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Divide and Conquer, AL East 

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With apologies to George R.R. Martin.

As a fan of a team in the American League East that isn’t the New York Yankees it pains me to admit that there’s something mythical about the most winning team in baseball history. Whether we grow up to be lovers or haters of the Bronx Bombers it’s seemingly impossible to escape the more fantastical elements of the franchise.

We’ve all heard the stories and seen the footage. From Babe Ruth to Derek Jeter, the history of the storied organization has more in common with a fantasy novel than a typical sports team. This isn’t more evident in anything other than the speed with which the newest incarnation of Yankee Stadium has gone from a regular baseball diamond to a place of legend— a place of legend with 16 elevators, one washroom for every 60 fans and a cup holder for every seat in the general seating bowl.

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August 26, 2011 10:18 pm

Divide and Conquer, AL East: Married To Felix Pie

5

Dustin Parkes

A look at the career of Felix Pie that never really got started.

On Friday, May 1, 2009, I went to a baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays. This may be shocking to some, but despite playing in the same division and the recent propinquity in levels of talent on their respective rosters, the Orioles aren’t the biggest draw in Toronto.

While watching baseball in a stadium that’s less than half filled has its drawbacks, the ease with which one can upgrade their seats isn’t one of them. By the second inning of the game, my friends and I found ourselves less than a dozen rows from the field, sitting right in front of a family of four who had made the trip north from Maryland.

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August 19, 2011 9:00 am

Divide and Conquer, AL East: The Simileast

8

Dustin Parkes

How can you compare the AL East teams using nothing but similes?

Humblebrag alert: you don’t really make a lot of money writing about baseball for a living.

I earn my livelihood as the editor of a baseball blog on the website of a national sports network in Toronto, Canada. And while my earnings will never win me a date with the type of woman whose level of desire for a man parallels the amount of money in his bank account, it does occasionally have its perks.

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August 4, 2011 9:00 am

Divide and Conquer, AL East: Destination Delusion

9

Dustin Parkes

Still holding out a sliver of hope for an AL East team other than the Yankees or Red Sox? Just follow these five simple steps to belief in a playoff berth.

True Story Number One: The Washington Generals have beaten the Harlem Globetrotters in six exhibition games since 1953. Over that span, they’ve lost more than 13,000 times to the Globetrotters, whose ostentatious brand of showboating makes Carlos Guillen look downright humble.

True Story Number Two: For the last eighteen years, at least one of the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox has represented the American League East in the MLB playoffs as either the division or Wild Card winner. In fourteen of those years, both clubs made the playoffs.

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July 29, 2011 9:00 am

Divide and Conquer, AL East: A New Challenger

3

Dustin Parkes

Colby Rasmus' arrival in the AL East marks another important step on Toronto's path to division domination.

Anyone who doesn’t think that competition raises performance levels would do well to take a look at the American League East. For the last decade, the division has housed the two best teams in baseball. More recently, with the ascent of the Tampa Bay Rays, it’s seen three highly successful organizations in close competition, not just for the division crown, but also the American League Wild Card. In fact, the consolation prize for the best team not to have won a division has been collected by a team other than the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees only once in the last eight years.

And now, the Toronto Blue Jays, with the acquisition of Colby Rasmus from the St. Louis Cardinals at the cost of some young pitching and spare parts, have signaled to the rest of the division their intention of joining the elite of the league.

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Which marginal AL East players have made good on minor-league contracts handed out before this season?

When I first heard the words “throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks” it was from my grandpa and he didn’t use the word “stuff.” I was at an age where any phrase involving offensive language seemed to me to be the height of hilarity. Fortunately for the purposes of understanding mildly obscene metaphors, my grandfather shared this sense of humor, much like he shared my sense of joy in driving my mother/his daughter crazy with immature behavior and bad language.

I don’t think I heard those words used again in combination until my first week of work after university. My boss was desperately attempting to solicit ideas from bureaucrats during a communications brainstorm session. He wanted to let his minions know that it was okay to offer up incomplete thoughts, partial ideas, and silly suggestions. Nothing that anyone could say would be wrong.

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July 7, 2011 11:16 am

Divide and Conquer, AL East: Catching Up

3

Ben Kabak

It's a year of transition for AL East backstops, with the division's best teams still searching for long-term solutions.

I have a soft spot for major-league catchers. When I played baseball in high school, I donned the tools of ignorance and caught passably well for my varsity team for a few years. Now and then, I’d nail a runner stealing or be on the right end of a play at the plate, but I couldn’t hit a lick. I would have fit right in with the backstops of the American League East.

For much of the past decade, impressive bats have carried the backstop position for two of the AL East powerhouses. Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada duked it out during their peak years, as one emerged as a very good hitting catcher and the other a borderline Hall of Famer. Today, Varitek is a back-up with a long swing, and Posada is a designated hitter trying to find his stroke. Their replacements aren’t faring much better.

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June 30, 2011 9:00 am

Divide and Conquer, AL East: Coming Up Short at Shortstop

9

Ben Kabak

Brian Cashman says the Yankees aren't interested in Jose Reyes, but perhaps the GM doth protest too much.

The Golden Age of the American League shortstop has ended. Ten years ago, the game had its banner shortstops, who graced the pages of Sports Illustrated, but those pec-adorned days are long gone.

The reigning king of the AL East’s shortstops is, of course, Derek Jeter, but as The Times reminded us last week, Jeter is aging quickly. He’s currently on the disabled list for a strained calf suffered while jogging off the field. This has been the second-longest DL stint of his career, and for a player who has long played hurt and healed quickly, the next two-and-a-half guaranteed years—let alone that player option—might not fly by.

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June 17, 2011 9:00 am

Divide and Conquer, AL East: Bullish on the Pen?

4

Ben Kabak

The short-handed Yankees relief corps has succeeded by limiting homers and outpitching its collective track record, but can its run of success be sustained?

As the season began, the AL East bullpens took center stage in this space. As I noted then, the team whose bullpen had the highest WXRL had won the division in each of the past five years, and with some AL East clubs saddled with starting staffs chock full o’ question marks, relief arms figured to play a key role this season.

Last week, the division’s bullpens again drew headlines. The Yankees, armed with the American League’s best bullpen, saw their last remaining depth crumble away as set-up man Joba Chamberlain landed on the disabled list with a strained right elbow flexor. He has since undergone Tommy John surgery and will not return until early 2012. Although he says he felt no pain and couldn’t pinpoint when he was injured, it's clear that the Joba Rules failed to protect him, if indeed they didn't contribute to the damage.

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June 1, 2011 9:00 am

Divide and Conquer, AL East: Designated Hitless

3

Ben Kabak

Even in baseball's highest-powered division, some of the players who are paid only to hit aren't living up to their end of the bargain.

With his Red Sox down 10-2 in the eighth inning last night, David Ortiz tried to do what he has done so many times in his Boston career: put the team on his back and slug his way to victory. He flicked his wrists and drove a Will Ohman offering over the Green Monster for a three-run shot, leaving the Red Sox down by only five.

Boston would add a pair of runs in the ninth, but Ortiz wouldn’t get another chance to bat. Already 2-for-4, he would have come up as the potential tying run, and in 2011, two years removed from a very poor season, the aging DH would have drawn lusty cheers from the Fenway Faithful. His looming free agency could create a messy contract situation in Boston come November, but for now, Ortiz is enjoying a renaissance, leading the team with 12 home runs and also boasting a .380 on-base percentage and a .563 slugging percentage.

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With big names missing from the active rosters of both the Yankees and the Red Sox, some unlikely hurlers are pitching in.

Six-game losing streaks have a way of cropping up over the span of 162 games. When they happen can dictate the narrative that surrounds them. The Yankees suffered through one that ended last week, which was dismaying but ultimately forgettable. The Red Sox, on the other hand, opened the season with one and have been trying to live it down ever since. Now just a half game out of first, the Sox are playing as everyone expected them to, but their pitching depth is on the verge of taking center stage in their season’s narrative.

After starting out 0-6 and 2-10, the Red Sox have turned it on. They beat the AL Central-leading Indians last night to improve to 26-22 on the season, but they’re doing it with their bats. The team’s offense is tops in the league in on-base percentage, fourth in slugging, and third in OPS. The pitching, though, has been pedestrian. Sox hurlers have struck out a lot of batters, but they have also walked plenty of hitters and been prone to the longball. Their team ERA is 11th in the majors.

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A string of Yankees losses resets the standings as the Rays' and Red Sox' early-season deficits are erased.

While watching the Yankees slog through a six-game losing streak last week that involved three one-run losses, a shutout, a blowout, and a disgruntled designated hitter, I found myself thinking of the seminal scene in Anchorman in which the news crews from San Diego’s various stations duke it out in an abandoned lot. “Boy, that escalated quickly,” Ron Burgundy says. “I mean that really got out of hand fast.”

A week ago, the Yankees were 20-13, one game up on the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East. Today, after a badly-needed win over those AL East-leading Rays in Tampa Bay, the Yankees are 21-19. They’re a mere half a game ahead of both the Red Sox and Blue Jays and are two back of the Rays. The win last night gave the club a reprieve after a bad week, but their problems aren’t going away.

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