Thursday, June 27, 2013

No rest in the AL East

Every year, there's talk about how good the American League East is going to be. Every year, there's a discussion of how the five AL East teams will wear each other down, that the unbalanced schedule will be the undoing of at least one of them. And every year, something else is the downfall of the basement dwellers and middling performers in the division - usually a bizarre spate of injuries combined with uncharacteristically poor performance from some franchise players.

This year the American League East is insane: every single team is playing above .500, and each one has something to prove. The Yankees have to prove that they can be something without all of the big-name stars they've relied on for so many years. The Red Sox need to prove that September 2011 and 2012 were flukes. The Orioles need to prove that 2012 wasn't a fluke, and that they are the real deal. The Rays must prove that a winning culture is sustainable in a small market (and a crappy stadium). The Blue Jays, of course, are looking to live up to the hype they generated this offseason.

So far, everybody's doing a heck of a job, as the Jays have the worst record of the lot, and they're doing better than fifteen other teams across baseball. In fact, if the currently last place Toronto Blue Jays were playing in the NL East or the NL West, their record would be good enough for second place. Doubtless the Blue Jays would be doing even better if they hadn't lost some key players to injury in the early part of the season, but they seem to be making up for lost time in the last two weeks, winning 12 of 14 contests headed into this weekend's series.

The Red Sox, of course, are coming off a two-game sweep of the Rockies (themselves playing above .500 until traveling to Boston), and have the recently struggling Jon Lester opening the series on the mound. The Jays will trot out Chien-Ming Wang, recently of the Nationals, but I'll always think of him as a Yankee. Wang pitched in the Bronx from 2005-2009, and there are a number of Red Sox players who have performed well against him.

Dustin Pedroia has hit .278 against Wang in 19 plate apprearences, including a home run and three doubles. Shane Victorino is 2-for-6. Most impressively, David Ortiz has done better than any other single (active) batter, hitting .432 (16-for-37) with four doubles, two home runs, and eleven RBIs against Wang, which coud be key if Jon Lester turns in another start like the last few.

It should go without saying that with Clay Buchholz's status so uncertain, the Red Sox really need Lester to return to the form he displayed earlier this season. Ideally, he would get back on track tonight, starting the weekend series with a dominant performance and a win - I'm sure David Ortiz is chomping at the bit to give him some run support.

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