10 Things We Learned from AL East/NL East Matchups
The NL East and AL East are arguably the two best divisions in baseball.
When the teams are matched up against each other, it often results in very competitive and thrilling games. Already, we have seen shocking sweeps by the New York Mets over the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees over the Washington Nationals.
Here are ten things we have learned from the matchups of games featuring these two divisions.
10. Toronto Blue Jays Are Grateful for Philadelphia Phillies
The Toronto Blue Jays just completed a three-game sweep over the Philadelphia Phillies, which certainly changed their opinion about the NL East.
Prior to the weekend, the Jays had been swept by the Washington Nationals and lost two of three to the Atlanta Braves.
They currently sit in fourth place in the AL East at 6.5 games behind the New York Yankees.
Toronto has a high-powered offense that ranks fifth in the Majors in runs scored and is second in home runs.
They will continue their interleague schedule with Milwaukee and Miami, and they must take advantage of these lesser teams if they want to remain within striking distance of the Yankees and Rays.
9. The Braves Don't Like the AL East
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The Atlanta Braves began their interleague schedule by beating the Toronto Blue Jays two out of three times, which proved they could shut down a high-powered offense.
Since then, however, the Braves have been swept by the red-hot Yankees and lost two of three to the upstart Baltimore Orioles.
To say the Braves offense is sputtering would be an understatement.
Not only were they shut out the past two games, but they have scored only 14 runs in their past seven games.
They are not out of the woods yet either, as they have another three-game series beginning tonight against the Bronx Bombers and then a weekend set against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway, which could be a daunting task.
8. Mediocrity Is Prevalent in Beantown
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If you filter out all the distractions, injuries and roller-coaster performances, you get a team that has played .500 ball through two-and-a-half months.
The Red Sox began their interleague schedule by getting swept by the Washington Nationals, but they recovered to win four of six against the Miami Marlins and Chicago Cubs.
Injuries are never an excuse, but the Red Sox have been forced to overcome an almost unfathomable amount of losses to key players.
Josh Beckett was recently put on the disabled list with shoulder discomfort, but, even when he has been on the mound, the performance of the pitching staff has been a real problem.
Boston' pitching staff ranks 25th in the Majors with a 4.30 ERA and will now have to replace Beckett's contributions with Triple-A pitcher Clayton Mortenson.
The offense has been terrific, however, ranking second in the big leagues in runs scored.
They begin a three-game set against the Marlins tonight before welcoming Atlanta to town.
7. Tampa Bay Is Not Conceding Anything
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Led by the innovative and never dull Joe Maddon, the Tampa Bay Rays remain only 3.5 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East.
They were dealt what seemed like a significant blow in a three-game sweep by the New York Mets, but they recovered by winning two of three over the Miami Marlins.
Tampa's offense is middle-of-the-road, ranked 15th in runs scored, but they have been carried by their tremendous pitching.
David Price, who will start tonight, has gotten off to a terrific start, but the real surprise has been the performance of closer Fernando Rodney.
Rodney has 19 saves and a 1.14 ERA, which adds him to the growing list of relievers who have found success upon their arrival to Tampa Bay.
The Rays will begin a nine-game road trip tonight in Washington, heading to Philadelphia and Kansas City to follow.
The Rays are the type of mentally tough team that can overcome an occasional thrashing and still respond as if nothing occurred.
Although they were swept by the Mets, the Rays are balanced enough to hang tight with the Yankees and Orioles for the duration of the season.
6. Philadelphia Is on the Verge of Obscurity
Things are not looking so bright in Philadelphia these days, as they were just swept by the Toronto Blue Jays.
At 31-37, the last-place Phillies are actually relying on catcher Carlos Ruiz to be their primary run-producing bat. Hunter Pence has been productive, but the struggles of Jimmy Rollins and Co. have made it easy for opposing pitchers to avoid him in big spots.
The Phillies will anxiously await the return of their stars Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
Until they are back in the mix, the Phillies appear to be a mediocre team despite the presence of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
Cliff Lee, by the way, remains winless despite a tidy 3.48 ERA.
5. The Marlins Just Can't Sustain Success
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The Miami Marlins are as talented as any team in the Majors, but they have had a very inconsistent season under Ozzie Guillen.
The bullpen has been a problem, primarily due to the struggles of Heath Bell, who only recently got his ERA south of 6.00.
Obviously, they have the potential to sustain winning streaks with the depth of their starting pitching and the presence of Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Giancarlo Stanton.
They will look to get back on track after losing nine of ten games, as they begin a three-game set against Boston tonight.
4. Baltimore Is Making a Strong Case to Be a Contender
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Did anybody see this coming?
The Baltimore Orioles have been at or near first place in the AL East for the entire season.
They just won two of three from Atlanta and will be heading to Citi Field to begin a three-game series against the Mets.
The Orioles might just be motivated and talented enough to remain in contention for a long time, as they have received incredible contributions from unlikely sources like Jason Hammel, Pedro Strop and Darren O'Day.
Adam Jones is quickly becoming one of the most-feared hitters in the American League, too.
3. The Mets Are as Unpredictable as Any Team in Baseball
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Following up being swept by the Yankees with a sweep of the Rays and then being swept by the Cincinnati Reds is about as extreme a series of swings as a team can endure.
The Mets are not the most talented team, but they display a great deal of grittiness under manager Terry Collins.
Nobody expects them to remain in contention, especially if Johan Santana continues his post-no-hitter struggles, but they have the ability to remain competitive through the summer.
If the Mets can avoid a long losing streak, they still have a puncher's chance, but their weak display against the potent Yankees makes it tough to remain optimistic.
Tonight they will have Cy Young contender R.A. Dickey on the mound against the Baltimore Orioles, as they hope to end their three-game losing streak.
Dickey will put his earned-run streak to the test against a potent Orioles lineup featuring Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy.
Will they continue their sweep streak? It's anybody's guess at this point.
2. The Nationals Will Still Experience Growing Pains
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The Washington Nationals have pleased their fans thus far, as they have gotten out to a great start and now lead the NL East by four games over Atlanta.
The Yankees put a damper on their optimism, however, with a three-game sweep this weekend.
Most impressively for the Nationals, they have a 3.00 team ERA, which ranks No. 1 in the Majors, and they strike out nearly a batter per inning.
Clearly, Stephen Strasburg is the main reason for their dominance, but Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson are not far behind.
The bullpen is stout as well, with Mike Gonzalez, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Craig Stammen combining to form a potent combination.
The Nationals are legitimate contenders, but, with an offense that is led by Adam LaRoche's .264 batting average, they have little-to-no margin for error in terms of pitching and defense.
1. Perhaps the "Demise of the Yankees" Is Grossly Overstated
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Despite relying on several players well in their thirties, the Yankees have the best record in the American League and lead the East division by 1.5 games over Baltimore.
The Yankees are in the midst of a dominating nine-game winning streak after sweeping the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals in succession.
They are receiving contributions all over the field, but the biggest factor has been the rock-solid starting pitching, which is largely thanks to the resurgence of Phil Hughes.
Obviously, the Yankees will not continue at this torrid pace forever, but they have the talent to play at an other-worldly pace as long as their pitching can keep them in games.
They will continue their stretch against the NL East as they welcome Atlanta to the Bronx tonight before heading to Citi Field to face the rival Mets.