Division Check Up #1

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Division Checkup – 4/21/12

It’s time to check in on the divisions of Major League Baseball after the first 15 (or 14, 13, etc., depending on how many any particular team has gotten in thus far) games of the season.  We’ll look at how the divisions have shaped up, what kind of surprises we’ve seen, and whether or not things can possibly stay the way they are into the next month of the season and beyond.

1.  AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Current Standings:

Baltimore – 8-5

New York – 8-6

Toronto – 7-6

Tampa Bay – 7-7

Boston – 4-9

The A.L. East has been quite the surprise so far this season.  Most noticeably is Boston sitting at the bottom of the division.  The Red Sox started 2011 with a 2-10 record, and while they did have the best record in baseball from May through August, their collapse down the stretch has been well-documented over the last six months.  Is history looking to repeat itself here?  Only time will tell there.  But it has to at least give the ownership pause.  If the Red Sox can’t turn things around (and soon), ownership may have to actually consider the fact that Theo Epstein and Terry Francona were not the problem that needed to be fixed with that team.

What’s more surprising is that the Orioles are sitting at the top of the division right now.  Now, this certainly isn’t new (as even as recently as last season, the Orioles got out to a good start, then just fizzled early), but the fact that this team has added an extra week to their division leadership is impressive.  It helped that both the Yankees and Red Sox got off to terrible starts, but the Yanks have righted their ship and could easily take the lead this weekend.  Still, the way that Baltimore has played thus far seems to be cause for alarm if you’re a team in the A.L. East.  This is a team that is consistently at the bottom of the division in recent memory.  But if they (like the Kansas City Royals) can potentially start to put some pieces together this season, they may have the opportunity to play spoiler, or even compete in the division for the next few months.

2.  AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Current Standings:

Detroit – 9-4

Cleveland – 6-5

Chicago – 6-6

Minnesota – 5-9

Kansas City – 3-10

As was predicted early in the spring, this is the Tigers’ division to lose.  Chicago gave them a bit of a scare last weekend (taking two of three games at home), but a sweep of the Royals put the Tigers in a two game lead on their closest competition.  While their current matchup with the Rangers could give the Indians and White Sox a fighting chance to claim the division lead for themselves, the big bats could come alive, take the next three games, and put the Tigers out to a five-game lead on the nearest competitor.  And it’s worth noting that Miguel Cabrera has only recently (the last two games) come out of an 0-22 batting slump, as well as the fact that the team has faced some amazing pitchers in the last two weeks (Beckett, Lester, Buccholz, Moore, Shields, Niemann, Peavy, Danks, Sale, Chen, and Darvish).  To go through a lineup like that, and only lose four games, shows exactly how good this offense can be.  Teams won’t see a Beckett or Shields or Peavy every night, and with plenty of teams and rotation members left to see, odds are still on that the Tigers will take the division.

It may be early, but it’s worth noting that Kansas City had some hype coming into the season, and it just hasn’t gotten going yet.  Granted, a lot of teams struggle in that first month of the season (Boston and Philadelphia, for instance).  But the Royals were supposed to have a lot of pieces in place that could start to turn this team around.  After seeing them play recently, I see a lot of the same old pieces, with the key elements yet to crank things up.  The bats they want are still cold.  The starters have pitched well, but not well enough to rack up wins (also due in part to the offense).  So far, we’re not seeing anything different or better about this team, and once again it’s at the bottom of the division.  Will the Royals ever become that spoiler team this season?

3.  AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Current Standings:

Texas – 11-2

Oakland – 7-7

Seattle – 7-7

Los Angeles – 4-9

Texas went right back to work the minute the season started, and they haven’t been stopped yet.  They were coming in as the reigning American League Champions, with one of the hottest offenses in the game, and a pitching staff with the potential to be lethal.  That same staff also had the potential to be a disaster, since both Yu Darvish and Neftali Feliz are unproven as starters in Major League Baseball.  Feliz has been the Texas closer for two years, and Darvish just arrived from Japan.  And as strong as the team is as a whole, a rotation that relies on Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, and Matt Harrison isn’t going to sit at the top of the division for long.  Yet, here we are.  Darvish is really making a statement, pitching extremely well thus far.  Feliz is holding his own (although I haven’t gotten a chance to see him pitch this season, but that’ll change Saturday night).  The Rangers are putting it together, from top to bottom, and holding their place at the top of the division by a wide margin.

Again, the biggest surprise is the bottom of this division.  The Angels made some big moves in the offseason to bolster their roster, and make a play for the division crown and beyond.  Yet they find themselves at the very bottom.  By a wide margin.  They’re already two and a half games behind the Mariners (which is embarrassing enough), but the season has barely started and they’re seven games behind the Rangers.  Now, there’s no arguing that it’s a long grind of a season, where anything can happen at any time.  But for Texas to already have that kind of lead built up (especially with the potentially stellar rotation that the Angels boast in Weaver, Santana, Haren, and Wilson), it has to be extremely demoralizing for the Angels.  This team is too good to let that much of a lead stand for too long, and by season’s end the division is likely to be a lot closer.  But it’s only been two weeks, and the Angels – a team many thought would command this division – are already being forced to play a very serious game of Catch Up.

4.  NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Current Standings:

Washington – 11-4

Atlanta – 8-5

New York – 7-6

Miami – 7-7

Philadelphia – 6-7

Washington is starting to look like they’re the team from the bottom tier that’s going to put it all together first.  There’s most certainly a hierarchy in baseball, just like anything.  It changes with time, but currently the upper tier of really great baseball teams includes teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Rangers, and, more recently, Tigers.  In the recent past, the bottom tier has included teams such as the Royals, Mariners, Orioles, Pirates, Astros, and Nationals.  But it’s starting to look like the hierarchy in baseball is about to see some upheaval.  Whether it’s Boston dropping from the upper echelon into the middle of the pack again, or (as seems to be the case early on), Washington rising from the bottom to become a somewhat decent team.  The Nats have a solid rotation, with Strasburg, Detwiler, and Gonzalez.  They’re clearly putting enough run support together to win games, as well.  This may be the year that Washington breaks out in a big way.

On the other hand, they’re still going to have to compete with the Phillies.  Even if they are struggling right now, the team from Philadelphia is too good overall to not click soon.  After all, this is the team that won 102 games just one season ago.  They didn’t change much in the offseason, so expect them to put up some pretty good numbers when it’s all said and done.  There’s really no team that can compete for the division title (in terms of overall quality and talent of the team), but perhaps the Nationals will be the team hanging around to keep things interesting come September.

5.  NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Current Standings:

St. Louis – 10-4

Cincinnati – 6-8

Milwaukee – 6-8

Pittsburgh – 5-8

Houston – 5-9

Chicago – 3-11

St. Louis lagged a little bit right out of the gate for the season, but they quickly turned things around and took a commanding lead in the division to start the season.  I don’t think it’s likely they’ll lose that lead come season’s end, but Milwaukee and Cincinnati are bound to make it interesting.  At the very least, the early numbers suggest that the Reds and Brewers are pretty evenly matched.  Which means they’ll probably end up competing with each other, at least, for a Wild Card spot.  And competition always brings out the best in teams, making them more lethal for the team sitting at the top.  So this division could shape up to be the biggest rollercoaster ride from beginning to end.

To say a quick word on the bottom of this division, it doesn’t look like the Cubs will be winning the World Series anytime soon.  Or, at least not this year, especially if they keep up the abysmal play.

6.  NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

Current Standings:

Los Angeles – 11-3

Arizona – 7-6

Colorado – 7-6

San Francisco – 7-6

San Diego – 3-11

The Dodgers have a lot of good individual pieces, and it looks like they’re starting to pay off.  Between the 2011 N.L. Cy Young Winner Clayton Kershaw and the great player Matt Kemp, the Dodgers have the building blocks to be a competitor.  But that’s not to say that some of these other teams won’t get right back in the race.  The Giants are the favored to win the N.L. West, and the Diamondbacks proved last year that their organization has finally turned a corner.  So there’s still a long way to go in this division before things are all said and done.

That’s it for the first check up on the division races.  Baseball season moves quickly, and games can start to pile up in a hurry.  It’s somewhat amazing that a few teams have already played 14-15 games.  Who knows what the divisions will look like next time, but I’ll be sure to bring the update.

Questions? Comments? Concern? Tweet to us @BVTSB.

One response

  1. Pingback: New Content Added: Week of April 15th | beforevisitingthesportsbook

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