Beasts in the East

It’s no secret that the American League East has been the superior division in Major League Baseball for quite sometime. For the past decade or so the Yankees and Red Sox have ruled that division, winning either the wild-card or the division. The Tampa Bay Rays broke onto the scene in 2008 and stole the division title away from both the Yankees and Red Sox. The once powerful American League East became a three pony race. This year in 2012, the Rays are currently in the lead of the division, while everybody else is looking up at them. The disparity of the division is only 3 games from worst to first and all the teams are donning winning records. The Baltimore Orioles are in second place! Yes, the same Orioles who last year scrambled together 69 wins. Just 54 games into the season and they are almost half-way to last years win total. I previously said that through the first quarter of the season Buck Showalter was the Manager of the Year in the American League. Of course there is plenty of baseball left in the season and anything can happen. That old three pony race might come to life again. Then again the three ponies could have different names this year. It will be exciting to watch the rest of the season and to see if the powerhouse teams will ultimately outrun the once bottom feeders of the division.

The best division in the National League this year is easily the East as well. The Atlanta Braves ruled the division for what seemed like eternity until 2006, when the Mets ran away with the division title. Then in 2007 Philadelphia became the “team to beat” in the National League East and have yet to relinquish the title. The Division always seemed like it had a clear favorite to win it each year, but 2012 has brought a change to that outlook. Many experts picked the Phillies to win the division yet again, while claiming the Miami Marlins, Atlanta Braves, and the highly touted pitching staff of the Washington Nationals to fight and claw for second place. The New York Mets were written off and were doomed to claim last place in the division winning 70 games at best. My argument there is a whole other blog in itself and I wrote about it before the season started. The National League East right now as it stands is separated by 3.5 games. The favorite Phillies are holding down the last spot, mainly due to injuries, while the Nationals, Mets, and Marlins are all tied for first place. Like I said before, there is still a lot of baseball to be played and there is no telling what the dog days of summer and pennant races will do to a team’s psyche. I still believe my Mets can win anywhere from 82-90 games barring no detrimental injuries, although a few setbacks have already taken place. The Nationals pitching staff is outstanding right now and I overlooked their great manager Davey Johnson. Mets fans know him all too well. The Marlins seem to be streaking and the Braves will continue to fight.

The East is by far the best in baseball. Just check out the winning percentages of the divisions. The National League East currently has the highest winning percentage in baseball at .554 and the American League East sports the second highest with a .543 winning percentage. There are no other divisions in baseball with a winning percentage over.500 and the third closest is almost .100 points lower than the American League East. Maybe it helps that the three highest paid teams are in these divisions. Maybe it helps that in order to compete in these divisions you need to have good pitching and pitching is what wins in this league. Especially in the post steroids era where scoring numbers are down, pitching is key. The beasts in the east all have pretty exceptional rotations. With the expansion of an extra wild card team, don’t be surprised if three teams from each division make it to the playoffs this year.

For MLB standings go to:
http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/standings/index.jsp

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The First Quarter Awards

The first quarter of the MLB season is in the books. Baseball is similar to a basketball game in which it’s a season of slumps and successes. Many columnists and sportswriters like to give out mid-season awards during the All-Star break. I would like to hand out awards for the roughly the first 25% of the season and would like to continue this every quarter. In doing this it would help in seeing who should win these awards at the end of the year. Some may agree, some may disagree, others may have other candidates they thought should have been selected. I’ll do awards for the American League and National League and then for MLB as a whole.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

MVP

1. Josh Hamilton- .389 AVG 18 HR 47 RBI 33 R 17 BB .442 OBP .785 SLG 1.227 OPS

Josh Hamilton is easily the first quarter MVP of the American League. He leads the league in all the triple crown categories right now and it’s not even close. He also leads the league in slugging and OPS. He’s a close second in on-base percentage. He’s also leading his team to the second best record in the league just a game behind the Baltimore Orioles.

2. Justin Verlander- 5W 1L 2.14 ERA 68 SO 0.80 WHIP 67.1 IP 14 BB

Justin Verlander is the reigning AL MVP. He has certainly earned the respect of being considered for it again. He is one of the best pitchers in the game over the past few years and is definitely showing his dominance again this year. He leads the league in earned run average, strikeouts, innings pitched, and WHIP. He is pretty much picking up where he left off last year. He almost threw his third no-hitter earlier this week. He has the kind of stuff that enables him the opportunity to throw a no-hitter.

3. Adam Jones- .308 AVG 14 HR 29 RBI 32 R 9 BB .353 OBP .610 SLG .964 OPS

Adam Jones is the best player on the best team through the first quarter of the season. He deserves to be mentioned in the MVP conversation at least this far into the season. The Orioles were only and afterthought playing in a division that has powerhouses like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. The Blue Jays have even shown some promise. The Baltimore Orioles finished last in their division last year and have turned it around right now. Adam Jones is a big reason for their success. I think he deserves credit.

CY YOUNG

1. Justin Verlander- 5W 1L 2.14 ERA 68 SO 0.80 WHIP 67.1 IP 14 BB

As mentioned before, Verlander is simply a beast. Lowest ERA, most punch outs, lowest WHIP, most innings pitched. The more I look at Verlander’s work, the more I am in awe. He is the best pitcher in the league. Need I say more?

2. Jake Peavy- 5W 1L 2.39 ERA 55 SO 0.91 WHIP 64.0 IP 11 BB

Jake Peavy is having a bounce back season so far after battling injuries for the past few seasons. This is the pitcher the White Sox hoped to have acquired in 2010. He is pitching like the Jake Peavy of old on the Sand Diego Padres. He’s third in the league in ERA, second in WHIP, and has one of the lowest walk totals for a starting pitcher. He’s also shown he can go the distance and has thrown 2 complete games, one being a shutout.

3. Yu Darvish- 6W 1L 2.60 ERA 58 SO 1.33 WHIP 52.0 IP 26 BB

Yu Darvish had a lot of expectations coming into the season. He was paid handsomely to come in and be the ace of a staff who had just lost their ace to free agency. He is essentially a rookie in this league and has shown that he can hang with them so far. He does allow plenty of walks, but his ERA shows that he can manage baserunners. He has the fourth best ERA, is tops in the league in wins, and fifth in strikeouts. He is also a candidate to win rookie of the year. Welcome to the league Yu.

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Buck Showalter

Who else could it be? This team was written off before the season started. How could the Orioles compete with the talent that they are surrounded by in their division. Better than the Yankees? The Red Sox? The Rays? The Blue Jays? Yea. Believe it. Buck Showalter has gotten the most out of his roster who doesn’t seem like they could compete within their division. The Baltimore Orioles 27-15 record is best in the league. Yea, those Baltimore Orioles. Buck Showalter has the best record in the league in arguably the best division in baseball.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish is having a great rookie season thus far. He’s shown the ability to pitch and pitch well especially in a great hitters park. He is one of the best pitchers in the league right now and is doing so in his first season in the majors.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

MVP

1. Matt Kemp- .359 AVG 12 HR 28 RBI 29 R 20 BB .446 OBP .726 SLG 1.173 OPS

Matt Kemp to me is the best player on the planet. He’s a five-tool guy. He is currently on the 15-day DL and still has some of the best numbers in the national league. He has led his team to the best record in the majors at 28-13. The Dodgers don’t have much talent after Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp in the starting lineup, but the two are one of the best combos around the majors. Many believe Matt Kemp deserved MVP last year and I think he’s going to put together a campaign that cannot be denied this season.

2. David Wright- .412 AVG 4 HR 24 RBI 29 R 28 BB .513 OBP .626 SLG 1.138 OPS

David Wright is having a phenomenal year. Ok, maybe I’m biased because I’m a Mets fan, but it’s not like I put him at number 1. He’s batting .412 and is on base slightly over 50% of the time. He’s also doing this with little protection in the lineup. His walks are up and his strikeouts are down. His home run totals are not as high as one would expect, but I’ll take .412 with 4 bombs any day at this point in the season. Nobody expects the Mets to compete this year, nobody expects Wright to continue to hit .400, but this year, thus far has surprised a lot of people.

3. Carlos Beltran- .291 AVG 13 HR 33 RBI 28 R 22 BB .399 OBP .619 SLG 1.018 OPS

No Pujols, no problem. Carlos Beltran has plugged himself into this Cardinals lineup and they continue to head the NL Central division. Carlos Beltran looks like the Beltran of old. Give the guy credit he is having MVP like first quarter. He leads the league in homers and is second in runs batted in. Maybe some pitchers in the league deserve a candidacy, but I think it’s way more impressive if you dominate an AL lineup than a NL lineup. No NL lineup is that scary right now and the lack of DH doesn’t help either.

CY YOUNG

1. Brandon Beachy- 5W 1L 1.33 ERA 39 SO 0.89 WHIP 54.0 IP 14 BB

Beachy is having a great first quarter. He leads the majors in ERA. He is fourth in the league in WHIP. He is leading his team to the best record in the NL East which is the best division in the NL. He doesn’t have the strikeout power that many would be in awe of, but he doesn’t allow many walks and that ERA is just downright silly.

2. Clayton Kershaw- 4W 1L 1.90ERA 51 SO 0.88 WHIP 61.2 IP 12 BB

Clayton Kershaw is last season’s Cy Young award winner and my pick to win it at the end of this season. Dodgers have the best hitter and best pitcher in the league. Kershaw is the ace of the best team in baseball and his number prove it. He owns the third lowest ERA in the majors and the third best WHIP. He’s top 10 in punch outs and second in innings pitched. Kershaw could be the Cy Young at the end of the season.

3. Stephen Strasburg- 4W 1L 2.21 ERA 64 SO 1.02 WHIP 53.0 IP 13 BB

Strasburg is one of the best young pitchers in the game and definitely fun to watch. He is a power pitcher with control. He leads the league in strikeouts and is top 10 in ERA. He might be the horse that many staffs would like to have because of prior injuries, but his stuff is electric. He is the ace of a staff that might be the best in the NL. Strasburg when healthy is a phenom that is a treat to watch.

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Terry Collins

I’m probably being biased here, but they own the fifth best record in the league. Most thought that they would own the fifth best record in the NL East. Collins does more with a roster that is filled with question marks than any other manager not named Buck Showalter. He utilizes his 25-man roster and has had some injuries that haven’t really slowed the team down. His only pitfall is bullpen management, but he doesn’t have much to work with there either.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Wade Miley- 5W 1L 2.14 ERA 30 SO 1.19 WHIP 46.1 IP 14 BB

Miley has really shown that he can pitch. He is arguably the best rookie pitcher in the league right now. Through the first quarter of the year he has been strong, even though most rookie pitchers tend to slow down in the second half. Right now Miley is a big contributor to his team with 5 wins and a low 2 ERA. I know pitchers don’t play as much as batters, but he is an asset to his team. Two pitchers could take home ROTY honors this season.