Thursday, June 28, 2012

MLB - AL Division Races

AL East

After a quiet start the Yankees have climbed to the top of the division due in large part to a recent 10 game win streak and by taking 14 of their first 16 June contests.  Curtis Granderson has paced the offense with 21 homers and 40 RBI, and Mr. Yankee Derek Jeter is experience a resurgence, bouncing back after two down seasons.  CC Sabathia is still the team’s ace, but he’s not been as sharp.  Yes he’s 9-3, but he’s getting hit too much and doesn’t look like the dominant CC we’ve seen in this past.  Ivan Nova has shined in June and matches CC’s 9 wins.  Andy Pettitte returned and has looked both like his old self and a guy who hasn’t pitched in over a year.  Phil Hughes still hasn’t found it, and they don’t score often for Hiroki Kuroda.  Despite losing Mariano Rivera to that freak knee injury and David Robertson to an oblique issue, the bullpen has held it together, most notably Rafael Soriano who has switched successfully between closer and set up roles.  He’s better off in the closer role where he shined for the Rays.  Due to their reliance on the long ball, their inability to hit with runners in scoring position, and the fact that both CC and Pettitte just went on the DL, the Yankees aren’t likely to run away with this thing.   

Baltimore has been one of the league’s biggest surprises this year.  Leading that list of surprises are pitchers Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen, both owners of 7 pitching victories thus far.  The former got knocked around with regularity as a Rockie, and the latter was an unheralded Japanese acquisition.  Easily the best player on the team is Adam Jones.  The young stud leads the team in all offensive categories, and with a recently signed long term deal in his back pocket, he should be playing stress-free as he continues growing into one of the game’s best talents.

The Rays are hanging in there with what seems like a smoke and mirrors act in Evan Longoria’s absence.  There isn’t a scary bat in that lineup, and after holding the division lead for a bit they’re falling several games back of the Yankees.  Longoria can’t come back soon enough.  Joe Maddon is one of the game’s best managers, but he can’t limit the uncharacteristically high number of errors his team has made.  I still think they’re a better team without BJ Upton (his defensive lapses rival Alfonso Soriano’s), and they’ve got to get something from the talented but stuck in neutral Desmond Jennings.

Toronto is above .500, but they’re, again, in the wrong division.  Their pitchers are dropping like flies, and their swing for the fences approach isn’t conducive to many extensive winning streaks.

Bobby Valentine’s first year as the Sox skipper got off to an undesirably explosive start with the Kevin Youkilis drama.  I know Jacoby Ellsbury is a big loss, but these guys look old and unmotivated.  Dustin Pedroia and stud rookie Will Middlebrooks are the exceptions. 

Most Impressive
Team – Baltimore Orioles
Player – Adam Jones

Most Disappointing
Team – Boston Red Sox
Player – Adrian Gonzalez

AL Central

If you had told me in April that the White Sox would be leading the Central in late June I would have said you’re nuts.  Paul Konerko just keeps mashing baseballs.  He’s on pace for another 30+ homers and is currently second in the league in hitting.  Adding Kevin Youkilis was a solid move.  Third base has been a black hole since Robin Ventura left after the ’98 season, and I don’t expect Youkilis to keep his batting average near his weight.  While they have one of the game’s most efficient offenses, they can’t lean on their pitching as the have in years past.  Young ace-in-the-making Chris Sale is exceeding his lofty expectations with 8 wins and narrow 2.46 ERA that is only second in the AL to CJ Wilson’s 2.30.  Jake Peavy is healthy and productive.  He’s tallied 6 wins and his 0.97 WHIP trails only Jered Weaver’s 0.93 in the AL.  The most important player on this team may be Jose Quintana.  The young hurler has been extremely impressive in his short time, and if he can keep it up he just might be the #3 to get them to and throught he playoffs.  That was the good.  The ugly?  Gavin Floyd is getting shelled, John Danks was too before going out with the shoulder injury, and Phil Humber’s perfect game was an aberration.  They also have one of the league’s shakiest bullpens.  The Central is probably the most uncompetitive division in baseball, so they might have enough to hang in there until the end.

Cleveland has tasted first place as well, and Jason Kipinis is big reason the Indians have been contenders in the first half.  He trails only Robinson Cano for homers by a second baseman.  Of the top three teams, I have the hardest time seeing them hang in there.  Derek Lowe is fortunate to have 7 wins, and Ubaldo Jimenez can’t be counted on if he can’t keep his ERA south of 5.  Chris Perez can complain about the fans, but I don’t think the product will be worth cheering for as the season continues. 

Detroit hasn’t done much worth applauding.  Outside of Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Austin Jackson their lineup doesn’t frighten a high school pitcher.  Are Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young, and Jhonny Peralta going to provide any noticeable spike in offensive output?  Dominant outings have been the exception for Justin Verlander this year, so if he’s not lights out, the wins aren’t automatic.  Max Scherzer is as unreliable as they come, Rick Porcello is an innings filler, and Doug Fister has been too injured to make even the most minimal impact.  Neither the White Sox or Indians look like a team that can run away with this thing, but quite frankly, neither do the Tigers.

I find it surprising that the Royals are in 4th place in what has turned out to be another down year for the division.  Eric Hosmer’s awful start is the only reason people didn’t notice how unproductive Alex Gordon was.  The lone pitching bright spot is in the bullpen.  Jonathan Broxton is 4th in the league in saves, but the starters have 20 combined wins.  They’re only 5 out at the moment, but I don’t see them going on big run.

Minnesota has been one of the league’s best teams for a short stretch starting in late May, but the fact that they’re in last place in this division tells you how bad they were before the winning spree. 

Most Impressive Team – Chicago White Sox
Most Impressive Player – Chris Sale

Most Disappointing Team – Detroit Tigers
Most Disappointing Player – Eric Hosmer

AL West

They look like they can win pretty much every time they step on the field.  Josh Hamilton is once again one of the game’s offensive leaders, and there’s not an easy out in the lineup.  Yu Darvish is tied for the AL lead in wins with his teammate Matt Harrison and Tampa’s David Price, but his shaky starts against suspect teams are keeping him from owning the lead outright.  Colby Lewis has been hot as of late, but now both he and Harrison are sidelined with injuries.  Until going down, they were reasons the Rangers had been able to keep on trucking despite the injuries to Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando and the ineffectiveness of Derek Holland and Scott Feldman.  Their pitching has performed a lot better than I thought that would so far, but I still don’t see them running away from the Angels, especially if the injuries keep piling up.  Roy Oswalt is over the hill, and Justin Grimm isn’t ready to be part of the rotation.  . 

After digging themselves an early hole, the Angels have started putting heat on the Rangers, and Mike Trout is the primary reason for the surge.  The primo prospect has done it all for the Angels.  He’s the spark they’ve been missing and is the perfect table setter for big bats like Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo.  The former took forever to find his stroke but is now swinging the bat like they had hoped he would when handing him that huge contract.  If it weren’t for Trumbo and his offensive production, despite being shuffled all over the field defensively, the gap to Texas would be quite larger.  The pitching has been as advertised with the pleasant surprise of Ernesto Frieri as a lights out closer.  Jeff Weaver finally got a no-no after flirting several times in the past, and CJ Wilson is pitching as well as anyone right now.  I still believe they’ll finish first when all is said and done.

Oakland has played better than anticipated, but they still trail the Rangers by double digits.  Josh Reddick has taken well to the west coast, but it looks like they’ll again be playing for third place.

Seattle will have a hard time escaping the basement.

Most Impressive Team – Texas Rangers
Most Impressive Player – Mark Trumbo

Most Disappointing Team – Los Angeles Angels (for their slow start)
Most Disappointing Player – Albert Pujols