5 AL East teams separated by 3 1/2 games and other thoughts from an unpredictable season
First, thanks to Rays PR man Rick Vaughn and his staff for the following: In the American League East, five teams are separated by 3 1/2 games. Also all five teams are above .500. Since the current divisional alignment began in 1994, today is just the seventh time a division has been bunched this closely. It’s the first time it has ever happened in the American League.
Those numbers speak volumes about how blurry the playoff races. The Rangers and Dodgers have controlled their divisions from day one, and they both appear to have staying power. Otherwise, there’s not one other team that you can say with confidence will be in the playoffs.
In both the American League East and the National League East, the race seems to get reset every few days. One day, the Rays look like the best team in the AL East. Forty-eight hours later, the Yankees seem to be a bit better than everyone else. The Orioles are once more a factor, and the Red Sox have methodically played themselves back into the conversation.
Likewise, the National League East seems to change shapes every day or so. The Phillies have been so decimated by injuries that it’s easy to wonder when they’ll be dealing with more than they can overcome. But Charlie Manuel has managed to piece together a competitive offense even without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and Kyle Kendrick has been a godsend for the starting rotation.
The Braves looked like the best team in the division for awhile, but then things started to happen. They’ve had trouble winning with Chipper Jones out of the lineup. They’ve got injuries and slumps up and down their roster, forcing Fredi Gonzalez to improvise until things become normal again.
The Nationals have that terrific starting rotation, and a nice bullpen. But if Stephen Strasburg is held to that 160-inning limit, the Nationals could be scrambling to fill holes. For the moment, the Marlins appear to be the best teams top to bottom, especially with Heath Bell holding down the ninth inning.
Maybe the two divisions will be won by the team that’s able to get its injured players back or can make a trading deadline move to shore up a weak spot. It’s just just that the races are close. It’s that a bunch of teams seem capable of winning. Fresh off the memory of 2011, it’s silly to county any team out, and maybe that’s how it ought to be.