As recently as last Thursday, Sox manager Bobby Valentine had stated that as soon as Kevin Youkilis was healthy, phenom Will Middlebrooks was going to be sent back down to AAA-Pawtucket a.) Because he needed to get regular at-bats and b.) Bobby V. didn’t think it would be a good idea to move Middlebrooks to the outfield, because he had changed a player’s position before and it didn’t work out. Solid baseball analysis by Bobby V. right there.
Not surprisingly, I disagreed with Bobby V. At the time, Middlebrooks was batting .278 with 4 home runs since he had taken over for Youkilis, and sending him down when he had acquitted himself so well at the big-league level seemed to send the wrong message. Of course, the problem lay in what to do with him at the big-league level? Youkilis has proven himself to be a valuable player, as well as a fan-favorite. If he got Wally Pipped, there would be just many fans angry as there would be fans glad that Middlebrooks was staying in the lineup. Plus, if Middlebrooks should happen to falter, there may be residual backlash from Youkilis about having been displaced.
Enter interleague play, which I have long derided as a gimmick. However, it proved to be just the tonic that Bobby V. needed. During Friday night’s game, Cody Ross fouled a ball off of his foot in the top of the 8th inning, which necessitated a lineup change from Bobby V. If they were playing in an A.L. park, the idea to put Adrian Gonzalez in right field for Saturday’s and Sunday’s games might night have occurred to him, because Ortiz would have already been in the lineup. Ross’ injury allowed Bobby V. to experiment, and the winner, at least in the short term, is Will Middlebrooks. What happens if (when?) Ellsbury, Ross, and/or Crawford return to the lineup is a question to be addressed at a later time.
Another A.L. East update, and the Orioles continue to top the division. With their 4-1 victory over the Red Sox on Tuesday night, the Orioles moved to 28-16, two games in front of the Tampa Bay Rays. Their splits against the A.L. East would be somewhat surprising, if this was any other season. They already are 5-1 against the Jays, 4-1 against the Sox, and 2-1 against the Rays. So far, the Yankees have been the only team to solve the Orioles within the division, posting a 5-3 record against the Birds. The Orioles dominance over the Sox actually dates back to last September. Since then, the Orioles have won 10 out of 12 against Boston while keeping them from the playoffs in 2011.
Adam Jones’ breakout season is a key part to their success, but it has been their pitching, specifically their relievers that have helped key the Orioles’ drive so far. While their starters have been mostly middle of the road in terms of team rankings for the American League (7th in IP, 8th in WHIP, 10th in ERA), their relievers rank at or near the top in many categories. They lead the A.L. in reliever wins (11), and rate 2nd in ERA, WHIP, and IP. Reliever Jim Johnson has converted all 16 save opportunities while sporting a 0.77 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, and a .167 batting average against. The only strike against the Orioles at the moment is that their fans haven’t totally bought in to the clubs’ success yet. Through last night’s game, they were 9th in the American League in attendance with an average a little over 21,300. That is abysmal, but perhaps the fans don’t fully believe yet. As they accumulate days in first place, the fans should return.
“Everything ends badly, or else it wouldn’t end” -Brian Flanagan (Cocktail.) Could we be witnessing the moment that the Evil Empire comes crashing down at long last? The Yankees currently find themselves in 4th place in the A.L. East, barely fending off the Red Sox for the bottom spot, and fans of baseball the nation over find themselves rejoicing. The question is, is it really the end, or do the Yankees have some more magic left? Their performance on the field suggests that they are right where they belong, as their expected won-loss record matches their actual record of 22-21. While Derek Jeter has performed admirably, the man to his right has looked like what he really is: an overpaid, under-performing 3B. Curtis Granderson continues to mash (13 HRs), but his production is tempered by his high K rate (one every 3.35 at-bats.) Sabathia continues to mostly dominate, but they have not got the expected results from free-agent signing Hiroki Kuruda (3-6, 1.48 WHIP, 4356 ERA.)
The good news for fans who don’t like the Yankees is that even with all of the money the Yankees have to spend, they might still find it hard to buy their way back if this is truly the end. Rodriguez is locked up through 2017 ($114 million due from 2013-17), Sabathia is due $119 million over that same time period (although 2017 contains a vesting option with regard to his left shoulder), Teixeira gets $90 million from 2013-16, and Jeter is owed a minimum of $25 million for 2013-14 (a number which could swell to $34 million if his production stays up.) That’s a lot of cash, regardless of who is paying the money out. MLB fans, our time to celebrate the Yankees’ demise may be upon us, and from the looks of it, it could be a long ride.
Is the A.L. East MLB’s best division? What’s your pick?