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May 24, 2012

What You Need to Know

Thursday, May 24

by Daniel Rathman

The Wednesday Takeaway
Remember when the Rangers seemed like a juggernaut after starting the season with 17 wins in their first 23 games? Well, 23 days later, Ron Washington’s team is now tied with the Rays for the second-best record in the American League at 27-18, tied in the loss column with the 25-18 Indians, and a game behind the 28-17 Orioles. Since the end of April, the Orioles have gone 14-8, the Indians 13-9, the Rays 12-10, and the Rangers 10-12—including a just-completed 6-7 run while facing the Angels, Royals, Athletics, Astros, and Mariners.

Think that’s confusing? Then try to figure out the American League East.

Tampa Bay led the division two weeks ago, but its ability to merely hold serve and stay within a game of Baltimore over the ensuing stretch is some combination of remarkable and ridiculous. After downing the A’s 7-2 on May 4, Joe Maddon’s squad was 19-8 and topped the division by 1 ½ games. Since then, the Rays have won just four games by more than one run, going 7-10 overall and walking a very tight rope in virtually every victory.

That was the case again last night, when Tampa Bay needed 11 innings to beat Toronto, 5-4, on a walk-off double by B.J. Upton. It was Upton’s fifth career game-ending hit, and four of them have come at the expense of the Blue Jays, who—by the way—own the top run differential in the division at +35. All five AL East teams have positive differentials, with the Rays and Orioles checking in at +14, the Red Sox at +17, and the Yankees at +7, but each has done most of its damage against inter-division opponents.

More than a quarter of the way into the season, the team many projected to be the best in the division has the worst run differential of the five. The team almost everyone picked to finish last is atop the standings. The team closest to usurping that first-place squad is 11-3 in one-run games and 16-15 in all others. The team that has scored the most runs is the one currently occupying the cellar. And all of this is true of a division that, if you believe in run differential as a reasonable barometer of performance, contains five of the best teams in the junior circuit.

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2012 American League East.

What to Watch for on Thursday

  • Justin Verlander is coming off of a near no-hitter against the Pirates, but conquering the Indians at Progressive Field has at least proved to be a challenge for the flame-throwing righty. Although Verlander has won three of his last five starts in Cleveland, the Tribe touched him up for at least three earned runs in each of them, showing outstanding consistency against the league’s most dominant starter. Verlander has recorded an eighth-inning out just once in 15 career starts at Progressive, and he’ll try to buck that trend in a duel with Justin Masterson this afternoon (12:05 p.m. ET).
  • The Twins jettisoned Jason Marquis last week, after the veteran right-hander posted an 8.47 ERA and just 12 strikeouts in 34 innings. Cole DeVries, a 27-year-old with a solid recent track record in the minors, will take Marquis’ place in the rotation and make his major-league debut tonight (8:10 p.m. ET) against the White Sox. A control artist who primarily employs a fastball-curveball mix and relies on fly-ball contact, DeVries is not really a prospect; on the other hand, he’s a native Minnesotan from Eden Prairie, and he can’t possibly fare worse than Marquis did.
  • On the other end of the prospect spectrum, two of last year’s blue-chippers were sent back to Triple-A earlier this month to hone their mechanics and regain their stuff. With a weak Thursday slate in the big leagues, check in on the Pacific Coast League matchup between Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs, featuring Jordan Lyles for the former and Drew Pomeranz for the latter (6:05 p.m. ET). Video of the game—the first of a true doubleheader—should be available to MiLB.TV subscribers.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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