AL East Breakdown, Cinco de Mayo Edition

We’re basically one month into the 2009 season, and the AL East has seen some surprising developments thus far. Unfortunately, the Orioles place in the standings isn’t one of those surprises. The O’s came out of the gate strong, winning their first three series (Yankees, Rays, Rangers), but have since gone an underwhelming 4-14. Here’s a quick look at the division as a whole, order based on current standings.

Toronto Blue Jays:

The Blue Jays have been leading the division since day one, and surprisingly it’s been on the strength of what was a very questionable offense coming into the season. The Jays have scored more runs than any team in baseball, and that’s with Vernon Wells and Alex Rios still playing a little bit under expectations.

The good news: Roy Halladay is still Roy Halladay. Toronto’s ace has pitched like we’ve come to expect over the years, winning five of his six starts, while averaging 7.1 IP per outing. There might not be another pitcher in baseball that sets the tone for an entire staff like Halladay does (see: A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan circa 2008). On the offensive side, Adam Lind is finally starting to look like the star that Toronto has been expecting for the last few years. Lind’s line so far: .333, 18 R, 29 RBI.

The bad news: The Jays still can’t seem to keep their pitchers healthy. Former first-round pick, Ricky Romero was dominant (2-0, 13K, 1.71 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) in his first three starts of the season, before going on the DL with an injured oblique. B.J. Ryan has also spent time on the DL this season- and completely ineffective when he has been able to pitch. On the schedule front, the Jay’s three game sweep of the Orioles over the weekend is the only series they’ve played within the division so far. We’ll see what their record looks like after a couple of series against the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Boston Red Sox:

The Red Sox have gone from beginning the season a dismal 2-6, to being within one game of the Blue Jays. The Sox have done the reverse of the O’s and gone 14-4 in their last 18, including 11 in a row. Not that I like it, but was their any real doubt that this team would rebound?

The good news: Kevin Youkilis is playing out of his freaking mind. Youkilis’ start to the season- .393, 23R, 6HR, 20 RBI and a Ruthian 1.224 OPS- is probably making many Red Sox fans forget that Jason Varitek and David Ortiz look like their best seasons are long behind them.

The bad news: Tim Wakefield has been the ace of the Red Sox staff so far in the season. It’s not a bad thing for the Sox that the ancient knuckleballer is playing well. What’s bad for the Sox is that Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Brad Penny have a combined 6.47 ERA thus far into the season. Relievers Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez have combined for as many wins (4) as Beckett and Lester. At least their bullpen is getting is done.

New York Yankees:

Ahh… to have all of the money in the world, and a brand new stadium where you can watch $423.5 million worth of free agents and buy some of the finest cuts of beef from at the same time. If they only had a Hard Rock Cafe there too… wait they even got that covered.

The good news: Alex Rodriguez should return soon (possibly this week in Baltimore) which if nothing else means Joe Girardi can at least take the bat out of Angel Berroa’s hands. Seriously, ARod should help a line up comprised a number of unproven youngsters and over the hill (and overpaid) veterans. If he shows up at the Yard, someone should see if he’d be willing to sign some copies of that new book. Probably not.

The bad news: The return so far from that $423.5 million. Mark Teixeira: .195, 14 R and 12 RBI. C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett: a combined 3-3 record and 5.1 ERA. Premium seating at the new ballpark: prices cut. In other bad news, Chien-Ming Wang’s ERA is 34.50 points higher than teammate Nick Swisher’s. I’m sure they don’t miss Joe Torre at all.

Tampa Bay Rays:

The Rays have probably been the most disappointing team in baseball, and certainly in the AL East. Last year’s League Champions currently sit five games under .500, and have yet to have a sustained period of good baseball so far in the young season. The ship will probably right itself a bit even if they continue to play like they have. Coming into today’s game against the O’s the Rays have scored 5 more runs than they’ve allowed. The Yankees, on the other hand have allowed 13 more runs than they’ve scored, but they’re a game over .500.

The good news: Evan Longoria has shown absolutely no sign of a sophomore slump being in his future. 2008′s AL Rookie of the year was just name 2009′s first AL player of the month. So far this season Longoria has batted .360 with 8 HR and 31 RBI. Light hitting SS, Jason Bartlett has been a bigger threat with the bat than expected hitting .363 with 16 R and 6 SB. Also Carlos Pena seems to be  close to his 2007 form, already hitting 11 homers for the year.

The bad news: The combined ERA of the Rays’ starters is 4.97, which is a full point higher than it was last year during their World Series run. It’s not clear when David Price will get called up, but he might serve as a little bit of a shot in the arm for a rotation that’s underperformed a bit.

Baltimore Orioles:

The O’s strong start to the season has quickly turned into a stretch of baseball that’s reminiscent of some recent Augusts. The youth movement call ups can’t happen soon enough for a number of O’s fans, and the development of those players should remind us to stay patient over the next few months.

The good news: Brian Roberts, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis are Orioles for the foreseeable future. While the pitching has been suspect and the bottom third of the O’s lineup has done next to nothing, there’s not a better top of the lineup in baseball. Roberts, Jones and Markakis are hitting a combined .342 on the season with 80 R and 26 2B. Markakis has been near the top of the AL in batting average and RBI’s all season long, and Jones is proving to be one of the best young players with the bat and the glove. Jones’ power is also developing as hoped- if he continues his current pace he’ll hit 32 long balls this year.

The bad news: MLB rules state that the Orioles have to pitch to the opposing team at least 8 innings a game. The O’s combined ERA is 5.68, and only three pitchers (Jamie Walker, Danys Baez and Jim Johnson) have ERA’s under 4.50. Koji Uehara has pitched admirably in his first 6 MLB starts, but Hendrickson, Eaton and even Guthrie have left a lot to be desired. The bullpen hasn’t been any better, and George Sherrill has already lost his permanant closer role. Hopefully Rich Hill can make a positive impact when he joins the team and Brad Bergesen can continue to develop in the time before the big guns start to get called up.

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Tags: A.J. Burnett Adam Eaton Adam Jones Adam Lind AL East Alex Rios Alex Rodriguez Angel Berroa B.J. Ryan Baltimore Orioles Boston Red Sox Brad Bergesen Brad Penny Brian Roberts C.C. Sabathia Carlos Pena Chien-Ming Wang Danys Baez David Ortiz David Price Dustin McGowan Evan Longoria George Sherrill Hideki Okajima Jamie Walker Jason Bartlett Jason Veritek Jeremy Guthrie Jim Johnson Joe Girardi Joe Torre Jon Lester Josh Beckett Kevin Youkilis Koji Uehara Mark Hendrickson Mark Teixeira New York Yankees Nick Markakis Nick Swisher Ramon Ramirez Rich Hill Ricky Romero Roy Halladay Shaun Marcum Tampa Bay Rays Texas Rangers Tim Wakefield Toronto Blue Jays Vernon Wells

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