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AL East: Prepping for October
The Red Sox became the first American League team to qualify for the playoffs (the Indians and Angels won their respective divisions over the weekend too). Josh Beckett is the first 20-game winner this season, and wouldn't you know it, David Ortiz is leading the league in OBP (.436), ranks third in slugging (.596) and is second to Alex Rodriguez in OPS (1.032). After losing the series finale to the Devil Rays on Sunday, Boston's lead over New York was just 1½ games (the Yankees were to play Toronto on Monday afternoon) -- but does it really matter who wins the division and who wins the wild card? Baseball Prospectus's Joe Sheehan doesn't think so:
The difference between winning the division and advancing as the Wild Card doesn't mean a thing. ... Does the famed Red Sox Nation consider its 2004 World Championship diminished because they won it coming from the Wild Card slot? Do Tigers' fans not wear 2006 AL Pennant gear because of their shame at going 7-1 against the Yankees and A's when they shouldn't have even been there? Angels fans? Marlins fans? Any of you feel a bit queasy about raising a World Series flag without a divisional one to go with it?
The Red Sox are concerned with preparing for October. Dice K is being rested, while Kevin Youkilis and Manny Ramirez try to get healthy. It doesn't matter what happens this week, doesn't matter if they win the wild card or division. This isn't 1978. What matters is who plays the longest into October.
The Yankees bent the so-called "Joba Rules" on Sunday. Joe Torre told reporters before the game that Joba Chamberlain would not pitch -- he threw two innings on Friday night. But Torre spoke with Yankee pitching instructor Nardi Contreras, author of the "Joba Rules," shortly thereafter and was given the OK to use Chamberlain. In what was clearly a playoff preview, Torre brought Chamberlain in the game with two outs and two men on in the eighth inning with the Yanks leading 7-5. It was the first time Chamberlain has entered a game with runners on base. He threw five straight sliders to Adam Lind and struck him out swinging. Then, Chamberlain retired the side in order in the ninth, striking out the final two batters, good for the first save of his career.
After the game, Torre told reporters, "I told him when I shook his hand, 'You grew a little more at the end,'" Torre said. "Today was probably the toughest test for him." Mike Mussina, who earned his 250th career win on Sunday, added, "I think, when it's time, he'll be available every day."
It is often said that Derek Jeter's game is bigger than his numbers. That may be true, but as another season draws to a close, Jeter's offensive numbers are where they always are. He's batting .319 with 195 hits and 95 runs scored.
"I think consistency is what marks most great players," says teammate Johnny Damon. "If you can be consistent over a long period of time, you'll be looking to go to the Hall of Fame."
Yes, Jeter's power numbers are down, which isn't a complete surprise. He's also been playing on a bad knee for most of the summer. And unlike previous seasons when Jeter gave Torre a hard time for giving him a day off, there have been at least two occasions since August when Jeter has rested without protest. He cannot run at full speed, and two weeks ago, he looked exhausted. From Aug. 1 to Sept. 12, Jeter hit .265/.351/.346. Then, he hit a big home run against Curt Schilling in Boston and suddenly he's got life in his tired body again. From Sept. 13-22, Jeter is .372/.386/.581, numbers in line with his career splits. Jeter's OPS is highest in September/October, .876.
"He knows exactly what he's doing," Damon continued. "He's been in pressure situations ever since he broke into the league and because of that nothing ever seems too difficult or too hard for him."
Although the season has been another downer for the Blue Jays, there is plenty to be excited about with their pitching staff. Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum have strong, live arms, and round out one of the best rotations in the league behind Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett. The Blue Jays swept the Red Sox earlier this week on the strength of fine outings from McGowan, Burnett and Jesse Litsch.
Before Sunday's five-inning start against the Yankees, McGowan had a 3.18 ERA over 87 innings in the second half of the season. In his third seasaon, Marcum is 12-6 with a 4.15 ERA in 156 innings (he threw just 78 last year). Unfortunately, Marcum left Saturday's start in New York with a knee injury. He will have surgery this week.
Burnett has been sensational since returning from the DL in mid-August, going 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA over 59 innings. Burnett has pitched into the seventh inning in all eight starts since coming back, and pitched at least eight innings in his previous three starts.
Burnett is the most maddening of pitchers. For all of his talent, he's never won more than 12 games in a season. Still, if he can somehow remain healthy, and if McGowan and Marcum manage to improve, the Blue Jays could be tough next year.
Now, if only they could hit. John Brattain examines the Blue Jays' offensive woes over at The Hardball Times. The thing of it is, only Aaron Hill, Alex Rios and Vernon Wells have played in more games than Frank Thomas, who has delivered a productive season -- .270/.375/.475, and leading the team in home runs (25) and RBIs (91). It is a modest year when compared with the value Thomas gave the A's last year, but the Big Hurt has been surprisingly durable. I predicted a second-half fade for Rios, but he's got a higher average and on-base percentage in the second half. His power is down, from .520 slugging to .471, but, in the end, he has put together a fine season. The Jays can only hope it is just the beginning for Rios.
Labels: AL East
posted by SI.com | View comments |
It's too bad the Jays had so many injuries this year, they could have easily been one of the faviroutes in the division, no matter if it includes the Red sox and the Yankees. Oh well like always let's wait for next year.
AL East blog (Monday)
NL West blog (Monday)
AL Central blog (Tuesday)
NL Central blog (Wednesday)
AL West blog (Thursday)
NL East blog (Thursday)
Wild Card (Friday)