Don't look now but the Toronto Blue Jays are 6-2 and leading the revamped American League Eastern division. My first Bleacher Report article outlined this possibility when upon the re-hiring of former manager Cito Gaston on June 20, 2008 the team proceeded to finish last season on a 51-37 clip.
Note that I also have them finishing last this season due to the loses of A.J. Burnett to free agency (and a division rival at that), and the season-ending loses of fellow pitchers Dustan McGowan and Shawn Marcum.
Its common knowledge that this team heats up as the season goes along, particularly in September as they finished last season on a torrid pace.
It's also common knowledge that they lose a disproportionate number of games each year to their divisional rivals the Yankees and Red Sox and until the lesser teams like the Jays and O's start to do what the Rays have done (see last night's 15-5 pounding of the Yankee$) they will always be bottom tier.
Consider if the Jays were to beat the Yankees just 10/19 times each year and the Sox 10/19 times a year. While these 10-9 records don't seem that big of a deal, they are. Winning must first start at home, then amongst your divisional rivals if they are truly to be considered as such.
Twenty five year old Adam Lind looks like a future star and MVP candidate this year. Second baseman Aaron Hill is young and solid too. While I doubt they can keep this up, what if they can? What if this becomes a five team race in the A.L?
Everyone is so quick to name the Yankees or Sox Champions with an increasing number of fans on the Rays belief bandwagon (myself included, as they are for real). This is because we are counting out teams like the O's or Jays to even be around.
Getting beat up by teams like the O's and Jays instead of beating up on them as usual could prove problematic for teams like the Yankees who look less than impressive to put it nicely.
Currently sit in second place in the A.L East. I await the day that they are legitimately and consistently atop the ESPN Power Rankings. On opening day after the 10-5 beating of the Yankees at Camden Yards, Boston Red Sox season ticket holder and homer Peter Gammons exclaimed on Baseball Tonight:
"We know about the hitting, we know about Matt Weiters and the pitching is coming. This team is going to be really good in a hurry."
A few nights later his counterpart John Kruk also mentioned of his seasonal surprises the Orioles during the Nine question segment and keys to the A.L. East:
"Don't sleep on the Orioles" but quicky proceeded to retract some of his praise which Gammons didn't.
Only Eduardo Perez stood blindly by the Yankees. Well, ESPN did too (to no one's surprise) having them an overrated fifth in the first ranking as highest of the 3-3 teams even though the 4-2 Orioles were eight spots lower.
You have to wonder if the early success of Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara is due to players' unfamiliarity with him and once he catches on, if he'll get Ramon Ortiz or Russ Ortiz treatment?
An Oriole fan pointed out on the ESPN Orioles message board that basically for every good start Uehara or de-facto ace Jeremy Guthrie give the team, Adam Eaton is likely to do equally as bad cancelling out a win a week...
My guess is he's a place holder until someone hopefully steps up--Chris Tillman? Rich Hill? My guess the latter.
Should the 5-2 Orioles win tonight they will have won each of their first three series to start the season. 2/3 vs the Yankees @ home, 2/3 vs. the AL Pennant champs. the Rays, and 2/3 vs lowly Texas in Arlington. This series is key since its the first time the team is away from home.
If you want to be taken seriously, you have to also beat the teams you are supposed to beat (if you are better than them (i.e. Rangers).
We know the O's are early risers usually coming out of April with a winning record and in contention. They've even stretched this well into May lately only to finish the season on horrid 4-28 stretches as I've seen (2006?)
May 1 records since 2002 and place in division:
2005: 17-7 first place outlier year (started 30-16 failed to make A.J. Burnett trade when they had a chance May 25)
Most of this time, the slow-starting Yankees looked up at the O's in the standings. It was frustrating to see them play .700 ball after the All-Star Break each year to make the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Rays:
The Defending Division and American League Champions will be the Hunted all season long with higher than ever expectations. MVP-in-waiting Evan Longoria isn't going anywhere and the team would be wise to offer young CF BJ Upton a Markakis-like extension as he's their Adam Jones in terms of potential.
Pitching is solid. Are a great home team, and have taken a knack to beating the Yankees at will. A few years ago went 15-4 against them. Now learned to hang with the Sox like the O's and Jays have yet to learn.
Any game they can take from the Sox or Yanks only helps teams like the Jays and O's since its one less game they have to win against the favorites.
New York Yankees:
Have so many questions for me. Overrated "Captain" Jeter is hittting .207. A-Roid is out until mid-May at the earliest. Nick Swisher can't keep this torrid pace up can he? When will Traitor Tex be back for the Yankee$?
ESPN gushed all weekend that "CC is back" and I kept yelling to my TV: "Yes, but who did they play?" (Royals). Wang looks like he's not ready and the bullpen is still a mess.
When a guy named Albaladero is the first guy out of your 'pen you know this aint the Jeff Nelson-Mike Stanton days. When your rivals can't name players like Phil Coke as relievers you wonder what's going on in YankeeLand?
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I really believe that "Team Scream" Hank and Hal Steinbrenner don't "get it' and think throwing money at players, not drafting them, solves problems. It doesn't-as they haven't won anything since 2000 (just ask Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi).
I also believe that this team is cursed by the force-out of "legend" Joe Torre and I'm already sick of hearing about this new stadium. I hope Tex plays the role of his hero Mattingly soon when the only reason to see a Yankees game in the Eighties was to see him and those black seats in Centerfield.
Boston Red Sox:
The "Junior Yankees" are deservedly in last place. The lovable team that lost from 1918 on refuses to even acknowledge the eighty-six years of futility in between titles (have you ever tawked to a Sawx fan about this?--I have done so to many and they act like they've always been good).
Rays are learning to have their number. Big Papi looks mediocre at best now that his bodyguard Manny is on the Left Coast, and the team just looks old leaving the Jays and O's in prime contention to kick them while they are down.
Pitching took a hit with retirement of ex-O and legend Curt Schilling. Matsusaka walks fifteen batters a game, and Beckett just hurt his team with a two start (6 day) suspension for throwing an errant ball and inciting a bench-clearing brawl vs. the Angels.
Could this be 2005 revisited with better results? Stay tuned, but it appears the O's will at least have something to say about it for the first time in a long time.