Danville, Kentucky – Every now and then, you see something you can’t take your eyes off of; like the film Alley Cats Strike! or a attractive young waitress with a hot plate of fried pickles.
Folks, the American League East is going to be that captivating as we head into the home stretch of the season. I’m a little bit surprised about that to be honest. The East Coast has none of the blue collar grit of the Mid West, making it my least favorite region of the country. My travels across America have generally avoided the Eastern reaches of our great country, which I find to be a detestable hive of liberal elitism, full of people who talk condescending towards you just because you’re from Kentucky and you like eating at Applebee’s. Seafood-eating, Ivy-league educated East Coast nerds are the folks who brought us deflate-gate, Kennedy over Nixon in ’60, Fort Sumter, and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. It pains me to say this, but despite my hatred of the East Coast, I can’t help but watch what is shaping up to be a compelling division race. Here are my 2nd half predictions for the American League East:
I vowed never to travel to Canada or befriend a Canadian after learning about the War of 1812 at Hogsett Elementary School, but there’s a lot to like about this Blue Jays team. They hit dingers and their pitchers get wins. The “Josh Donaldson for MVP” crowd is a bit loud and WAR-friendly (especially after his embarrassing defensive performance in the All Star Game) for my old-fashioned tastes, but even I can respect Mr. Donaldson’s 21 blasts. It goes without saying that the nerd number-cruncher in the Oakland Athletics front office who suggested trading Josh should be like me: unemployed. But Josh Donaldson and his bWAR aren’t even the most exciting thing about this Blue Jays team.
Two men are going to lead Toronto to their first AL East pennant since 1993, a magical year marked by the debut of the WWF’s Monday Night Raw; a time before Pitch F/X and a time before NAFTA. Those two men are Jose Bautista and Mark Buehrle.
Joey Bats needs no introduction. He’s a man of the people, and probably follows you on twitter. He has dinger-fever, and it’s contagious. Despite playing for a country with no military to speak of, Bautista has taught the Bluebirds how fire bombs, providing all the firepower our neighbors to the North will ever need. Thanks to Jose and his veteran leadership, all sorts of Blue Jays like Chris Colabello and Ezequiel Carrera have improbably gone yard. More importantly, Jose is a great teammate. He knows when to send a message. The first step to being a winner is self-respect; and Bautista tolerates disrespect from no one. I admire his willingness to stand up for his teammates and himself. You need that type of mentality to win a division.
There’s a lot to like about the Blue Jays rotation as well. I don’t see the urgency to sell the farm for a rental pitcher when Toronto’s staff boasts 10-game winner (and thrower of a perfect game) Mark Buehrle and 8-game winner Drew Hutchison. Not to mention the formidable R.A. Dickey. Although Dickey has only 3 wins, that number is as deceptive as one of his knuckleballs. Dickey is a former Cy Young winner, a hardened veteran who has seen it all. Expect Toronto to coast into the playoffs as Dickey delivers a strong 2nd half and Buehrle continues be the anchor of Toronto’s rotation. There’s simply too much track record on this pitching staff for any other outcome to occur. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Canada is going to finish in 1st place.
2nd place – New York Yankees
I’m nearly just as excited about the Bronx Bombers. Like their Canadian counterparts, they hit bombs. Alex Rodriguez is a guy you can’t help wanting to root for. He’s having a magical season, writing history and crossing out the asterisks that the holier-than-thou choir-boys try to put next to his well-deserved accomplishments. New York’s bullpen is lights out, and full of guys like Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller who have the ice-blood needed to nail down the game in a save situation.
For me, the difference between the division-winning Toronto Blue Jays and the Wild Card Yankees is starting pitching. Whereas Toronto will be able to lean on proven winners like Buehrle and Dickey down the stretch, New York’s rotation is C.C. Sabathia and a bunch of question marks. Masahiro Tanaka is injury prone and inconsistent. Michael Pineda is liable to get caught cheating and spend August and September on his couch watching the Food Network (that’s what I’d be watching anyway). Adam Warren and Nathan Eovaldi are unproven youngsters that only xFIP-lovers can get excited about. While I expect C.C. to eat a lot of innings and carry the team down the stretch, this rotation just can’t compete with Toronto’s.
3rd place – Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore missed their last best shot at a World Series last season when they got swept by the Kansas City Royals. A post-season run isn’t out of the question for these boys, especially if Chris Davis gets a hold of whatever illicit drugs he was taking in 2013. However, the front office has made some moves that make me scratch my head. It started with letting Nelson Cruz walk in the offseason. It continued with the puzzling decision to release 2012 ALCS MVP and 2014 ALDS hero Delmon Young. Delmon is exactly the guy I’d want holding the bat with the game on the line in October, but the Orioles released him for reasons that are mysterious to me. Was his BABIP against left-handed pitchers in day games not high enough? Was his swinging strike rate vs. cutters not up to snuff? Nerds find all types of ways to discredit great players these days.
Fortunately, Baltimore still has a decent shot of playing baseball in October. Adam Jones is fantastic both on the field and off the field, where he is the face of baseball in the troubled city of Baltimore. With a rock solid bullpen led by Darren O’Day and Zach Britton, the Orioles have made their living winning 1-run games, despite the insistence of nerds that this trend is unsustainable and statistically improbable. Playoffs or not, Baltimore will help keep this division interesting.
In the 1st half, Boston was more disappointing than Bob Dole’s failed campaign in 1996. But to keen eyes, this team was an obvious train-wreck from the get-go. In the offseason the Red Sox front office traded away proven winner Yoenis Cespedes, signed a bunch of free agents with known character issues, assembled a rotation of guys who would get shelled by my beer-league softball team and hoped for the best, somehow expecting the finished product to be a cohesive, playoff contending team.
Sorry. I don’t care what Hanley Ramirez’s WRC+ is, this team is a chemistry disaster and it’s obvious that the manager has lost control of the team. I still have them finishing 4th in the division, which is an improvement from their current last-place position. I expect the GM to acquire another competent stating pitcher at the deadline, but it’s hard to see this team putting it all together. I also expect Rick Porcello to pitch to his potential as he gets accustomed to his new surroundings and develops a stronger rapport with his new teammates – a process that would be accelerated if the front office packages clubhouse-chemistry nightmares Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval in any deal they make at the trade deadline. Maybe next year, Beantown.
5th place – Tampa Bay Rays
It shocks me that Tampa has been as successful as they have this season given the suicidal sabermetric tendencies of their front office. The fact that Jonah Keri, known nerd and prediction-fail extraordinaire, called Tampa “the smartest team in baseball” really tells you all you need to know. This is a team built to win games on paper, which is about as helpful as having a dentist who’s really a podiatrist, given that baseball is not a game that is won or lost on paper. I expected a slight boost to this team’s playoff fortunes when I heard the Rays parted ways with the bespectacled basement-dweller and sabermetric-lover Joe Maddon, but that has yet to materialize. What do you get when you take a roster assembled by a computer program and throw in injuries to key pieces like Drew Smyly? A last place team. Even with several players set to return from injuries later in the season, including the exciting young lefty Drew Smyly, it’s hard to see this team going places in 2015. At least nobody will be at Tropicana Field watching this team when they implode in the second half.
It should be a fun couple of months, folks. Each fanbase in the AL East will appreciate this wonderful game in their own unique way. Boston fans will mourn this forsaken season over a bowl of Lobster bisque, I assume. Fans of Tampa will look on in horror as the true Rays team reveals itself, from the comfort of their nice retirement communities. Toronto fans will find happiness in their 1st place team, despite living in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic hell-hole with a healthcare system more ruthlessly invasive than Nazi Germany’s. I’ll be savoring the beauty of all of it, with my trusty companions Jim Bean and Jack Daniels.