Sizing Up The Division Races….

I hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day weekend!!! Memorial Day weekend is the official start of the summer and the official quarter point of the baseball season. Most teams have played around 40 games so the whole “It’s early” excuse is now a bunch of Tom Foolery. I think now is a good time to look at how the division races are sizing up.

American League

AL East

1. Red Sox 2. Blue Jays .5 GB 3. Yankees 1 GB 4. Rays 4 GB 5. Orioles 8 GB

The preseason pick for baseball’s best division has lived up to expectations so far. The top 3 teams are separated by 1 game and the Rays are not too far behind, only 4 games out. The Orioles look to be the bottom dweller in this division, but you can clearly see that this organization after so many years of not having a clue, is moving in the right direction. In 5 years we will be talking about the Erik Bedard for Adam Jones trade as one of the more lopsided trades in recent years.

The surprise of this division so far has been the Blue Jays, who got off to a hot start by playing struggling teams like the Twins and Orioles. Everyone said they didn’t play anyone, but when the Yankees won 9 in a row playing mostly the Twins and Orioles, everyone talked about how good they were playing. Funny how that works. I will say this about the Blue Jays. Will they keep up this pace? Probably not. However, we all said the same thing about the Rays last year and unlike the Rays, the Blue Jays won 86 games the year before. It’s not like this team won 60 games last year. Is it so inconceivable that this team with a healthy Aaron Hill, Scott Rolen, Vernon Wells and a full year from Adam Lind improve by 5 games from last year?

AL Central

1. Tigers 2. Royals 3 GB 3. Twins 3.5 GB 4. White Sox 5.5 GB 5. Indians 8.5 GB

The Matt Joyce for Edwin Jackson was an under the radar trade in the offseason that is starting to look like a difference maker during the season. Led by Edwin Jackson (4-2 2.55 ERA), Justin Verlander (4-2 77 K’s in 56.1 IP), and rookie Rick Porcello (5-3 3.55 ERA), the Detroit Tigers starting pitching has been rejuvenated in 2009. The Tigers have also stabilized their infield defense by putting Inge at third and signing Adam Everett to play SS. Is Everett this years version of Jason Bartlett?

The Twins were able to survive the loss of Joe Mauer for the first month of the season and I think the longer the Twins hang around, the more likely they are to win this division. I still think they have the best team in this division from top to bottom. I like the Royals starting pitching and bullpen once Soria comes back, but their offense is a HUGE problem right now. They need Alex Gordon to come back healthy and be a force in the middle of that lineup.

The White Sox were spurned by Jake Peavy and I am just not sure they have what it takes to win this year. Their offense is currently 28th in baseball in runs with 164 and guys like Carlos Quentin, Alexei Ramirez and Josh Fields aren’t hitting. Expect to see Gordon Beckham real soon.

The Indians are having all kinds of problems with their pitching and look to be in sell mode. If you are an Indians fan you really have to start asking yourself why Ben Francisco is getting AB’s over Matt LaPorta? It really makes no sense.

AL West

1. Rangers 2. Angels 3 GB 3. Mariners 6 GB 4. A’s 9 GB

After about 25 years, the Rangers have realized that playing like a beer league softball team doesn’t win and pitching and defense does. Don’t get me wrong, the Rangers can still hit with the best of them. The Rangers’ lineup is stacked but it’s their pitching that has really led the way. The Rangers also have something they haven’t had in a real long time….a solid, dependable closer at the end of the game in Frank Francisco. Can we give this guy some love? He hasn’t allowed a run in 15.2 IP this year and is 10 for 10 in save opportunities. Pretty good, prettay, prettay, prettay, pretty good.

For everything the Angels went through in April, Mike Scioscia should get the AL Manager of the Year award now. To have this team only 3 games out is pretty remarkable. This team is starting to get healthy and like the Twins, the longer they hang around the more I like them to win the division. One last point on the Angels. Who would have thought that on Memorial Day the Angels bullpen would be 4-11 with a 5.69 ERA.

The Mariners and A’s are heading toward selling mode. Erik Bedard, Adrian Beltre, Russell Branyan, Jarrod Washburn, Matt Holliday and Nomar Garciaparra could all be traded at the deadline.

National League

NL East

1. Phillies 2. Mets 1.5 GB 3. Braves 1.5 GB 4. Marlins 5.5 GB 5. Nationals 11.5

The last 2 years, the NL East hasn’t been decided until the last week of the season and 2009 looks to be no different. This year it looks like the Phillies, Mets and Braves could battle all the way to the end. The Phillies deserve more credit than they get. This team and their core of Rollins, Howard, Utley, Werth, Victorino and yes, Carlos Ruiz are good. They are gritty, no-nonsense gamers who fear ABSOLUTELY NOBODY. If you are a Phillies fan, you have to be thrilled the Phillies are in first place and you didn’t even have Cole Hamels for the first month of the season.

The Mets and Braves are tied for second but i like the Mets more in the long run for 2 reasons. 1. Johan Santana is the best pitcher in the NL and it’s not even close and 2. Krod is the best closer in the NL When you have 2 bookends like that, it makes life that much easier. My concern with the Mets is their defense. 35 errors in 42 games is just not going to cut it. I like what the Braves have done with their pitching staff with the additions of Lowe and Vazquez, but I don’t like Mike Gonzalez closing games and I don’t think they have enough offense at the end of the day. Outside of Jones and McCann, who else can hit on this team?

The Marlins and Nationals look to be heading up the rear in this division. What the heck happened to the Marlins? Since they started 11-1, they have gone 9-24 and they just demoted arguably their best pitcher Ricky Nolasco to Triple A. The Nationals are the worst team in baseball and the only thing they have to look forward to is the drafting of Stephen Strasburg in about 2 weeks.

NL Central

1. Brewers 1. Cardinals 3. Reds 2.5 GB 4. Cubs 4 GB 5. Pirates 6 GB 6. Astros 7 GB

This division has “won’t be decided to the final week” written all over it. The Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs and Reds could all be in it to the very end. And this division might be decided on who is willing to increase payroll at the trading deadline. Last year, the Brewers decided to increase payroll and improve the team by trading for Sabathia and it paid off. This division is up for grabs and I think whoever makes the best deadline move could steal this division.

Not only could this division be decided by a trade deadline deal but also by the closers. Does anyone trust Ryan Franklin or Kevin Gregg to get a big out in the 9th in September? I sure as heck don’t. Trevor Hoffman and Francisco Cordero could be key down the stretch.

Like the Orioles, you get the sense the Pirates seem to moving in the right direction. It has only taken them 16 years but it had to happen at some point. They are getting some great pitching from Paul Maholm and Zach Duke and finally have some talent in the minors. While the Pirates seem to be moving in the right direction, I have no idea what direction the Astros are going in. I think Tom Verducci on the MLB Network said it best about the Astros. “They are built to win now, but can’t win now.”

NL West

1. Dodgers 2. Padres 7.5 GB 3. Giants 9 GB 4. Diamondbacks 10.5 GB 5. Rockies 11 GB

The only division that may be over in May. Despite Manny Ramirez being suspended for 50 games, the Dodgers haven’t missed a beat. I still think the Dodgers need another starting pitcher to along with Billingsley, Kershaw, Wolf and Kuroda. A better #2 for the playoffs would be helpful. One last thing about the Dodgers. Has anyone realized that they have a team OBP of .371? To have a team OBP of .371 this late in the season is unbelievable.

Speaking of unbelievable, the Padres are in second place. I think that is more of an indictment of how bad this division is, rather than how good the Padres are playing. But let’s give credit where credit is due. They are playing better than anyone thought they would be. I thought this team wouldn’t have gotten their 20th win until mid-June. The story for the Padres for the rest of the season is if they will be able to finally trade Jake Peavy.

To bad the Giants can’t hit. If they ever got some offense, they could contend for a playoff spot. Instead they are 3 games under .500 trying to win every game 2-1 or 3-2. That is really hard to do over the course of the season.

Earlier in this post I wondered what the heck happened to the Marlins? I am also wondering what the heck happened to the Diamondbacks? I picked this team to make the World Series and they are 10.5 games out of first on Memorial Day. They lost Brandon Webb within the first couple of weeks in the season and have already fired their manager. The jury is still out whether or not AJ Hinch was the smart move. I am going to say it was not.

The Rockies have struggled all season but that was to expected after losing Holliday (trade) and Francis (injury) in the offseason. Manager Clint Hurdle looks to be on the hot seat.

So there you have a recap of the division races. Outside of the NL West, every division is still up for grabs. I will do another recap towards the All Star break. Enjoy your Memorial Day everyone!!!

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One Response to “Sizing Up The Division Races….”

  1. Buster Olney Says:

    This was a great post, who came up with the idea for covering the division races? That man should get a cee-gar! I’d keep this idea for a post every month or so ……..

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