This week in baseball was the week that the Rays officially became the team to beat in the American League.
30-11 speaks pretty well for itself, but perhaps the 5 game lead over the Yankees speaks even louder. I understand the Yankees are injured and not at all at full health, but the Rays are, in my opinion, now the team to beat in the American League. Ben Zobrist homered for the first time yesterday, the Pat Burrell experiment has failed (released earlier this week), and the Rays hold a 5 game lead over the Yankees. They have the pitching. After a rough go of it last year, David Price fell off most peoples’ radars, but is all over every scout’s radar right now with a sub-2 ERA. He is pitching like the top pick he is and shows no signs of stopping. Jeff Niemann, and Wade Davis have more than upheld their end of the bargain as well, giving extremely solid innings despite relative anonymity. James Shields and Matt Garza, somehow the best known of the rotation guys, have pitched just as well, giving the Rays a scary rotation of guys nearly in their prime all pitching well at the same time. Even if you can manage to chase one of them, they have excellent long-relief in Andy Sonnanstine and quality short relief to get the ball to Rafael Soriano.
It doesn’t stop there. Everyone hits. Fill-in Catcher John Jaso is hitting .333. Longoria- .323, Crawford- .316, Zobrist- .289, and the resurgent Hank Blalock- .273. Maybe the scariest part of all of this is that many of their young guys have not gotten going. Sean Rodriguez is off to a slow start, Carlos Pena is below .200, and Jason Bartlett is hitting .248. Those are three everyday guys of whom a lot is being asked that are struggling, and the team is 30-11. Watch out, AL. The Rays are here to stay.
The Dodgers are so hot right now not even Hansel could keep up. Including a loss to the Padres two nights ago, the Dodgers are 10-1 in their last 11, and are finally getting in a groove. I am still not sure if they are a playoff team in a division where the Padres, Giants, and Rockies are perhaps the biggest threats and the Braves, and possibly Marlins, could be a threat for the Wild Card. We all knew the Dodgers were not as bad as they started out, but even with their uptick in performance (finally), the playoffs will still be difficult. They have the talent to do it, obviously, but it is going to take a lot of work to get to October.
Perhaps the biggest reason for excitement in Dodgertown, apart from team success, is Clayton Kershaw. He has cut down on his walks lately, but most importantly, he has gone more than 6 innings lately. He was getting the reputation of a great young pitcher, but could only go 6 innings because of high pitch counts and inefficiency. Lately, he has been throwing strikes, letting his defense work a little and it has resulted in more innings. That relieves the bullpen, the team, and it doesn’t even hurt his strikeout numbers because he is so solid. Kershaw, by the way, is only 4 months older than Stephen Strasburg, but does not get the same recognition as the soon-to-be stud does. Strasburg deserves every ounce of hype he is getting, but give Kershaw some love.
A’s Getting Healthy, Rangers still on top
The Oakland A’s are maybe OTC’s favorite team that neither of us is a fan of, and have accordingly been getting plenty of love. They have struggled a little lately, but have kept their head above water despite a deluge of injuries. Kurt Suzuki is back, Mark Ellis is on the way back, Coco Crisp is nearly healthy, and their ace, Brett Anderson, is going to be back hopefully in the near future. They have fought through some injuries and have the ability to stay with the Rangers out west.
I guess it is only fair to give the Rangers some love too, as they are clearly the best team in that division right now. Vlad is killing the ball, Kinsler is back, and the pitching has been just good enough to get Ws. A little love for the Rangers.
ATL Walkin’ It Off
Not once, not twice, but three times this week the Braves won games in the 9th inning. They ranged from the extraordinary (down 6 in the 9th) and unexpected (Brooks Conrad who?), to the more ordinary (martin Prado’s walk off) to the visions-of-the-future walk off (Jason Heyward). The Braves seem to have bounced back from their rough patch and are firing on all cylinders as they are only 2 games back of the Phillies and a half game back of the Marlins. Watch out for the Braves.
If you live in a city with a minor league team that Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to play, you might want to hold off on buying those tickets. We all knew he was good, but we did not know he was going to be this good this soon. His GB/FB ratio is 3.4 (phenomenal) and he is still just as scary as ever. All of a sudden, Pudge’s comparison of him to Nolan Ryan does not seem insane, and it seems oddly accurate. He is going to win multiple Cy Youngs, and some baseball people even think he will be the best pitcher in the majors the day he steps on the field. He is a terror and deserves every bit of hype he gets. He is that rare once-in-a-generation talent that can change the lay of the land in baseball. With all due respect to Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson, Tommy Hanson, and the rest of the elite pitchers in the NL, move over, the Kid is almost here.
P.S. We need a nickname for Strasburg ASAP since he is probably going to get called up soon. We are taking all suggestions.