AL East: Midterm Report Card
Offensively, no one in this lineup stands out. Aubrey Huff leads the team in home runs (14) and RBIs (42). They are in the top five in the AL in home runs because five players on the team have at least ten long balls.
Baltimore's pitching staff ranks 10th in the AL with a 4.35 ERA. No starter has yet to distinguish himself to become the ace of the rotation. The strength of their staff lies with the bullpen. They actually have more wins than do regular starters (20-19). George Sherrill anchors the pen with 26 saves.
Hovering right above .500, Baltimore is an average team in the AL. They are on pace to win 84 games this season, which is 15 more than last year. That's a good building block for 2009.
Midterm grade: C
Comment: They are improving but still just average. Their record is actually better than their statistics show.
Boston Red Sox
The reigning champs currently lead the AL East by one game over Tampa Bay. It's no surprise that Manny Ramirez leads the team in homers (15) and RBIs (49). What is a surprise is that J.D. Drew is right behind him. He leads the team in runs (54) and has 14 home runs. We've always known that Drew had the talent. The question was always if he could stay healthy. In his 10-year career, he has never played in more than 146 games. He missed at least 50 games in four of his first nine seasons.
The pitching staff's 3.86 ERA ranks sixth in the AL. Daisuke Matsuzaka leads the team with an 8-1 record. Jon Lester leads the team in ERA and pitched a no-hitter against the Royals. Jonathan Pappelbon has been steady in the closer's role once again with 22 saves and a 2.10 ERA.
Boston has the best home record in the American League (30-10) but needs to improve their road record (18-22) to fend off the Rays and Yankees in the AL East race.
Midterm Grade: A-
Comment: Boston's off to a good start, and they lead what appears to be the best division in baseball.
New York Yankees
Last season's wild card winner may miss the playoffs this year. I know there is still a lot of baseball to be played, but the Yankees trail the Rays by 3.5 games. The Rays may go away when the summer time weather really starts to heat up, or this may be a sign of things to come. Either way, look for the Yankees to find a way to make a trade for some pitching before the July 31 deadline.
The team ERA of 4.31 is higher than any other contending team's ERA other than Minnesota. Mike Mussina leads the team in wins with ten. Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang both have winning records and have combined for 16 wins. Manager Joe Girardi recently inserted Joba Chamberlain into the starting rotation, who struggled at first, but now seems to be improving as he learns how to be a big league starter.
Mariano Rivera is the leader in an otherwise shaky bullpen. Rivera carries an ERA less than 1.00 and has 22 saves.
The well-rounded lineup gets contributions from many players. Alex Rodriguez leads the lineup in batting average, Bobby Abreu leads the team in RBIs and Jason Giambi leads the team in home runs. Johnny Damon, the team's runs leader, has been on fire lately with a batting average of .395 in the month of June.
Despite some of the Yankees recent success, they are going to have to play better and improve their pitching if they are going to make the postseason once more.
Midterm Grade: C+
Comment: Yankees have an average record and receive an average grade.
Tampa Bay Rays
This team has been the surprise in all of baseball. Last year, the Rays finished last in the AL with a 66-96 mark. Now they are 14 games above .500 and trail the world champs by a game. During the past month, Tampa Bay has taken three of four from the White Sox, won two series against the Marlins and swept the Cubs. All of those teams have winning records and would have steamrolled them last year.
They are not a prolific scoring team (ninth in the AL in runs), but they are getting it done with pitching and defense. They have a staff ERA under 4.00 and are 2nd in the AL in complete games, shutouts and batting average against. Though only 4-5, James Shields leads the rotation in ERA and strikeouts. Andy Sonnanstine leads the team with an 8-3 record. The defense sure has helped this staff. No one commits fewer errors than the Rays.
B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria lead this young lineup. Upton leads the team in stolen bases, Crawford is tops in runs and Longoria leads the team with 13 home runs. Their biggest problem may be plate discipline. Only one batter (Dioner Navaro) has a batting average higher than .300, and many batters in the lineup strikeout more than twice as much as they walk.
I don't know if Tampa has the pieces in the farm system, but they may want to look for another bat for the run at the playoffs.
Midterm Grade: B+
Comment: Tampa has far exceeded expectations. They'll get an A at the end of the year if they make the playoffs.
Toronto Blue Jays
How does a team that ranks third in ERA, has outscored their opposition by 22 and is pretty good defensively have the only losing record in the AL East? I don't know, but John Gibbons got blamed. Toronto fired its manager earlier this month.
Here's a stat that might explain things: Toronto is 9-19 in one run games. Flip that stat around and the Blue Jays lead all of baseball with a 49-26 record. I guess it was time to fire the manager after all. A manager's decisions affect a close ballgame more than a blowout. Gibbons, apparently, made too many bad decisions.
Toronto has trouble scoring runs, as they rank 12th in runs scored, 13th in home runs and 8th in batting average. When 40 year old Matt Stairs leads your team with eight home runs, you know you have a serious power outage.
All of the starting pitchers have records at or above .500. Staff ace Roy Halladay leads the team with eight wins.
The Blue Jays are likely headed for another year without postseason play, unless they can turn around their fortunes in close ballgames.
Midterm Grade: D
Comment: I'd like to give them a higher grade since their record isn't too bad, but when you are in the cellar of your division, you can't get better than a D.
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