Monday, May 25, 2009

AL East Roundup - Week 6

AL East Roundup: May 17th-24th

Boston Red Sox - Surviving Grady

The Red Sox started the week three games out of first place, looking up at the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays had just won six out of their last eight games...then they came to Fenway. Tim Wakefield welcomed them with a dominating performance: eight innings giving up only five hits and one run - a homer to old pal Kevin Millar. Papelbon shut the door in the ninth, edging the Sox a game closer to the top. Wednesday night, the Beard of Wonder and Amazement returned to the line-up and had three of the Sox fifteen hits. Boston's offense exploded, seemingly inspired by Big Papi's first homer of the season. Jason Varitek had two dingers in the game (officially starting the "Captain is on the juice" talk), his second coming in the fifth - the first of four in that inning. Brad Penny pitched well, going six-and-two-thirds, before turning it over to the pen for mop-up. In the series finale, Jon Lester held the Jays down and the bats jumped on Toronto early, scoring three in the first. It would prove to be enough and the sweep was complete.

Friday night the abortion we call interleague play began as the Mets came to town. Johan Santana battled the Sox as Dice-K returned from the DL. The Dice-man was shaky, giving up four runs in just five innings. The floodgates were opened courtesy of Julio Lugo and his inability to turn a double play. The non-error led to two runs that never should have crossed the plate. Boston rallied in the bottom of the inning cutting the deficit to 4-3 but that was as close as they would come. Saturday night baseball in Fenway was outstanding...Josh Beckett was vintage, going eight strong and allowing just one unearned run. The stage was set for Papelbon in the ninth, but the ending didn't go as written. Paps gave up an instant-replay-confirmed homer giving the Mets a 3-2 lead. Two stellar defensive plays in the bottom of the inning sealed the win. The Sox would take no chances in Sunday's game, piling on 12 runs on 16 hits - including six doubles and a pair of three-run homers by Youk and Lowell.

The Blue Jays were swept by the Braves over the weekend, putting the Sox on top of the AL East by a half-game. The Red Sox start the week in Minnesota for four games, then head north-of-the-border to face the Jays next weekend.

Week's record: 4-2

Season record: 26-18

Injuries: None

This week: Mon - Thu @Minnesota; Fri - Sun @Toronto

Toronto Blue Jays - Blue Jays Daze

Shhh, the Jays bats are sleeping. What started out as a very promising week with the end of a 4-game sweep over the White Sox fizzled into one major return to earth after 6 straight losses. The result has been the return of many younger players in exchange for familiar faces such as Casey Janssen and Joe Inglett. The Jays scored only 10 runs over the last 6 games of the week, a far cry from the performances they put up at the beginning of the season. However, when you delve into the numbers the situation is not as bad as it may seem. First, the Jays were getting on base very well with a decent amount of hits and walks. In the second and third games against the Sox, the Jays had 14 and 11 hits to go with 5 walks but only drove in 4 runs. The Jays were horrible in key hitting situations this week and it's something that they need if they are going to turn this around.

Overall, the Jays pitching did very well this week. Doc had another great start, but Cecil and Ray both showed their youth and inexperience in their starts while still showing their great overall potential. Now they know what has to get done and can work on it in AAA. Janssen and Romero have been called up to replace them, as well as Joe Inglett, who takes the roster spot of the ice cold Travis Snider. While I entirely agree with the demotion due to the lack of playing time Snider has gotten, I entirely disagree with the way he was being used by Cito. Snider should have hit ahead of Overbay and Barajas, just behind Rolen, and on a much more consistent basis. For a guy who has been called "the franchise" by most Jays players and is used to 100% playing time, sitting on the bench just doesn't seem right regardless of the troubles he may have.

If the Jays are going to turn it around this week they need continued success from their starting pitching with much better run support and better pen performances. Sunday's game provides the best example of an implosion of the Jays with 8 earned runs given up after a decent start by Scott Richmond. The Jays are still in a better position than most of us expected them to be in at this point. With 2 series against division rivals coming up, the Jays can regain their strut if they simply get some timely hitting and learn how to hit a knuckle ball.

Week's Record: 1-6

Season Record: 27-20

Injuries: Michael Barrett (Shoulder-hitting off tee), Jesse Litsch (Right Forearm), Shaun Marcum (Elbow-resting), Dustin McGowan (Labrum-threw from 120 feet for the first time 23rd May).

This Week: Mon- Wed @Baltimore ; Fri - Sun BOSTON

New York Yankees - River Ave. Blues

After a weekend of walk-offs, the Yanks were ready to keep on rolling. They wouldn't dispose of the Twins in a similar manner in their series finale on Monday, but rather hit them hard and early, plating six runs in the first off Glen Perkins, who hit the DL after the game with elbow inflammation. The Twins almost came back, but Phil Coke ultimately succeeded in his first ninth-inning save opportunity. For Yankees fans, perhaps the sweetest part of the game came when Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez went back to back, hopefully the first of many over the next eight years.

Entering the Baltimore series the Yankees had been winners in eight of their previous 10 games, and continued rolling. They decimated the Orioles in a three-game sweep, slamming seven homers in the effort. Adam Eaton got beaten so badly on Thursday that the Orioles released him on Friday*. The World Champion Phillies were next to come to town. Unfortunately, they are a bit better than the Orioles.

As expected, when the AL- and NL-leaders in home runs square off in a park tailor-made for lefties, balls will fly out of the park. That they did over the weekend, combining for 12 homers over the three games. These weren't just New Stadium Specials, though. Raul Ibanez, Jason Werth, and Mark Teixeira hit absolute bombs on Friday night, Teixeira's hitting the third deck, Ibanez's going halfway up the right field bleachers, and Werth's hitting the second deck in left. Rookie John Mayberry hit his first career homer on Saturday and Ibanez repeated, but the biggest homer of the game belonged to Alex Rodriguez, who forced one out the opposite way to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. After Robinson Cano singled and stole second, Charlie Manuel decided to pitch to Melky Cabrera, who repaid him with a walk-off single.

The series wouldn't end as well. The Yankees, trailing all game, tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, but couldn't plate a man in scoring position. Then, in the 10th, they put men on first and second with none out but couldn't muster a walk-off hit. That led to Brett Tomko's entrance, and the Phillies capitalized, with Carlos Ruiz yet again driving in a run. Just after Rob Neyer chastized Manuel for playing Ruiz regularly, he came through big time over the weekend.

* Yes, I know it wasn't that single start wasn't the cause of his release, but it's funny to think about it that way.

Week's record: 5-2

Season record: 25-19

Injuries: Brian Bruney (elbow, day to day)

This week: Mon - Wed @Texas; Fri - Sun @Cleveland

Tampa Bay Rays - Rise of the Rays

NOTE: Say hello to our new Rays contributor, Rise of the Rays.

The Rays have improved their record to .500 after going 5 and 3 this week. A pretty good week overall, taking 2 from Oakland and 2 from the Marlins as well as 1 from the Indians on Sunday. The Rays wasted a great start from James Shields on Monday, losing a 0-0 game in extras by 4 runs allowed by Joe Nelson and Dan Wheeler, as the bullpen that is normally good blew it. The Rays got great starts from their 2 mediocre guys so far this year. Andy Sonnanstine had 2 great starts this week and Jeff Niemann had one against the Marlins. Sonnanstine, the Rays best hitting pitcher, got his wishes of wanting to hit this week, since he batted in three different games this week. He batted third last Sunday due to the lineup snafu, he batted on Friday because it was in an NL park, and he pinch-hit Saturday in the later parts of the game.

Jason Bartlett, who twisted his ankle in yesterday's game and will probably miss Monday's game, had a monsterous week this week, gathering 2 more homers to get to 7 and improving his average to .373 on the season. He also had 14 RBI's this week.

The most notable injury from the week has to be Aki. As said by Carlos Pena on Akinori Iwamura's presence: "We're going to miss him greatly even if it’s just one day. ... You can't replace Aki. He's Aki. There’s only one of him around."

The Rays will send him back to St. Pete to get a MRI, we hope this is not too serious. Aki is so important. The Rays also placed Troy Percival on the DL, whick is a relief for most Rays fans. They also placed Scott Kazmir on the DL for no other reason than he was struggling, since he came out and said he was not injured. The Rays are likely to get Pat Burrell back this week, which will give us a bat in the middle of the lineup.

This week, the Rays head to Cleveland to face the Indians who have our head after the benches clearing incident last week. They are a better team than their record show, so hopefully the Rays can take 2 of 4 with David Price, the Rays highly touted top prospect who got the final out in the ALCS for the Rays, getting the start tonight. The Rays then head home for three with the Twins this weekend, which could be a very tough series for the Rays. They will get their three best starters for that series, with James Shields, Price, and Matt Garza all going for the weekend.

Record: 23-23

Week's Record: 4-3

Injuries: Akinori Iwamura, who could be out for a while, Troy Percival, who is contemplating retirement, and Scott Kazmir, who is really not hurt, but needs to get things figured out.

This week: Mon - Thu @Cleveland; Fri - Sun MINNESOTA

Baltimore Orioles - Dempsey's Army

The Orioles go 2-4 for the week with most of the damage coming from an unholy ass kicking at the hands of the Yankee steamroller. New York swept Baltimore out of the new Yankee Stadium outscoring them 27-9 in the three game set.

Baltimore bounced back to take two out of three from the Nationals over the weekend but even Baltimore should be expected to win a series like that.

A silver lining exists though as The Warehouse finally saw enough of Adam Eaton and released him after the he got lit up by the Yanks on Thursday. Thanks to the New York team for putting us O's fans out of our misery. Adam Eaton, Mark Hendrickson and Alfredo Simon were all in the starting rotation to begin the year. Now Eaton is released, Simon is out for the year (and didn't pitch well before he got hurt) and Hendrickson finds himself in the bullpen....for now. I never understood these guys in the rotation anyway, there were AAAA guys in the Oriole system who could have pitched just as well with a small chance to improve. Oh well, what's done is done.

Someone will have to be recalled from Norfolk to pitch on Tuesday and the club is tight lipped about the choice. The smart money is on journeyman Chris Waters or 25 year old Jason Berken, a Clemson product who is tearing up the International League.

LF Nolan Reimold has arrived in Baltimore ahead of schedule and is putting a stranglehold on the left field position. The .256/.293/.436 line he has posted so far is not altogether impressive but has been better than the combined efforts of Felix Pie and Lou Montanez and is fairly encouraging considering Reimold had not played a game above AA before this season.

RP Chris Ray was supposed to be wresting the closer spot back from George Sherrill by now. Instead, Ray took the loss in Sunday's game against Washington and now has an 10.12 ERA on the season. Sherrill, by contrast, has lowered his ERA to 2.89. Ray hasn't trusted his fastball since he came back from Tommy John surgery and looks to be optioned to Norfolk on Tuesday to work it out. Sherrill remains an excellent piece on trade bait for a contender come July.

Wieters Watch: Wieters has a .284/.359/.485 line for AAA Norfolk. I still predict we'll see him in mid-June barring injury to Gregg Zaun.

When your team is a loser for as many years as Baltimore has been, you look for great individual performances to get you through the year. Adam Jones is that guy this year. The rest of the AL can eat their hearts out as out 23 year old center fielder is hitting .359/.414/.654. 10 home runs in 38 games. Baltimore has many problems but we have a center fielder that the rest of the league can be envious of.

Week's Record: 2-4

Season Record: 18-26

Injuries: Koji Uehara (hamstring, day to day), Luke Scott (shoulder strain, 15-day DL), Dennis Sarfate (hand numbness, 15-day DL, out until July)

This Week: Mon-Wed TORONTO, Thu-Sun DETROIT

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