The parity and dominance of the Eastern teams continues, teams who spent big money in the offseason beginning to perform, the Mets finally get a no-hitter, and former Yankees thriving are the leading stories this week.
Beasts of The East
One-third of the 2012 MLB season is now in the books. The most remarkable story of the season so far is the incredible dominance that the teams in the Eastern Divisions of both the AL and NL have displayed. All ten teams in the AL East and NL East are over .500 right now.
The five teams in the AL East are separated by only three games in the standings. The combined record of the teams in the AL East against opponents from the AL Central and AL West is 76-54. Amazingly, only one team in the AL Central and AL West divisions has a winning record against the AL East. The Texas Rangers, at 12-6, stand alone in defying the power of the AL East.
The five teams in the NL East are separated by only three and half games, with a three way tie for first place existing among the Nationals, Mets, and Marlins. The combined record of the NL East teams against teams in the NL Central and NL West is 91-61.
At this point in the season, all ten teams residing in the East divisions of MLB are legitimate playoff contenders. The intensity in these divisions is unlike anything I have ever seen this early in the year. Every loss by these teams seems agonizing. Every win brings a sigh of relief more than it brings a sense of jubilation. In this first year of the new format of two wild card teams advancing to the playoffs out of each league, the very strong possibility exists that three teams from each of the East divisions could be in the playoffs this October.
After slow starts, the Angels and Marlins are now coming on and playing in the fashion that their fans expected them to after their huge offseason acquisitions while the Tigers continue to struggle.
Offseason acquisitions of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson were expected to solidify an already good Angels team. Pujols followed an embarassing April performance with a slightly better May, hitting 8 home runs. Pujols now leads the Angels with 29 RBI’s.
C.J. Wilson leads the Angels in the ERA category with a very good 2.54.
While the Angels recent run to get over .500 and reach striking distance of the Rangers was more about the surges by young stars Trout and Trumbo, it is very logical to assume that at some point in the season that Pujols will return to the prior form he’s displayed in his career. While the Angels still have issues with plenty of starters struggling at the plate, they are back in playoff contention.
After a dreadful April, Reyes has raised his average all the way up to .278 by hitting .315 in May and June.
Bell has followed an April that saw him blow 3 saves and lose 3 games with 2 holds and successful save efforts in 10 of 11 save situations in May and June.
Zambrano tied Bob Gibson yesterday for 7th on the all time home run list by pitchers by launching a monster shot. Zambrano is now 4-3 with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.
Buerhle went 1-4 in April but has gone 4-1 since then.
The Marlins are now tied for first in the NL East and look every bit the favorite that many thought they would be in the NL East before the season started. With Hanley Ramirez heating up and Josh Johnson yet to display his best form, the Marlins look like the team with the most upside in the NL East.
The Tigers offseason acquisition of Prince Fielder made them the biggest favorite in MLB to win their division. Fielder has been the best high profile free agent acquisition by far this season. Fielder is hitting .319 with 9 home runs and 35 RBI’s. Fielder certainly isn’t responsible for the Tigers’ struggles so far this season.
The Tigers have serious issues with pitching and only Fielder and Cabrera are hitting to the back of their baseball cards. While it still seems hard to believe that they won’t end up on top in the AL Central, the Tigers are a team with serious issues and may need to make moves before the deadline to contend for an AL pennant.
Santana Tosses A No Hitter*
On Friday night, Johan Santana finally gave the Mets the first no-hitter in the history of the franchise. After missing the 2011 season due to shoulder surgery, Santana tested his surgically repaired shoulder with 134 pitches.
Because Johan Santana has always been held in such high regard as a player and as a person, because he missed an entire year due to surgery, because the Mets had never had a no hitter in their history, it has been largely ignored that Santana’s “no hitter” wasn’t really a no hitter.
In the 6th inning, Carlos Beltran ripped a shot down the third base line that was ruled a foul ball by umpire Adrian Johnson. Replay clearly shows that Beltran’s shot bounced off the chalk on the third base line and was indeed a hit.
I don’t mean to rain on the parade of Mets fans or on a great pitcher like Santana. No hitters are special events that for one night, can make any pitcher, team, or its fanbase feel like kings of the world. I just like special events to be truly special, not the result of human error.
As I stated in my last column, one of the biggest problems that MLB has is the lack of integrity with which umpires are viewed. This problem is exacerbated with the very little use of replay in MLB to review calls. In the last 3 seasons we’ve now seen a legitimate perfect game robbed by a blown call from Jim Joyce as well as a no hitter go into the record books on a blown call by Adrian Johnson. “That’s baseball” just doesn’t cut it. In the year 2012, where every other major sport uses replay extensively, there is absolutely no reason for MLB to cling to the dark ages and continue to allow mistake after mistake to impact games. Friday night was just another glaring example of why MLB’s refusal to enter the current age in regards to the use of technology makes no sense. Fans and players want the calls to be right, and the majority don’t care if a game takes an extra five or ten minutes to get them right.
The Yankees recently completed a very good trip, going 6-3 on a nine game trip in Oakland, Anaheim, and Detroit despite continuing to fail in RISP hitting situations. One player that Yankee fans desperately wish hadn’t gotten away right now is outfielder Melky Cabrera.
Cabrera was a very popular Yankee with both his teammates and with fans and his trade to the Atlanta Braves along with pitchers Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino for pitcher Javier Vazquez was an unpopular move at the time. That trade became even more unpopular when Vazquez struggled and wound up out of the Yankee rotation in 2010. Now? That trade looks like one of Brian Cashman’s worst ever trades.
Cabrera batted .305 for the Royals last year, while hitting 18 home runs and stealing 20 bases. This year Cabrera leads all of MLB with 82 hits in the first one-third of the season. Cabrera is leading the NL with a .371 batting average and has an OBP of .413.
You have to wonder what kind of difference Cabrera could have made with the Yankees last season and this season.
With Austin Jackson(currently on the 15 day DL) hitting .331 this year for Detroit, more than one Yankee fan has wondered out loud what an outfield of Gardner, Jackson, and Melky would look like right now rather than Gardner, Granderson and Swisher. Jackson was traded with Phil Coke and last year’s 21 game winner Ian Kennedy for Granderson after the 2009 season. In the offseason following that World Series win, Yankee GM Brian Cashman traded: Mike Dunn, Arodys Vizcaino, Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson, and Melky Cabrera for what amounts right now to only Granderson. That was definitely not an offseason that goes on Cashman’s highlight reel.
If The Playoffs Started Now
In the American League the Yankees and Orioles would play a one game playoff in Baltimore with the winner advancing to play the Texas Rangers.
The White Sox and Tampa Bay would meet in a series in which the White Sox would have the home field advantage.
In the National League the Mets and Marlins would meet in a one game playoff in New York with the winner advancing to play the Dodgers.
The Red and Nationals would meet in a series in which the Nationals would have home field advantage.
Everyone who predicted that one third of the way into the 2012 season that the Orioles, Mets, White Sox and Nationals would host playoff games raise your hand.
Tweet Of The Week
“Yankees underachieving on a level matched only by me in my senior year of high school.” -@Melonsports