Monday, May 4, 2009

AL East Roundup: Week 4

AL East Roundup: 4/27/09 through 5/3/09

Toronto Blue Jays - Blue Jays Daze

Note: Everyone welcome Mat, our new Jays contributor. And be sure to check out his new blog, Blue Jays Daze (linked above).

If Baseball was the board game "Clue", the first half of the past week Jays murderers would have been described like this: it was the Butler, in Kauffman Stadium, with a big bad stick and a hell of a pitching staff! The Jays lost their first series of the season while losing 3 of 4 against the Royals. Billy Butler, the newest Jays killer, took his average from .193 to .262 over the last 2 games of the series while going 6 of 8 with 2 homers, 2 doubles, 5 RBI and 6 runs scored. The KC pitching staff helped him out with stellar performances from Bannister, Greinke, and Davies, although the Jays offense did become the only team able to score runs against Greinke this season. The Jays were also able to make a partial comeback Thursday, making the final 8-6 after being down 8-2 after the 5th inning. Other positives for the Jays include Scott Richmond's strong start during an 8-1 victory on Tuesday (the one game Butler sat out), as well as strong performances from the bullpen, aside from RHP Bryan Bullington who has since been demoted to AAA. He will be joined by starter LHP Brian Burres who thankfully takes his ugly 14.21 ERA with him and should not be back with the Jays as long as better options exist.

The second half of the week was critical to the Jays ending their mini-slump, and was much kinder to the Jays offense and pitching. While Doc Halladay didn't have one of his best starts on Friday, he did last 8 innings that allowed the pen some time to rest and the offense took the lead with 8 runs scored. Saturday's extra innings 5-4 win was even more encouraging. It included Robert Ray's first career start, which was solid, and was followed with the usual shut down performance of the Jays elite bullpen who shut out the Orioles over the last 5.1 innings of the game. The only run the O's scored was unearned due to an Aaron Hill miscue, but he more than made up for it with a game tying HR in the same inning followed by a game winning single in the 11th. The opposite things occurred to Travis Snider this week, who made 3 key defensive plays but struggled at the plate and now sports a .229 average. The bullpen was effective as usual and deserves the praise it get. Carlson and Downs shut down the end of the week and the O's on Sunday, which allowed Richmond's great 7 inning performance to result in his 4th win of the season. Overall, the series against the Orioles was a much needed return to winning for the Jays who took 3 of 3 from their division rivals.

Week's Record: 4-3

Season Record: 18-9

Injuries: Nil

This Week: Mon - Wed CLEVELAND; Thur - Sun @Anaheim

Boston Red Sox - Surviving Grady

The Red Sox started the week in the same fashion they ended the previous week: winning. Tim Wakefield battled Cliff Lee through 8 scoreless innings on Monday before Jason Bay crushed a three-run homer to win it. On Tuesday, Tito forgot the mantra of "respect the streak" and inserted Julio Lugo into the line-up for the first time. Lugo fumbled a double-play ball that eventually led to three runs, and Lopez dropped a ball covering first to let in the winning run. Streak over. The Red Sox bounced back with a tenth-inning win on Wednesday from an unlikely hero" Jonathan Van Every. Then the Sox headed to Tampa and things fell apart.

The Rays are like the kid in high school that used to get picked on, then had a huge growth spurt over a summer, and came back to school wreaking havoc on those that tormented him. Matt Garza shut the Sox down on Thursday, taking a no-hitter into the seventh. The result was a 13-0 laugher that saw the Red Sox finish the game with just an infield single and two walks, and a lot of questions about Josh Beckett. Beckett gave up seven earned in four-and-two-thirds. Evan Longoria's grand slam on Friday night was enough to power the Rays past Justin Masterson and Boston's anemic offense.

It took Tim Wakefield to stop the losing streak just like he did in against Oakland a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't a great outing but he kept them in the game and the bats were finally able to make something happen against Jeff Niemann and the Rays' bullpen. The bats went back into hibernation on Sunday and the Rays end up taking three-out-of-four to climb out of the basement and knock the Sox back into second place. Onto the House That Roids Built. (ed note: RAB does not approve of this line)

Week's record:

Season record: 15-10

Injuries: None

This week: Mon - Tue @New York; Wed - Thu CLEVELAND; Fri - Sun TAMPA BAY

New York Yankees - River Ave. Blues

After losing three straight to the Red Sox, Yankeeland was in a bit of a tizzy this past week. Not helping matters was Justin Verlander, who spun his best game of the young season on Monday night, out-dueling CC Sabathia to hand the Bombers their fourth straight loss. The losing would end right there, though. Phil Hughes, making his 2009 debut after a disappointing 2008, tossed six scoreless innings as the Yanks put up a 10-spot in the 7th inning to give Hughes his first victory since 2007.

The Yaks rose that offensive tidal wave for the next few games, toppling the Tigers the next day on the strength of Joba Chamberlain's best outing of the season. Chamberlain threw just 88 pitches through seven innings, which has helped quell fears of his efficiency as a starter. He struck out six along the way, allowing just three hits, though he did walk three. That win gave the Yanks the series. Next up were the LA Angels, the Yanks' Achilles Heel during the Torre years.

A.J. Burnett didn't bring his A game, but still managed to get through seven innings while allowing four earned runs. That left the game tied in the bottom of the eighth, when the Yanks rallied for three runs against Justin Speier. Mo locked down his fifth save of the season and the Yanks opened strong against their rivals. They opened the next game strong, scoring four runs in the first, but Andy Pettitte couldn't hang on, as he allowed the Angels a big sixth inning. The bullpen coughed up three more, but the Yanks offense powered back, scoring four in the bottom of the eighth on the strength of a pair of RBI from Ramiro Pena, and finally finished the game in the bottom of the ninth on a bases loaded walk-off hit by Jorge Posada. Unfortunately the offense couldn't muster much against 30-year-old Matt Palmer on Saturday, and dropped the affair despite a ninth-inning rally.

Week's record: 4-2

Season record: 13-11

Injuries: OF Nick Swisher (elbow, day to day), LHP Damaso Marte (shoulder, 15-day DL)

This week: Mon - Tue BOSTON; Wed - Thu TAMPA BAY; Fri - Sun @Baltimore

Tampa Bay Rays - Rays of Light

This week started looking like it was going to be another disappointing stanza in what has been a pretty depressing song for the Rays so far in 2009, but thanks to a tremendous weekend series against the Red Sox, the Rays look like they might finally be turning the corner. The big story for Rays fans (and fantasy owners!) was, of course, Carl Crawford going insane against the BoSox on Sunday, swiping 6 bags as the Rays closed out a series with against the Beantowners. That was 3-out-of-4 for those of you keeping track, and though the Rays still find themselves 6 1/2 games back in the AL East, they've moved out of the cellar and are pointed in the right direction.

Most encouraging for the Rays has to be the way the starting pitching performed over the weekend. Matt Garza was brilliant against the Red Sox in the Rays' 13-0 romp on Thursday, nearly throwing a perfect game. Andy Sonnanstine was his usual good-but-not-great self, and James Shields worked into the 8th inning in allowing just a pair of runs on Sunday. It's the pitching that's going to carry the Rays this season if they are going to win again, and if this past weekend is any indication, the Rays' arms are primed and ready for a dogfight.

Week's record: 4-3

Season record: 11-15

Injuries: Shawn Riggans (shoulder tendonitis, 15-day DL), Jason Isringhausen (moved to AAA for continued rehab, 15-day-DL)

This week: Mon - Tues BALTIMORE; Wed- Thur @New York; Fri-Sun @Boston

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