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4/23/2007 10:02:00 AM

AL East: Jays hurting, O's winning

B.J. Ryan
B.J. Ryan's injury has had a trickle-down effect on the Blue Jays' bullpen.
By Cliff Corcoran

The most unusual thing about the current AL East standings can be summed up by the phrase "second-place Baltimore Orioles." Don't be fooled. The O's have won eight of their past nine games, but those games have all come against the Royals, Devil Rays and Blue Jays. The Blue Jays may not seem like they belong in that group, but the injury bug hit them hard a week ago and they've gone just 1-5 since. Before that, they too had fattened up on a menu of Rays and Royals, those two teams yielding the Jays' only series wins of the year thus far.

Within the span of three days, Toronto placed its starting left fielder, third baseman, and closer on the DL. Left fielder Reed Johnson went down with a herniated disk and will likely miss more than two months following back surgery. Closer B. J. Ryan, who was diagnosed with an elbow strain by famed Tommy John surgeon Dr. James Andrews, is expected to be out four-to-six weeks. Third baseman and No. 5 hitter Troy Glaus went down with bone spurs in his left heal and tight hamstring but could be back by end of month.

Though Johnson will be out the longest, his loss is the least significant. The Toronto pitchers will likely miss Johnson's defense in left, but 23-year-old rookie Adam Lind, whose career minor-league line entering the season was .319/.382/.511, should more than replace his production at the plate and could very well relegate Johnson to a fourth-outfielder role upon his return, which is a job Johnson's better suited for anyway.

The other two injuries are killers, however. The loss of Ryan won't so much be felt in the ninth inning, as Jason Frasor should do a fine job filling in as closer, but rather in the middle innings where the Jays are relying on converted starters Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen and Victor Zambrano. Indeed, Marcum blew a game in the eighth inning on Thursday against the Red Sox, then combined with Janssen to blow a two-run lead in the eighth against Baltimore the next night, with Zambrano coming on in the ninth to take the loss. Manger John Gibbons shares the blame here. Jeremy Accardo is the team's second best righty reliever behind Frasor, but hasn't pitched with a lead in two weeks, while starter-turned very effective LOOGY Scott Downs has only pitched with a lead once in that span.

Then again, the problem could be that the Jays rarely have a lead. That brings us back to Glaus. Toronto has scored 6.25 runs per game with Glaus in the lineup and 3.20 runs per game without him. The Jays' current stop-gap is a platoon dominated by lefty-batting no-hit journeyman infielder Jason Smith (.234/.276/.384 career), with rookie Ryan Roberts, a solid-hitting second baseman playing out of position, confined to starts against lefties. Their backup option is veteran good-field/no-hit shortstop John McDonald (a career .240/.283/.316 hitter). That downgrade is far more detrimental to the offense than the loss of Ryan is to the bullpen. Glaus is supposedly expected back before the end of the month, but to read Will Carroll's description of his heel injury (bone spurs rubbing against and inflaming his Achilles tendon), it seems Glaus will have to cope with the problem all season long, which could result in extra days off, a possible decline in production, and perhaps even repeat trips to the DL. Unfortunately for Toronto, with Frank Thomas entrenched as the designated hitter, there's really no way to ease the strain on Glaus' heal without crippling the offense.

The Yankees are the mirror image of the Blue Jays. For one thing, their offense is seemingly indestructible. In a three-game series against the Red Sox's three best pitchers this past weekend, with Hideki Matsui on the DL, Johnny Damon missing a game due to back pain, and Jorge Posada limited to just three plate appearances all weekend by a bruised thumb, the Yankees scored nearly six runs per game, holding the lead in the seventh inning of the first and third games and sending the tying run to the plate in the ninth in all three. The Yankees' problem is the rotation, which has been in shambles all season and saw rookies Darrell Rasner, Jeff Karstens and Chase Wright take turns the last time through because three of their intended starters (Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, and, surprise, Carl Pavano) are on the DL. The good news for the Bombers is that, also unlike Toronto, they're activating players from the DL rather than placing them on it. Matsui returns tonight and claims to be at full strength after missing the minimum due to a hamstring pull suffered in the cold during the team's season-opening homestand. Wang returns tomorrow night to start against the Devil Rays. Mussina should rejoin the team next week in Texas. Meanwhile the struggles of Karstens and Wright in Boston over the weekend could motivate the return of Rasner, who pitched well in his last two starts before being demoted out of necessity to ease the strain on the American League's busiest bullpen, or start the pleas for ├╝berprospect Phil Hughes.

The Red Sox, took advantage of the hobbled Yankees this past weekend, but that's to their credit. Two of their three wins required late-game comebacks: a five-run eighth-inning rally against Mike Myers, Luis Vizcaino, and Mariano Rivera in the first game and a three-run seventh inning homer by Mike Lowell off Scott Proctor in the last. Assuming the Yankees will eventually solve their rotation problems, this division will likely come down to these two teams and Boston's three-game sweep this past weekend could loom large in September. The rivals rematch for a three-game set in the Bronx this upcoming weekend with more favorable pitching match-ups for New York, thanks in part to Wang's return from the DL.

Incidentally, the Red Sox honored Red Auerbach on Friday night by donning green jerseys and caps (actually an old St. Patrick's Day design that didn't look so terribly out of place in the green of Fenway Park). Also, because they were rained out on April 15, the Sox honored Jackie Robinson last night instead. Coco Crisp and David Ortiz were the Red Sox wearing 42, but Crisp only played the final two innings as a defensive replacement. Meanwhile, Ortiz wearing number 42 in a Red Sox uniform looks less like a tribute to Robinson than a tribute to Mo Vaughn.

Cliff Corcoran is the co-author of Bronx Banter.


posted by SI.com | View comments |  


Posted: April 23, 2007 10:59 AM   by Anonymous
So basically you're saying the O's still suck?
Posted: April 23, 2007 11:00 AM   by Anonymous
I think the problem with the Jays is more mental than missing the bats of Johnson and Glaus. The absence of those two cannot account for the horrible and unclutch performances, such as when they faced Trachsel and let him get away. They even let Loewen have 7 walks and do virtually nothing.

One of the things I liked about bringing Thomas here was that he would provide a back-up to Glaus if his big-bat went down with an injury. Its just unfortunate that Glaus had to be put on the DL early in the year, rather than in the summer. Thomas right now is just as good as going on the DL because, just like last year, he was pretty bad in April. Although, within the last 3-5 games Thomas has been hitting the ball much harder - just at the outfielders.
Posted: April 23, 2007 11:08 AM   by Kevin in NC
I think the yank's problem is in the not the starter's they had leads going into late innings all weekend. Baltimore is almost a contender this year but let's just face it this year is the red sox's year. The rest can fight for the wildcard spot.
Your so full of it...they also took 2 out of 3 from the Yankees...If your not an O's fan than just come out and say it instead of writing such a BS article as this...If you did a better analysis before writing this article you would note that the O's have a very good pitching staff this year much like the A's had when Zitto, Mulder, and Hudson were nobodys.
Posted: April 23, 2007 11:47 AM   by Anonymous
Agree with the others of our analysis of the O's . . . you failed to mention that the O's starting catcher and 2nd best defensive catcher in the league (check last year's stats) has been out all season (18 games), starting left fielder, Jay Payton just returned to the lineup yesterday (missed 17 games), starting second baseman Brian Roberts did not play two games over the weekend due to the flu, Jared Wright, starting pitcher is on the DL . . . I can go on but the deal is this atricle, you magnify others problems but regulate the O's hot start to the fact that they played a lesser schedule . . . time will prove you wrong this year my friend . . . start doing your homework before you write!
Posted: April 23, 2007 12:02 PM   by Anonymous
This article is so horribly written it's almost laughable. It's uninformed and lazy writers like you that are the reason for SI's fall into complete irrelevancy. You conveniently forget to mention that the Orioles lost their number 3 starter (Kris Benson), their starting catcher, and their starting left fielder prior to the season. So, the team that just rattled off an 11-4 stretch is playing with 77% of it's starting line up. The Oriole's can only play who they are scheduled to play, and lately they have man-handled everyone on their schedule.
Posted: April 23, 2007 12:03 PM   by Anonymous
Why is it a bad thing and we "shouldn't be fooled" when the O's win against hurting teams like the Jays, but it's a good thing ("to the Red Sox' credit") when the Red Sox do it to the Yankees? If you're going to be a bozo, at least be consistent in your logic.
Posted: April 23, 2007 12:10 PM   by Anonymous
Interesting. The Orioles are also without their starting LF, who is pretty comparable to Johnson. Glaus is great, but relative to other AL 3B he is no more of a loss than the Orioles suffer with Hernandez out at catcher. So you basically think the Orioles swept the Blue Jays because BJ Ryan is out (ignoring the Orioles being without All Star Brian Roberts for two games). And the Orioles took two out of three in New York because why? Minnesota, New York, Detroit... the Orioles schedule so far has not been all cupcakes.
Agree here with all of the commments to the effect that giving no credit to the O's seems unfair. Their revamped bullpen has been lights-out so far; that's why they've taken 4 of 6 series so far this season (with series wins against the Yanks, Royals, D-Rays, and Jays, including sweeps against the Royals and Jays, and losses to Minnesota and the Tigers). Give credit where credit is due, the O's are a much improved team (even if still another Bat and maybe a SP away from true contention).
I agree with the others about the O's. The revamped bullpen has been lights-out so far, and Markakis continues to show that his second half last year was no fluke. They may still be a bat and a SP away from really contending, but they are a much improved team and deserve a lot of credit. Taking four of their last five series (including one in the Bronx, which you conveniently left out), regardless of the competition, is pretty good. In any case, they play Oakland, Boston, and Cleveland in the next 7 games, so I guess we'll see who is right.
The players and fans of the Baltimore Orioles deserve a little more respect than NO respect. Yes, it is very likely that by mid season they may not be in second place ahead of the Bronz bombers, but the O's currently are playing good baseball while missing their own group of injured players. Your bias is painfully obvious. Next time try to show some fairness in your analysis, or find another job where exclusion is acceptable. The US Department of Justice may be looking for a few good men.
Although the Orioles have failed to play competitive baseball for nearly a decade, their efforts this year deserves a bit more respect from you and other writers. Previous to sweeping the Jays, they beat the Yankees two out of three, and the Orioles have also encountered injuries to key players. Fairness please.
Posted: April 23, 2007 1:09 PM   by Anonymous
Man, you're getting excoriated for dissing the O's, and you know what? You deserve every minute of it. The O's are improved not only in all the ways people have already mentioned, but also in terms of spirit - this is a much tighter and thus much tougher team than the last few years. Everyone who already said the O's are just a couple pieces short of contending is right, and it amazes me that the press seems to have utterly missed this fact.
Posted: April 23, 2007 1:20 PM   by Anonymous
While I agree that the Orioles will not be a contender this year, I believe you treated them with disdain. I know 18 games does not a season make, but good teams take care of business with bad teams and hold their own against good competition. The Orioles have done both this year with the exception of Minnesota. You may be right in writing them off, as they proved a couple of years ago, when they went into the second half in first place, but I think you showed a very biased attitude in this article.
Give us a break!
Unbelieveable. The headline of the article mentions O's winning and then talks exclusively about the Sox, Yankees and Jays. Gimmie a break. Go O's! Oh yeah, without the slight bullpen meltdown in the second game of the Yankees series, the O's would have swept them. In New York.
This article needs to be removed...is this garabage really suppose be insightful? I'm not even an O's fan and I'm still irked by this biased dribble. Good sports writers ground their work in facts and then color the piece with the insight they have into the game. Corcoran piece lacks both facts and insight. I won't repeat what others have said about injuries he failed to mention because the bottom line is that the two best teams in AL East are pitching well and if they continue to do so they will continue to win games. The O's will not likely be contenders but if they keep pitching well they should finish this year well above .500 and have a legitimate shot at finishing ahead of the yanks and the jays.
Posted: April 23, 2007 3:10 PM   by Anonymous
For those who think the Sox will win the AL East, think again. Let me remind you that a beat up yankees team was only outscored by the Sox by 4 runs over three games. THat was with the top three pitchers for Boston! THis stat amazes me, especially when Sox fans have written off the Yanks. WOW...those who feel this way do NOT know baseball.
Posted: April 23, 2007 3:18 PM   by Anonymous
You know, I love the O's too, but as long as Peter Angelos rules the roost they will never contend for anything outside of worst-run team in MLB.
Posted: April 23, 2007 3:23 PM   by Anonymous
Interesting how you left out the Yankees, whom the Orioles took 2 out of 3, and were very nearly swept.

We'll see if the O's are for real with the A's and the Sox coming to town.
Posted: April 23, 2007 3:42 PM   by Anonymous
The O's have faced the 4 of the top 6 offensive teams in terms of .OPS (excluding themselves) in the AL and have the 5th best staff ERA and the 2nd best bullpen ERA in the AL.

So much for the theory about the O's getting fat against bad opponents. Maybe try doing some research next time.
Posted: April 23, 2007 3:52 PM   by Anonymous
This might be the least researched article on the internet! I am not sure if you diss the Orioles because of their lack of competitiveness over the past decade or the talent amassed by the BoSox and NYY. Either way, it's clear that you know very little about the make-up and injury status of the 2007 Orioles - which, as a team in the ALEast, is a key part of what you profess to know about.

The NYY are two ARod ninth inning swings from having only six wins on the year thanks to the shoddy Bronx bullpen and its failure to hold/save any of the six opportunities this season. It's a long season, but NYY appears much more vulnerable than in a long time. This is somewhat evident in Torre's use of Pettitte twice already this season especially given the NYY favorable early schedule regarding off days.

Perhaps the NYY will right their ship and the Os will fade into fourth place as they have done for nearly a decade, but if I were a professional sports writer, I would want my opinion grounded in the reality of the situation on the ground and not any reversion to any historical trend - cause otherwise you've added nothing to the conversation.
Posted: April 23, 2007 4:12 PM   by Anonymous
You are an idiot - obviously a Yankee homer - the Orioles were one pitch from sweeping the Yankees in the Bronx, swept the Blue Jays, and destroyed the Royals and D-Rays. They are for real and will be a contender all year
Posted: April 23, 2007 5:59 PM   by Anonymous
Amazing. Misleading headline (it looks like the O's will be prominently discussed) leads into another gentle coddling session of the Yanks and Red Sox.

This is shameful writing (I wouldn't dare to call it journalism) and shameful pandering to the glitter teams of the AL east.

Guess I'll be going elsewhere to find insight into the national pasttime.
Posted: April 23, 2007 6:20 PM   by Anonymous
this is bull, like the devil rays, blue jays, and royals are loosing the games and the orioles are reaping the benefits. how about talking about the emergence of a stellar bullpen and the rise of nick markakais as a viable hitter. What makes the blue jays good? they throw ridiculous money at AJ Burnett? please, give us some damn credit
Posted: April 23, 2007 6:21 PM   by Anonymous
The Jays always do poorly in April, I'd wager they'll snap out of it pretty soon.
Posted: April 23, 2007 10:55 PM   by Anonymous
As a Yankees fan I enjoy looking over all these comments about how other AL East teams are great and how terrible the Yankees are. I'm just trying to figure out when everyone will realize that over the past 5 yrs or so the Yanks have had anything but impressive April records. It's too early in the season to start talking about the pending Yankees demise. I would much rather be in first place come the end of Septemebr than I would be at the end of April.
Posted: April 24, 2007 9:09 AM   by Anonymous
The O's are decent but as always run out of steam 2/3rd into the season and flop miserablly going down the home stretch... The Red Sox capitalized on a moment where the yankees were indeed vulnerable and granted the Red Sox pitching staff is loaded this year, they have some of the Worst ERA's vs the Yankees compared to any other team. What Josh Beckett has like a 6.9 era vs the yankees? Dise K just put up a 7 spot vs them the other night? But you have to give it to them because they won. The yankee Bullpen is overworked..As always..

Starters will be coming off the DL soon, Hughes and a group of minor leagers will fight their way into the bigs to prove what they can do and the yankees will slowly but sure build steam and enter the post season doing well as always!

People are quick to jump on the backs of the yankees to put them down! I'm a big Yankee fan and I can admitt that the Sox and O's are good teams but equally have just as many flaws as any other club, not to mention its APRIL...
I have to agree with him on his assessment of the O's. They may not still suck, but they may not be as good as their record indicates.

Power on to my beloved Sox though. Despite giving up Andy Marte for a Coco Crisp off the bench. I digress.

Where is all the publicity that Frank Thomas should be getting for being 10 hr's away from 500? Bonds is 15 away from a questionably achieved 755, but Thomas' achievement doesn't even appear to be given a footnote thus far in the season.
The Yankees' offense is carrying them right now, but a big chunk of that offense is Rodriguez, and not even he can keep up this torrid pace. But what you're seeing right now is how thin they are - behind their All All-Star line up is a bunch of nothing. The Sox are much deeper in pitching and position players, and will weather injuries better than the (fairly old) Yankees will. And while Daisuke struggled against them, I'd still rather have him than Kei Igawa, who just flat-out sucks.

But this is beside the point compared to the really miserable treatment of the O's in this article. Glad to see all the responses pointing that out.
Posted: April 24, 2007 2:40 PM   by Anonymous
Didn't the o's do this 2 years ago when they were in 1st place going into may and then sucked the rest of the season came O's fans just shut up and enjoy it this time next month your going to be bitching about how you owner does not spend money on qualtiy players and looking forward to football season and what's going on with autoracing. IT'S APRIL there are well over 140 games left. Even sox reporters are saying what happens this eary is just teams trying to fiure things out. The Yankees will do what they do best acquire the players needed to contend. The red sox will have a key injury the running concensus is JD Drew and the yankees will take the division. and PS Rivera has only pitch 7 innings so far he will be fine and will get his 30 plus saves this year and will be lights out. Right now he's getting afeel for his command and his velocity is returing.
Posted: April 24, 2007 4:07 PM   by Anonymous
I'm glad to see some passionate o's fans speaking out and standing up for their team whose played some fine baseball so far this year. As to discussing teams with injuries, I'm sorry but I'm not shedding any tears for anyone. Thats part of the game and anyone who has played on any level can tell you that you are going to play games without some of your best, look at the Soxs last season. Bottom line the O's should get more love than this article gives them because I doubt anyone thought that they would be playing this brand of baseball this early in the season and it doesnt matter who its against. A W is a W, and if you want to get to the post season you need to beat the good, the bad and the Royals (sorry, its cheesy but I couldnt help myself). As to the Red Sox, once Manny turns it around and their 7-9 hitters show some kind of life, they will be a much better offensive team and a much more balanced team than the one that one it all back in 2004.
Posted: April 24, 2007 4:50 PM   by Purple Lips
I like the analysis at the end, the comparison between Mo Vaughn and Ortiz. Great stuff. Also the fact that Crisp only played two innings while honoring Jackie Robinson had less to do with his injured oblique, and more to do with the Red Sox hating African-Americans. Great stuff.
A true reporter would not omit a very talented young team if he were "truly" doing an in-depth look at the AL East. The Devil Rays are one of the top hitting teams in the league with enough emerging stars to make any GM drool with envy. Will they win the division? Of course not. But if they find another reliever or two with half a clue, and stop blowing 6 run leads, they will definitely give the rest of the division fits all season.
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