An unlikely Blue Jay mars Justin Verlander's run at perfection but can't make his team into a contender, and the rest of the updates from around the division.
As J.P. Arencibia, the Toronto Blue Jays’ highly-touted first-round pick from 2007, dug in against Justin Verlander in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game, he wasn’t the batter anyone would have picked to spoil a chance at perfection with patience. In his young major-league career, he had walked just eight times in 123 plate appearances, and in the minors, he was a free-swinger known more for his home runs than his patience.
What followed was an epic battle, as Arencibia fended off a pitcher who was perfect to that point and facing just his 23rd Blue Jay with one out in the eighth inning. The Tigers flamethrower jumped ahead quickly with three foul balls, mixing his 99-mph heat with a devastating curve. Arencibia didn’t give in, taking ball one low and away and ball two (another heater) just off the inside of the plate. Four balls later, the count still stood at 2-2 when Verlander unleashed another errant breaking ball. Arencibia fouled back the 11th pitch of the at-bat before Verlander missed the outside corner by a whisper or two. The Blue Jays had their lone baserunner of the night.
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Do the Yankees plate too many of their runners via the long ball?
In baseball, as George Carlin once said, the object of the game is to be safe at home. It’s a comforting feeling to reach home with another run on the board, and there is no surer means of accomplishing that feat than via the home run, which ensures that with one pitch, at least one run can cross the plate. For fans of the team who just launched the ball over the fence, the homer is the truest of the three true outcomes.
And yet, home runs have a way of bringing out the hand-wringing. Can a team hit too many home runs? It might be the most efficient way of scoring runs, but it’s over and done with very quickly. Those who fear the home run worry that it kills rallies; just recently in fact, the Daily News' Anthony McCarron worried that the AL East-leading New York Yankees were too reliant on home runs.
The Red Sox still find themselves bringing up the rear in the AL East, but they've begun to look alive.
For fans outside of New England—especially those directly to the west—the phrase, “the last-place Boston Red Sox” has a certain gleeful ring to it. This is, after all, the $163 million team that bought Carl Crawford and landed Adrian Gonzalez for a bevy of prospects over the winter to console itself after a disappointing third-place finish. Despite those acquisitions, nearly a month into the season, the top dogs find themselves on the bottom and struggling to rise.
No team entered the 2011 season with expectations as high as the Red Sox, and no team has been a bigger disappointment. After garnering crazy comparisons with the 1927 Yankees during the long, cold days of winter, ESPN’s new Sunday Night Baseball team launched into an Opening Day discussion on how the Sox would score 1000 runs this year. That probably is not to be, as the Sox started the season 0-6 and then found themselves at 2-10 before reeling off a West Coast winning streak. After dropping two to the Orioles this week, the Sox find themselves with a 10-13 record, in the American League East cellar, and on pace for fewer than 700 runs.
The Orioles show that they might not be quite ready to leave the nest, and the rest of the division's teams are ready to replace them in the standings.
Once upon a time, the Orioles were the Cinderella story of the American League East. After finishing the 2010 season 34-23 under the tutelage of new manager Buck Showalter, the Baltimoreans started this year 4-0 and were 6-1 after blanking the Texas Rangers last Saturday. It’s been a long, hard fall since then.
When the O’s wrapped up their 11-0 drubbing of Carl Pavano and the Twins last night, they earned their first victory since that Saturday shutout of the Rangers. In fact, when they went ahead on a Matt Wieters RBI in the second, they had their first lead in 39 innings. Their win marked the first time in five contests that the team had plated more than three runs in a game. So what went wrong during that disastrous section of the schedule?
Manny's departure exposes the Rays' lack of depth, but every team in the division has holes in key areas.
Growing up a Yankees fan, I came to both fear and respect Manny Ramirez. First with the Indians and later with the Red Sox, Manny had a tendency to haunt the Yankees at every opportunity. His lifetime batting line against the Bombers—.322/.413/.617, with 55 home runs in 203 games—is a testament to his ability. Although his goofy antics on and off the field offended purists, his swing was pure. Nonetheless, he has likely retired his way out of Cooperstown.
Of more immediate concern is the impact that Ramirez’s retirement will have on the Tampa Bay Rays. The defending division champions signed Ramirez to a one-year, $2 million contract with the idea that he would anchor a lineup that had lost key players such as Carl Crawford to free agency. His departure highlights the Rays’ lack of depth, a problem plaguing all of the AL East’s top teams.
Home runs have been flying all over the league so far in 2011, but they haven't aided each AL East team equally.
Up is down, down is up. After a handful of games, the American League East standings are looking a bit topsy-turvy. The Orioles, undefeated, are in first place, while the winless Red Sox are sharing the cellar with the Rays. The Yanks’ bullpen has been their Achilles’ heel, while the Blue Jays are holding steady on both sides of the ball.
In the early going, balls have been leaving the park at a higher-than-normal clip throughout the game, and the AL East is no exception. Before the runs start to mount up and one mid-May home run merges with another, let’s look at how they’ve scored thus far.
The AL East crown could come down to which teams can't get no relief.
In each of the past five seasons, the American League East team featuring the bullpen with the highest WXRL has emerged the division champ. While starting pitching always dominates the conversation, the late innings could hold the key to the outcome of what figures to be another competitive race for the playoffs.
Nonetheless, the AL East bullpens—always a point of volatility—remain in flux. Last year's division winners have seen an entirely new cast of characters take up shop down the line in Tropicana Field, while the Yankees have added to their strengths and the Red Sox have loaded up on closers. With the back ends of Baltimore's and Toronto's bullpens still works in progress, it would hardly come as a surprise if the final standings shake down in order of bullpen efficiency once again.