Daisuke Matsuzaka and More American League Players Who Need to Have a Big Week
At long last, interleague play is over. For the rest of the season, it will be National League vs. National League and American League vs. American League.
...Otherwise known as the way things are supposed to be.
Enjoy it while you can, folks. With the Houston Astros moving to the American League next season to create two balanced leagues, there's going to be interleague play virtually every day of the season.
The American League enters the home stretch of the 2012 season with nine of its 14 teams over the .500 mark. There are eight teams within 6.5 games of first place in their respective divisions. With an extra wild-card spot to be had, it looks like we're going to see a heck of a finish in the Junior Circuit.
But first things first. This week will be all about settling back into the grind, and each and every club in the AL will be looking to restart intra-league play on the right foot.
Here's a look at a handful of AL players who can do their respective teams a big favor by having big weeks.
Justin Masterson, SP, Cleveland Indians
Justin Masterson has struggled for much of the 2012 season, but he's been dominant his last three trips to the mound. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Masterson has allowed just one earned run in his last 23 innings pitched, good for an ERA of 0.39.
As great as Masterson's last three starts were, they all came against National League opponents. We therefore don't know for sure if he's actually turned a corner, or if he was just feasting on opponents that simply don't know what to do with this stuff.
We'll get a clearer idea of Masterson's progress this week. He's scheduled to make two starts for the Indians, one against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday and another against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards on Sunday.
The Yankees and O's both have issues with runners in scoring position, but the one thing both of them can do is hit home runs. The Yankees led the majors with 112 home runs, and the Orioles rank third with 93.
Masterson doesn't have a tendency to give up the long ball, but these two clubs are going to put his sinker to the test.
The Indians enter the week a half game behind the Chicago White Sox for first place in the AL Central. If Masterson can't do against AL clubs what he did against NL clubs in his last three starts, the Indians could start to fade fast in the Central race.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP, Boston Red Sox
Red Sox fans allowed themselves to hope when Daisuke Matsuzaka was activated off the disabled list. In his year off recovering from Tommy John surgery, perhaps he learned how to throw strikes consistently and how not to nibble at the corners when the going gets tough.
Basically, Red Sox fans were hoping for a new and improved version of Dice-K.
So far, he looks exactly like the old Dice-K.
Matsuzaka has made three starts since he being activated off the DL. He's pitched just 16.1 innings, allowing a total of 11 earned runs on 13 hits and five walks. His ERA is up over 6.00.
The good news is that the Red Sox could ask for a lot worse than a 1.10 WHIP and a 2.76 BB/9. What's discouraging is that Dice-K is still averaging about 17 pitches per inning, which is right about where he was in 2010 and 2011. He's still as inefficient as ever.
Nonetheless, the Red Sox don't have much choice but to stick with Matsuzaka for the time being. He can do them a big favor by contributing.
He can start by giving them a couple solid outings this week. Dice-K is scheduled to make two starts this week, starting with an outing against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on Tuesday night. He'll then start on Sunday against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.
The Red Sox have won eight of their last 10 games and have moved with within 5.5 games of first place in the AL East. If they get quality innings out of Dice-K, the rest of the AL East will be on high alert.
Kendrys Morales, DH, Los Angeles Angels
Things are going pretty well for the Angels right now. Mike Trout is emerging as a legitimate MVP candidate, Albert Pujols' slump is ancient history, Jered Weaver is healthy, and the team has a 14-7 record in the month of June so far.
One guy who's not having such a great time these days is switch-hitting DH Kendrys Morales. He's having a pretty good comeback season this year, but the last couple weeks have been a struggle.
Per Baseball-Reference.com, Morales has just five hits in his last 34 at-bats, only two of which went for extra bases. He has one RBI in his last 11 games, and it came courtesy of a solo home run.
Morales' slump isn't killing the Angels, but they're going to need as much power in their lineup as they can get in the next couple days. They're starting a nine-game road trip this week that will take them through Baltimore, Toronto and Cleveland.
In the Orioles and Blue Jays, the Angels will be going up against two of the most powerful teams in baseball. The Angels' pitching staff will be tasked with making sure the balls stay in the yard, but Morales and the rest of the lineup will have to respond in kind if the O's and Jays start hitting the ball out of the park.
In other words, it's time for Morales to snap out of it. The Angels are going to need his power over their next nine games.
Drew Smyly, SP, Detroit Tigers
When we last saw Drew Smyly in a major league game, it looked like an alien was about to burst out of a blister that he had on one of his fingers.
That, thankfully, did not happen.
However, the Tigers did have to place Smyly on the disabled list to give his finger some time to heal. He hasn't pitched since June 10.
Smyly will make his return this week, and he'll make two starts to boot. The first will be on Tuesday at the Texas Rangers, and the second will be at the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.
Not exactly the easiest competition for Smyly to face. To make matters worse, he'll be opposed by two quality starting pitchers.
On Tuesday in Arlington, Smyly will square off against Yu Darvish, who has allowed a grand total of four earned runs over 16 innings in his last two starts. On Sunday in Tampa Bay, Smyly will face Alex Cobb, who gave up two hits while racking up 10 strikeouts in his most recent start.
Smyly wasn't pitching very well at the time his blister nearly consumed his entire left hand, but he had been pitching well earlier in the season. The Tigers need that version of Smyly to return.
Heck, the way this season is going, they need everyone to start pulling their weight.
Kevin Youkilis, 3B, Chicago White Sox
Boston Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis...
Wait, that's not right. Let's try it again with the right town and the right color.
Chicago White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis is yet another hitter looking to snap out of a funk. Though he's collected hits in each of his last four starts, Youk is batting just .200 this month with no home runs and two RBI (h/t Baseball-Reference.com).
The White Sox very much need their new third baseman to be a productive member of the lineup. According to FanGraphs, White Sox third basemen currently rank last in the majors in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS.
Though Youkilis has been declining as a player for well over a year at this point, the White Sox are basically banking on him being energized by a change of scenery. If Youkilis comes anywhere close to matching his old production (.931 OPS between 2007 and 2010), Chicago is going to have another solid veteran hitter in their lineup to go with Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko.
There's no time like the present for Youkilis to get started. He'll have a chance to feast on a weak pitching staff when the White Sox take on the Minnesota Twins this week, and then he'll get a chance to help the White Sox make a statement in New York against the Yankees.
It bodes well for them that Youkilis is a career .312 hitter against the Yankees.
A Few More
Ryan Cook, RP, Oakland Athletics
Cook looked awful his last time out against the San Francisco Giants. He failed to record an out and was ultimately charged with four earned runs and a blown save in a game the A's lost 5-4.
If he has another outing like that one, Bob Melvin may have to change closers. Again.
Adam Dunn, 1B/DH, Chicago White Sox
Dunn is just three for his last 28 with no extra-base hits, one RBI and 15 strikeouts. He's suddenly looking like the 2011 version of himself, and the White Sox can't have that lasting for long.
Curtis Granderson, CF, New York Yankees
Granderson has three hits in his last 24 at-bats with no home runs and one RBI. The Yankees need him to rediscover his power stroke. If history is any indication, he soon will.
Nick Hagadone, RP, Cleveland Indians
Hagadone had yet another disastrous outing on Sunday. He's allowed 15 earned runs all season, nine of which have come in his last four outings. The Indians need him to snap out of it, especially with their starting rotation experiencing some issues recently.
Luke Hochevar, SP, Kansas City Royals
Amazingly, the Royals are only six games out of first in the AL Central. They'll be looking to stay within striking distance this week. Luke Hochevar can help the cause by giving them quality innings in his two starts.
Phil Hughes, SP, New York Yankees
Hughes allowed four home runs in his last start against the Atlanta Braves. He'll look to redeem himself in his starts against the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.
Tommy Hunter, SP, Baltimore Orioles
Hunter has had a rough go of things over the last six weeks or so. Unfortunately for him, he has to start against the Angels and Indians this week, and he's going to be opposed by C.J. Wilson and Justin Masterson.
Russell Martin, C, New York Yankees
Martin is just four for his last 35 ever since his big walk-off home run against the New York Mets a couple weeks ago.
Jason Vargas, SP, Seattle Mariners
Vargas allowed 10 earned runs and five home runs his last time out. He'll be looking for redemption this week with starts lined up against the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox.
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