The MLB regular season has 6 ½ weeks left as we go into Friday night’s games. Here’s nine thoughts on the state of the American League, from the race for playoff spots to individual awards…
*The MVP & Cy Young Awards appear to be all but in the books. Los Angeles Angels’ centerfielder Mike Trout is running away with the MVP, and Seattle Mariners’ ace Felix Hernandez is set to win a second Cy Young. The injury to New York Yankee ace Masahiro Tanaka stripped the drama from the Cy race, and Trout has not had serious competition for the MVP in several weeks.
*The Kansas City Royals have surged to the top of the AL Central, taking a half-game lead over the Detroit Tigers. Let’s keep in mind though, that over the last ten games, the Royals are 9-1 and the Tigers are 4-6. Those trends aren’t going to hold, so the Kansas City stock is artificially high. The Royals should be able to win this division, but I have every confidence that KC manager Ned Yost can help Detroit reverse their negative momentum.
*As prophesied in TheSportsNotebook, the Baltimore Orioles have broken open the AL East, and while power is this team’s strength—they lead the AL in home runs—it’s pitching that’s driven the Birds to a 7 ½ game lead. Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen in particular, are on good rolls and it’s made up for the fact that Chris Davis never has started hitting. Strong pitching and a second half Oriole surge—surely, the late Earl Weaver is somewhere smiling.
*The Los Angeles Angels have been hamstrung by poor bullpen work the last few years and the acquisition of Huston Street has helped everything fall into place for the Halo relief corps. Street is having an outstanding year, and Joe Smith is perfect in the setup role. Mike Scioscia managed this group as well as he could for four months, and the arrival of Street has finally made the skipper’s life easier. It’s why I think the Angels are going to ultimately win the AL West.
*In saying that, I don’t mean to diss the Oakland A’s, who are still one of the top four or five teams in baseball. How good does the Oakland offense have to be to lead the league in runs scored, while playing in one of the AL’s worst hitters’ parks? The corner infield, Brandon Moss at first base and Josh Donaldson at third, have combined for 48 home runs. Put them in New York, both the Stadium and the media market, and watch their numbers and profile soar.
*The Seattle Mariners are set up to be the hard-luck team of the league this year, stuck in a division with the Angels and A’s. Maybe the M’s can still steal the second wild-card spot. If they do, Robinson Cano will correctly get a lot of credit, as he’s got a .397 on-base percentage/.469 slugging. But don’t overlook third baseman Kyle Seager, at .344/.476. They’ve helped just get enough support to the league’s best pitching staff.
*And yet another story coming out of the AL West is an individual one. Houston Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve has flirted with the notion of a breakout year since 2012, and now it’s arrived. Altuve is hitting .337, and on a pace to win the batting title, with Cano a full ten points back.
*Don’t blame the retirement of Mariano Rivera for the New York Yankees being four back in the wild-card race with multiple teams to leapfrog. And while it’s understandable if you blame injuries to a decimated rotation, make sure to point a finger at some bad free agent decisions this offseason. Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have been unproductive, and Jacoby Ellsbury has been nowhere worth the seven-year $153 million contract. The Yankees should have been at least able to score runs, and thus far, they haven’t.
*Who’s Manager of the Year? The managers of the three best teams all have good cases, Bob Melvin (Oakland), Scioscia (LAA) and Buck Showalter (Baltimore). I’m leaning Showalter right now—he’s 69-50 in spite of Davis doing nothing, Manny Machado being hurt or unproductive for much of the early year (and now back on the DL to the end of this month) and a rotation that was spotty for the first half. But I respect the case for Scioscia, and Seattle’s Lloyd McClendon could be a darkhorse in this race.
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