Monday, June 1, 2009

AL East Roundup: Week 7

AL East Roundup - 5/25/09 through 5/31/09

New York Yankees - River Ave. Blues

For the first time in over two years, the Yankees reached the top of the AL East standings. It started as a tie with the Red Sox on Wednesday. They lost the lead when the Sox won on Thursday, but retook the lead over the weekend. The Yanks currently sit a half game up on the Red Sox. While the standings on May 31 count for absolutely nothing in the long run, it's a relief for Yanks fans to see their team back atop the standings, rather than ending May in third place as they've done for the past few years.

The offense put up monstrous numbers every other game for the Yanks, as they scored 11 on Monday, nine on Wednesday, and 10 on Saturday. They mixed those with three-run showings on Tuesday and Friday, and a four-run affair in Sunday's walk-off loss to the Indians. The pitching turned in a solid week as well, with the only poor showing coming on Tuesday in the team's 7-3 loss in Texas. Joba Chamberlain had a sub-par start, and after the Yankees tied the game the bullpen blew it open. While the bullpen remains a concern, the continued quality starts from the rotation helps keep the relievers' exposure limited.

Once again, Mark Teixeira was the offensive player of the week. He put up a .357/.400/.786 line in the last seven days (1.186 OPS), smacking three homers and three doubles in 28 at bats. Alex Rodriguez did his part, posting a .417/.517/.542 line on the week. Surprisingly, he hit no home runs, but he did have three doubles and five walks to go along with just one strikeout. It seems like his defense (-27.8 UZR/150) will be the last thing to come around following surgery to fix a torn hip labrum.

On the pitching end, it was a mixed bag. Phil Hughes had a stellar start on Monday in Texas but his struggles in the third inning of Sunday's start in Cleveland tainted that start. CC Sabathia had just one start, in which he was more than good enough to give the Yanks a W. A.J. Burnett lasted just six innings in his start, though they were of the scoreless variety, and came with seven strikeouts. Chien-Ming Wang, however, tossed five scoreless innings in relief. These innings have given the Yanks a bit more confidence in him. If he can return to the rotation and go back to throwing seven, eight quality innings per start he could give the Yanks a big boost.

Week's record: 4-2

Season record: 29-21

Injuries: Melky Cabrera (shoulder, day to day)

This week: Mon @Cleveland; Tue - Thu TEXAS; Fri - Sun TAMPA BAY

Boston Red Sox -- Surviving Grady

The Red Sox hit the road for their longest trip of the season on Monday. First stop: Minnesota. Game one in the series should have been a laugher as the Sox piled up 16 hits against the Twins pitchers. Unfortunately only six of those baserunners crossed the plate, and a two-run homer off Paps in the ninth made it a 6-5 game. That's all the Twins would get but it certainly put a question mark next to Papelbon's name after the fiasco against the Mets.

The Sox would drop the next two, having completely lost the ability to score runs away from home. They lost 5-2 on Tuesday as Lester continued his "one bad inning" theme, giving up all five earned in the fifth. Wednesday they went quietly 4-2, with Dice-K laboring through just five innings. Thanks to Josh Beckett and Cap'n Tek the Sox worked a split, taking Thursday's day-game 3-1 behind seven strong innings by Beckett and two homers off the bat off Varitek. That's his second two-homerun game of the season giving him a total of 10. For a 37 year-old catcher who has only hit more than 15 homers three times in his career to have 10 by the end of May...well...

The Red Sox average 6.3 runs per game at Fenway but just barely over 4 runs per game on the road. The next stop was Toronto and it seemed like a good place to get your mojo back. The Sox had put the Jays on a nine-game tailspin after the sweep at Fenway. But the Jays had other ideas. A wild Tim Wakefield and the inability for the Sox to get the clutch hit (they used to have a guy that did that for them) combined for a 6-3 loss in the first of three.

Saturday would only get worse as the Sox could only manage four hits in the 5-2 loss. It was up to Lester on Sunday, and the way he pitched he knew it. Six innings, just three hits and a career-high 12 K's for young Jon. The bats finally came to life with Bay and Pedroia homering as well as two dingers from Youk. Even Ortiz had a hit! When the dust settled it was 8-2 in favor of the good guys, and hopefully the runs will keep coming. The Sox will take Monday off before finishing up the road trip in the Motor City.

Week's record: 3-4

Season record: 29-22

Injuries: None

This week: Tue - Thu @Detroit; Fri - Sun TEXAS

Toronto Blue Jays - Blue Jays Daze

It seems that the lack of pop has been hurting the Jays over the course of their latest losses. By lack of pop I mean that the Jays have had to score runs the hard way this season. Instead of the odd HR to clear the bases, they've needed to have consecutive hits - many of which have come with 2 outs - to drive in runs. My best example was when I looked at the scorecard of the 2nd game they played against the Red Sox. The Jays had 10 hits in their 6 innings against Penny and 3 runs to show for them, while the Red Sox had 3 hits and 3 runs. When I noticed this I went back over the course of their slump and found that this is what has hurt the Jays the most. The proof is that they've only managed 3 HRs over their last 11 games. Ouch.

Back to the week that was, the Jays turned out a disastrous start to the week that even Doc Halladay couldn't resolve. It all started in Baltimore, where the Jays were swept despite decent starts by Brian Tallet (6 IP, 2 ER, 5 Ks) and Doc (7 IP, 3 ER, 5 Ks) in games 1 and 3. The pen lost the handle on Doc's start with Brian Wolfe having a breakdown 3 ER 11th inning after BJ Ryan had already proven ineffective. Romero had a rough start for the second game, a game in which the Jays offense was shut down by O's starter Jason Berken which was a little embarrassing. At least they managed 10 runs the following game, maybe as a result of that embarrassment. Of note offensively for the Jays in that series was Marco Scutaro, who is second in SS All-Star voting for the AL by the way, who went 7 for 15, with 3 doubles, a walk, and a stolen base. Despite his efforts most of the other Jays were fairly silent until the 3rd game of the series.

I'm not sure what Cito told the guys during the day off, but one thing is certain, he's keeping the roster as is. Some managers may have panicked, switched guys in the lineup and called up half of AAA after 9 straight losses, but not Cito. The lineup was the same and he put the trust in the guys to change their own fortunes, and boy did they ever. Janssen kicked it off with an edgy win even after allowing 11 hits and 2 walks. He managed to weasel his way out of jams and allowed 3 runs overall. Offensively, the Jays finally learned how to hit the knuckle ball and Scutaro and Rolen led the way with 2 hits a piece. In the end, they managed to manufacture enough consecutive hits in the 5th inning to win it 6-3. The second game ended the same way as the first, with League and Downs shutting the door with small leads. Rios was on fire that game, going 4 for 4 and Lind chipped in with a much needed HR. Rios hit one of his own in the 3rd game, but Romero was roughed up for the second time this week and the Jays ended the week with a loss, but a series win versus the Red Sox (we'll take it!). Overall, an up-and-down week, with the hope that the series win leads to a new winning streak to build on.

Week's Record: 2-4

Season Record: 29-24

Injuries: New - Robert Ray on 15-day May 30th (Strained right shoulder), 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: Tue- Thur ANAHEIM ; Fri - Sun KANSAS CITY

Tampa Bay Rays - Rise of the Rays

By most accounts, the Rays had a bad week. To begin the week, after losing 2B Akinori Iwamura to a season-ending injury, they had to place SS Jason Bartlett and left-handed reliever Brian Shouse on the disabled list. Then, they went on to be swept by the Cleveland Indians in a four-game series in Cleveland. To end the week, the came back to the Trop to beat Minnesota 2 out of 3 to close the week.

In Cleveland, it was obvious that the recent rash of injuries were taking their toll. Not to mention the fact that the Rays were nearing the end of a stretch in the schedule that had them playing 40 games in 41 days. On Monday, the Rays ran out to a 10-0 lead in the fourth. Unfortunately, the Indians tallied 11 in the final five innings, capped by a 7-run ninth inning, marking the largest lead that the Rays have blown in the history of the team.

After the Cleveland sweep, the Rays came home to take on the Minnesota Twins in a three-game series. The Twins came to the Trop with the worst road record in the AL. And, the Rays took advantage of that, winning the first two games of the series, before dropping game three on Sunday.

The highlight of the week had to be the impressive starting performance of LHP David Price. He rebounded from a shaky first outing by striking out 11 in 5 2/3 innings. In the start, he allowed just one run on five hits and two walks, on his way to his first career win.

At the plate, the Rays were led by Carl Crawford, who finished the week 10-27 with two HR and two stolen bases. Carlos Pena also hit a pair of home runs for the Rays. And, Matt Joyce returned to the roster to hit a home run on Sunday.

Week’s Record: 2-5

Season Record: 25-28

Injuries: Akinori Iwamura, season-ending torn ACL, Jason Bartlett, sprained ankle, Brian Shouse, left elbow strain, Scott Kazmir, right quadriceps strain, Troy Percival, right shoulder tendinitis, Pat Burrell, stiff neck.

This week: Tue - Thu KANSAS CITY; Fri - Sun @New York

Baltimore Orioles - Dempsey's Army

A very eventful week in Birdland!

First, let’s take care of the elephant in the room. Matt Wieters, Christ in a Catcher’s Mask, made his major league debut on Friday. Matt went an uneventful 2 for 11 over the weekend but his first major league hit was a triple crushed off the centerfield fence. More impressive was his work behind the plate. He called his games, fielded his position well and seemed more veteran than rookie when the catcher’s gear was on. The power is there, it’ll be interesting to see how he develops over the next month or so.

But while Wieters was the big story this week, he was not the only rookie making an impact this. LF Nolan Reimold has hit 5 home runs over his last 11 games and is posting a .279/.340/.651 line over the past two weeks putting a stranglehold on the left field job. SP Brad Bergesen went 8 innings giving up only two runs in beating the Tigers on Friday night. SP David Hernandez made a spot start for the injured Koji Uehara, winning his major league debut and SP Jason Berken made two starts this week, winning his debut and posting a 2.25 ERA. Wieters is big but there are several rookies helping to improve the club and erasing the bad memories of Adam Eaton and his ilk.

DH Luke Scott came off the DL and homered in 4 straight games this week with 6 total homers for the week.

Now to bring this whole thing down a notch…it was a nice week but the O’s still have a long way to go. Yes, they went 5-2 with Adam Jones and Nick Markakis slumping but the bottom line is that the rookies will have their growing pains, the bullpen is suspect and the starting rotation is still very shaky. The lineup is decent but it can’t carry the team by itself. Getting the record up above .500 is still a pipe dream at this point.

But with Seattle and Oakland on the schedule for this week, Baltimore has a fair chance of having another winning week.

Down on the Farm:
21 year old SP Chris Tillman is 5-0 with 44 Ks, 13 BB and a tiny 2.13 ERA in 8 starts for AAA Norfolk. He tweaked a hammy last week but should be back in the rotation this week. Unlike some of the rookies called upon to pitch this week, Tillman is a legit top prospect who may be in Baltimore before the All-Star break.

Speaking of top pitching prospects, 2008 first round pick Brian Matusz has lowered his ERA to 2.37 and has struck out 69 in 60.2 innings for A+ Frederick. He could be promoted to AA Bowie anyday.

Previously disappointing 1B prospect Brandon Snyder has put up a stellar .342/.418/.595 line at AA Bowie so far. Still only 22, Snyder should be in Norfolk soon and could play into the O’s plans for 2010.

Week's Record: 5-2

Season Record: 23-28

Injuries: SP Koji Uehara (hamstring, 15-day DL), RP Dennis Sarfate (hand numbness, 15-day DL, out until July), OF Lou Montanez (Right thumb surgery, 15-Day DL, out 6-8 weeks)

This Week: Mon-Wed @Seattle, Fri-Sun @Oakland

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