Handicapping Baseball's Best Pennant Race
Author: Big Al McMordie - Thursday, June 29, 2006
There are several divisions in baseball lacking any pennant race drama this season, but not in the AL Central or AL East. For the first time in years, the Yankees and Red Sox have legitimate competition with the improved Blue Jays. Here's a peek at what is shaping up to be the Great Race in the AL East.
Blue Jays: So, what has fueled the Jays rise? Money! Remember that this past offseason Toronto's payroll expanded by 50 percent. They brought in starter A.J. Burnett, closer B.J. Ryan, designated hitter Troy Glaus and first baseman Lyle Overbay. That's some serious money -- and talent -- that filled in some key missing pieces. Overall, the money was well spent. This offense is very talented, with CF Vernon Wells (20 HRs), 3B Troy Glaus (21 HRs), 1B Lyle Overbay (11 HRs) and multi-tooled RF Alex Rios (15 HRs, .330 average). They also have very strong supporting players like Frank Catalanotto (.330) and catcher Bengie Molina. Playing in the Skydome makes this offense even better, as it's a great hitter's park. They lead the league in batting and are #4 in home runs. Pitching will be the key to how far they will go. The Blue Jays have an ace in Roy Halladay (9-2), who might be working on his third Cy Young had he not got hurt last season. Ted Lilly is decent along with lefty Gustavo Chacin, who is currently out with an injury. The key is Burnett, the 29-year old righty who has started only 4 games. He just came back from an injury and has allowed 2 runs in 15 innings (2 starts). He looks great and his health will be the key for the Jays, who are for real.
Yankees: This is a team built on offense, and the offense is third in the AL in runs scored. However, they have slipped to #6 in home runs because of injuries to star outfielders Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui. 2B Robinson Cano just went on the 15-day DL, so injuries have really hurt. The pitching has been better than expected, with a 4.18 ERA, second best in the AL behind the Tigers. But Mike Mussina is the only starter with an ERA under 4, with Randy Johnson (4.84 ERA) remaining inconsistent. Joe Torre seems to be overusing unreliable middle men like Kyle Farnsworth and Scott Proctor. They need some depth and some good luck in the health department. By the way, the Yankees have the seventh worst defense in all of baseball! There are a lot of holes for a 190-million dollar payroll team.
Red Sox: Boston has the best defense in the league because of a totally revamped infield of 3B Mike Lowell, 2B Mark Loretta, SS Alex Gonzalez and 1B Kevin Youkalis. All have been brilliant with the glove and above-average with the bat. Gonzalez has been virtually perfect with one error (last year's SS Edgar Renteria had 30 errors). They took over first place the last two weeks with an 11-game win streak. The key will be the pitching, which had holes in April and May, but has been much better over the last month. Closer Jonathan Papelbon has been sensational while 22-year old lefty Jon Lester has stepped into the #4 spot and pitched great (3-0, 2.95 ERA). Lester has shown real poise, and owns a terrific curveball. A weak middle relief staff appears upgraded with kids like Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen coming up from Triple-A. The Sox might even stand pat, and not make any trades before the deadline if their young players continue to perform.
Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.
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