New Beast In The AL East

I’m not sure whether to include them in book yet or not, but the story of the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 Major League Baseball seems like a story written in Hollywood. Here is a team who is at 50-32 at about the halfway point of the season – Tampa lost their 32nd game on June 5th last year and won their 50th game on August 25th. At that point they were already 28.5 games behind the division leader in the AL East.

This year is a whole different story. The AL East division leader is a team who had finished anywhere but the basement of the division only once in the franchise history (4th in 2004) and stand with the best record in all of baseball. I know my brother and I would talk about it every spring training that this year might be the year that Tampa really surprises some people but every year they would get bogged down by injuries or lack of depth in their pitching staff. They usually had a decent offense to hold their own in a competitive AL East against the offensive powerhouses of the Yankees, Red Sox and when they felt like it the Blue Jays. Again, this year is a whole different story.

Where did this team come from? A record of 31-13 (.705) at home and .500 on the road, having their worst losing streak of the season (4 games) in the first two weeks of the season from April 6-9 either shows this team has yet to hit a mid season slump or is capable of bouncing back after losses to avoid long losing streaks. They have had two separate streaks of winning at least 6 games (4/22-4/27 and  5/8-5/13) already, they are 15-10 in one run games and 14-10 in games decided by five or more runs.  They are combined 9-11 against the Red Sox (4-6) and the Yankees (5-5) after 20 games. Four out of their first five series following the All-Star break are against teams that are below .500 (Blue Jays, Royals, Mariners, and Indians) with the only series being against Detroit Tigers who finally cracked .500 for the first time all season.

Tampa Bay Rays have gone 42-21 since starting of the season at 8-11, 33-17 in their past 50 games and along the way have managed to piss off the Yankees and Red Sox with a few punches and hard slides as well. What else can you really ask for from a team who who went 67-95 last year – Rays are only 17 wins away from last year’s total and it’s only the half way point of the season.

Just take a look at some of these stats:

  • Days in First Place: 21 (had only been in first about 12-15 days in their entire 10 year franchise history prior to this year)
  • Most Games over .500: 18 games (50-32 as of right now)
  • Most Games under .500: 3 games (on 4/20 when they dropped to 8-11, have gone 42-21 since)
  • Biggest Division Lead: 1.5 games (over Red Sox as of right now)
  • Furthest Behind Leader: 5.0 games (last time on 4/22)

A good majority of these stats are from If you are a baseball fan, this is a must visit site. It really has a ton of stats and is constantly being updated.

Anyways, here is to hoping that the Rays have just as successful of a 2nd half as they did in the first and what a World Series match-up it would be if itwas the Rays against the lovable losers in Chicago Cubs. Two franchises marred with losing stretches, on the brink of greatness.

Red Hot Toronto Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays have been on some streak here. In their past 9 games (6-3) they have only allowed12 runs in that stretch – that is a 1.33 ERA. They have won their past 5 even though this streak started off pretty badly. Here is the 9 game stretch:

4/26 – Royals – Loss – 1-2
4/27 – Royals – Won – 5-2
4/29 – Red Sox – Loss – 0-1
4/30 – Red Sox – Loss – 1-2
5/1 – Red Sox – Win – 3-0
5/2 – White Sox – Win – 2-0
5/3 – White Sox – Win – 5-2
5/4 – White Sox – Win – 4-3
5/5 – White Sox – Win – 1-0

In that stretch, take a look at the Jays starting pitching staff going 7-1 in the 9 games:

Roy Halladay (1-1): 16 IP and 1.13 ERA
Dustin McGowan (2-0): 14.2 IP and 0.63 ERA
AJ Burnett (1-0): 7.2 IP and 0 ERA
Shaun Marcum (1-1): 12.2 IP and 1.48 ERA
Jesse Litsch (2-0): 14.1 IP and 1.91

As if the starting pitching wasn’t impressive enough the bullpen has been even better. They have pitched 13.0 innings in the 9 game stretch allowing only ONE (1) earned run. In that stretch they have lost 1 game while picking up 6 saves. You can do that math (or I can do it for you) that is a 0.69 ERA.

Let’s keep all this in perspective. Yes the Jays have won 5 straight but they are still 16-17, 4 games back of Boston Red Sox and 1 of the Yankees. It is still only the 5th of May and playoffs start in October. There is a long ways to go but certainly if the pitching can keep things rolling (certainly you won’t expect a staff to keep a 1.3 ERA although that would be amazing), the Jays offense really needs to start clicking. They can’t afford to lose games 2-1 and 1-0 in the AL East. They Jays are currently 4-8 in one run games and 1-2 in extra innings which will need to improve if they Jays want to contend down the stretch.

Speaking of pitching and the AL East, it was nice to see Darrell Rasner who got roughed up in the first inning to settle down and shut out the Marines the rest of the way. He can provide the Yankee staff quite the boost if he can provide quality starts every now and then with Wang and Moose clicking. Also, keep an eye out for an absolute pitching dandy on Wednesday when Chien-Ming Wang (6.0 – 3.00 ERA) of the Yankees goes up against Cliff Lee (5.0 – 0.96 ERA) of the Indians. That is going to be just a great game.