Two teams got some separation in major league baseball this week. One came from a small market, did it with hitting and from predictable spots. The other came from the big markets, did it with pitching and it came from surprise players. Thus was the story of the strong weeks for the Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees.
The Yankees have been hot throughout June, having won all six series played and it’s not been because of an extended homestand or a soft schedule. The scalps include series wins over Tampa and an otherwise improving Detroit team. They include road sweeps in Atlanta and just this past weekend in Washington. It’s been done with pitching, and believe it or not, C.C. Sabathia has been the rotation’s worst starter of the month. Not that the big lefty has been bad—his three starts in June have resulted in a respectable .386 ERA. But compare it to the three outings from Phil Hughes (1.69), Andy Pettite (1.77), Hiroki Kuroda (1.80) and two more from Ian Nova with a dazzling 0.60 ERA. The fact the Yankees are winning by the bunches without great hitting and without great work from their ace has to be heartening to them and worrisome to the countless good people who count themselves as adversaries of the Pinstripes.
Cincinnati came into the week a bit sluggish, but turned it around quickly as they swept Cleveland then did the same to the Mets. The bats got unleashed and to no one’s surprise, Joey Votto has been leading the way with a .556/.824 line for on-base percentage/slugging percentage this month. What I like is that’s not a case of Votto going on a home run binge—he’s hitting them to be sure at four for the month, but all year long Votto his built his production by also driving the ball in the gap for doubles, something that’s much more consistent. His performance has been joined by rookie shortstop Zack Cozart getting hot again after a slow May, and second baseman Brandon Phillips showing signs of getting his own bat unleashed. The Reds get a rematch with Cleveland on the road to start this coming week and then have a good opportunity to pile up some home wins when they get six in a row against Milwaukee and Minnesota.
Around the rest of baseball…
*The Baltimore Orioles have shown they can take a punch. After a slump that had baseball observers waiting to see if they teetered at the first sign of adversity, Buck Showalter’s team turned it right back around and are only a game and a half back of the Yanks. If the season ended today they’d host the American League wild-card game. Whether their starting pitching is good enough for the long haul is a fair question, but they’ve cleared one hurdle in answering their ability to come off the mat.
*Detroit is getting better pitching and while they’re still under .500 at 32-34, the Tigers are back within three games of the lead in the AL Central.
*Texas is also pitching better and at 40-27 has stabilized after a recent hiccup. The lead is four games on the Los Angeles Angels who continue to play consistent baseball behind them. The Angels are two back of Tampa Bay for the second wild-card.
*With the exception of Washington’s sweep of Boston a week ago, interleague has been a disaster for the NL East in general and June has not been kind to the Miami Marlins. Ozzie Guillen’s team seems to be on the every other month plan. A lousy April was followed by a sizzling May, which in turn has been followed by losing 11 of 15 in June and plummeting back to .500.
*Colorado wasn’t on anyone’s playoff radar, but it has to be disappointing for their fans to see them suddenly challenging San Diego for the NL West basement. The Rockies’ pitching has been a disaster all month, with a 6.02 ERA and the worst of that stretch has come in the last week. At 25-40, Colorado is only up two games on the hapless Padres.