All’s Unquiet on the Eastern Front

Though their manager is a Valentine, things certainly haven’t been all roses and chocolates for the Boston Red Sox this season.

Sitting at 62-74 with less than a month to play, Boston is having its worst season in recent memory.

Granted, they have won two World Series titles in the last ten years, but with a team that spends as big as the Red Sox do (and when curses no longer are excuses), victories are expected.  In fact, this entire season has given us a sense of what the bizarro-AL East is like—or is that just the AL East of the future?

Roughly 27 games are yet to be played this season and a new Wild Card format has all but guaranteed a dogfight to the finish in which every last game is going to count.

According to ESPN.com, there are three teams in the AL East with more than a 50% chance of making the playoffs, though Oakland is right in the mix and the Angels and Tigers are both a miraculous September away from sneaking in.

Baseball in September has a little bit to do with payroll and talent and a lot to do with heart.  With my own beating at 150 bpm, here are my predictions for the AL East’s standings on October 1st:

At 17-5 with a 2.54 ERA, Price is a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young.

1. Tampa Bay Rays-Currently 1.5 games back of both the Yankees and the Orioles for the Division lead, the Rays have consistently been the most clutch team in the MLB.  They have the starting rotation to take them the distance, too.  At a combined 30-13 record, David Price and James Shields have made for a very strong one-two punch, but the dangerous thing about them is that Alex Cobb has the worst starting ERA at 4.28.  Fernando Rodney being an absolute rock in the ninth (42 saves) hasn’t hurt either.  Still, as Evan Longoria goes, so do the Rays.  His hamstring will need to stay healthy if the Rays are to finish with the division title.

T2. New York Yankees- Like Derek Jeter said, “I don’t panic.”  That being said, the Yankees seriously need to kick things into gear if they want to remain in the AL East division title conversation.  A 5-2 loss at the hands of the Rays Tuesday night brings them to a tie with Baltimore for the division lead and they have not fared well of late, losing seven of their last ten.  What sets the Yankees apart is an unrivaled amount of veteran leadership—now those vets, namely Curtis Granderson, Ichiro Suzuki and Mark Teixeira—need to find a way to get on base more and provide a spark for a team that is in serious need of one.  Sabathia and Jeter surely can’t hold the weight of the Bronx on their shoulders without support.

T2. Baltimore Orioles- At 8-2 in their last 10 games, the “Fighting Showalters” have a serious chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 1997, or what many consider a generation.  Those were the days of Mike Mussina, the days of Yankee dynasty.  Now, a young cast led by rookie phenom third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Matt Wieters, who has 18 homers and 67 RBI on the season, has a chance to turn things around in a city with a great love of baseball but a not-so-great result in recent memory.  Their primary concern down the stretch should be starting pitching—only ace Wei-Yin Chen, at 12-8, has more than 10 wins on the season.  Just getting to the seventh inning will likely put them in the clear, though—the Orioles’ 3.00 bullpen ERA is good for 4th best in the MLB.

4. Boston Red Sox-Now that the Angels are starting to make a surge, the Red Sox are unrivaled as the most disappointing team in the league this year.  Manager Bobby Valentine is seemingly days away from being ousted and suddenly the decision to fire Terry Francona at the end of last season’s collapse appears to have been a mistake.  The “Paper Murderer’s Row” of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia fell apart, all either spending significant amounts of time on the DL or being traded away.  One of the very few bright spots for the Sox has been third baseman Pedro Ciriaco, the 26 year-old rookie from the Dominican Republic who has hit .316 with 54 hits since being called up in July to take over a roster spot for an injured Pedroia.  The future looks somewhat bright for Boston, mainly because it can’t get much darker right now.

The absence of “Joey Bats” has seriously hurt both Toronto’s attendance and record.

5. Toronto Blue Jays- For about ten years, the Toronto Blue Jays have been the most average team around.  Division champs have come and gone, but 75 to 85 wins and a middle-to-back of the pack finish has remained a safe bet in Toronto.  This season will prove the same or slightly worse.  A starting rotation led by Ricky Romero has been inconsistent.  Normally, this problem could at least be helped by the MLB’s most homer-happy lineup.  But despite the breakout performance of DH Edwin Encarnacion, this year the bash-ful display was put on hold by Jose Bautista’s struggle-turned-injury, as he now sits on the DL after undergoing wrist surgery.  The team now finds itself a division-worst 60-75.  At least hockey season’s right around the corner!

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