the weak link in the division and the Blue Jays were the winners of the offseason after a plethora of big acquisitions that haven’t paid off to this point in the season.

As we approach the midway point of the season, it’s clear to see the Orioles’ biggest flaw is the starting pitching that’s posted a 4.80 earned run average, ranking 13th in the AL. The trickle-down effect on the bullpen has helped contribute to some regression that was expected anyway after a remarkable 2012 performance.

While there is some potential for improvement from within with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen on track to return by early July, questions will remain when Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have been the only consistent pitchers in the rotation. Perhaps Zach Britton and Kevin Gausman can provide a boost in the second half similar to the one offered by Tillman and Gonzalez last season, but most believe the Orioles must address their starting pitching if they’re to give themselves a good chance to win the division.

However, flaws and concerns exist with each of the other four clubs in the division as well.

As surprising as the Red Sox have been sitting in first place under new manager John Farrell, Boston is currently dealing with concerns in their starting rotation as Jon Lester has been ineffective and Clay Buchholz is dealing with a neck injury. The Red Sox lead the majors in runs scored, but they’ve also had concerns in the bullpen that could come back to haunt them in the second half.

The Yankees’ early-season fountain of youth has seemingly dried up as their offense ranks 10th in the AL in runs scored and is still without Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and has already lost Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson to the disabled list a second time. New York’s starting pitching is keeping them competitive, but you wonder whether so many absences are finally catching up as the Orioles recently moved into second place.

Tampa Bay might be the most intriguing of the AL East clubs — and not because they were my preseason pick to win the division — as the Rays lineup has been much better than anyone expected (fifth in the AL in runs). However, the pitching has been a major disappointment, ranking 11th in the AL in ERA as All-Star closer Fernando Rodney has been a shell of his 2012 form and 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price is on the DL. You’d have to think the Rays will pitch better as the year progresses, but it’s difficult imagining the lineup continuing to produce in the second half like it has.

Toronto has played better of late after winning six straight games, but the Blue Jays lineup ranks eighth in the AL in runs scored and 14th in team ERA as starters R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson haven’t lived up to expectations. The Blue Jays face an uphill climb, but they are capable of holding their own against the rest of the division as we’ve seen in their games with the Orioles.

Based on what we’ve seen over the course of the season, it’s difficult not to like Boston’s chances because of the relative consistency they’ve received from their offense and starting pitching, and Tampa Bay is also dangerous if it can get Price back while maintaining a similar level of offensive production. However, the Orioles might just be good enough to prevail in the AL East with a very good lineup, excellent defense, a solid bullpen, and even mediocre starting pitching.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still try to upgrade by the trade deadline.

Seeing doubles

Third baseman Manny Machado entered Tuesday’s game with a major-league-leading 32 doubles in 71 games and is on pace to hit 73 this season, which would break the major-league record of 67, set by Earl Webb of Boston in 1931. The franchise record is held by Brian Roberts, who hit 56 back in 2009.

At one point do we simply start referring to doubles as “machados?”

The soon-to-be 21-year-old entered Tuesday also leading the majors in hits (99) and multi-hit games (29). Over his last 51 games, Machado has 24 multi-hit games and is batting .346 with 26 doubles, two triples, three homers, 34 runs scored, and 26 RBIs in his last 51 games.

Machado hasn’t hit a home run since May 5, but it’s amazing to think what type of home-run potential he might have as he gets stronger and simply puts a bit more loft on some of those line drives as he continues to develop as a hitter. Even though he’s on pace to break a doubles record that’s more than 80 years old, Machado may only be scratching the surface of his potential as a run producer and power hitter.

With Machado leading the majors in doubles and Chris Davis hitting more homers (24) than anyone in the big leagues, they can become just the second pair of teammates to lead the majors in doubles and home runs in the same season. According to STATS, the only other time it’s happened was 1927 when Babe Ruth led the majors in homers (60) and Lou Gehrig in doubles (52).

The New York Yankees went on to win the World Series that year.

Suffering at second base

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. joe of bel air Says:

    The late Earl Weaver once went to the mound and told his struggling pitcher, ” If you know how to cheat you better start now.” I think that would be his advice to Arrieta.

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