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The dog days of summer baseball has arrived meaning it's time to get set for pennant fever. Four of baseball's six divisions have been engaged in serious battles since opening day. Only NL East Philadelphia and NL West Dodgers are leading their divisions by more than six games over closest competitors. No MLB lead is safe with 50+ games still remaining to be decided. I'll be summing up each divisional race over the next six days. Today's blog focuses on AL East race to the finish.
New York owns an AL best 66-42 record residing atop of AL East by 3.5 games over Boston and by 6 over last years' division winner Tampa Bay. Boston is in NY getting ready to play the 2nd of four games tonight at Yankee Stadium. Yankees have been on a 12-5 roll and finally beat Boston last night for the first time all season. Consistent pitching remains Yanks top concern but, their bats have been coming thru in the clutch recently. Yanks front 4 starters (Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Joba) are a combined 38-20 after a very rocky start to their season. The 5th slot has been very erratic and is now being handled by committee. After much concern back in April/May, I suddenly find myself believing the only way New York will lose their grip on division honors is if they beat themselves or fall prey to multiple injuries. Yanks lineup has no weaknesses. They all hit with authority and know how to work counts.
Boston has been struggling since leading the East by 5 games back on June 21 with a 44-27 record. BoSox starting rotation is hurting real bad 3 thru 5 with Wakefield and Dice K (60 day DL) out. Today, John Smoltz was designated for assignment after taking a beating from Yanks last night. Surprisingly, they failed to successfully trade for any top notch pitching help before the deadline. This could spell trouble from here on out. Their lineup is very good in clutch situations but their pitchers are giving up way too many runs lately. If ever there was a team in dire need of a waiver wire trade or rookie phenom to step up and deliver, this is it. Sox must take at least 2 of remaining 3 games from Yanks this weekend to stay close. Otherwise, look out... Tampa Bay is right on their heels. It's funny how quickly things can change in baseball. Only a short time ago, I thought Boston was soon to run away with the East.
Tampa Bay had a rough April (9-14) in defense of their '08 AL Championship. Times have changed for them too... for the better. Their 60-48 record has them gaining quickly on 2nd place Boston. In head to head play, Tampa has won 8 of 12. Hitters are finally coming up big affording pitchers the chance to pitch with leads. Young, energetic and poised to make a run for the top again or perhaps enter the playoffs as a wild card winner. Suddenly, Tampa is beginning to believe and the AL has taken notice. I really like watching this team play. It's hard not to. They hit, run extremely well, play good defense and pitchers are getting better game by game. Personally, I think they were too conservative in not picking up a big name starting pitcher before the trading deadline (Lee or Washburn). Tampa's farm system coupled with a relatively young starting lineup will keep the Rays in the playoff hunt for years to come.
Predicted order of finish: Yankees, Rays (Wild Card), Red Sox.
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