For all the baseball enthusiasts out there that thought the upstart Orioles, pitching-heavy Rays or money-spending Blue Jays might cause the Yankees and Red Sox to take a backseat in the American League East this season, think again.
Heading into spring training, it seemed as if New York and Boston could potentially be the weakest links in the division. Yet here we are heading into June, with the two clubs sitting 1-2 in the standings, separated by only 2 games in the win column.
|Photo by: Kathy Willens|
Despite their first place finish a year ago, most fans expected a slow start (at minimum) by the Yankees this season, knowing they would be without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (among others) for at least part of the 2013 campaign.
But if you would have told me back in March that 3/4 of New York's infield through the first quarter of the year would be Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix and Lyle Overbay, and the Yanks would still be in sole possession of first, I would have told you to seek immediate medical attention, because you must have lost your mind.
It certainly helps that the fourth member of that infield is Robinson Cano. The All-Star second baseman has held together the top-half of the lineup, hitting .292 with 13 homers and 35 RBI. Cano's all-around play has been extremely valuable to the success of the Bronx Bombers so far, and has made him an early candidate for Most Valuable Player.
The story of the pitching staff has clearly been the continued brilliance of future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. At 43, the cut fastball-throwing closer has 18 saves in 21 total appearances with a splendid 1.86 ERA. Skipper Joe Girardi must be thrilled that he can still rely on the 18-year veteran heading into the 9th with a slim lead.
Then there's the Red Sox, coming off a woeful 2012 that saw them finish with an abysmal 69-93 record. Much of the blame fell on their starting pitching, with the six primary starters combining for an atrocious 5.56 ERA.
Following the season, brash manager Bobby Valentine was fired and former Blue Jays skipper John Farrell was named as his replacement. The starters have responded well to the change, tallying a collective 3.61 ERA. In particular, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester have been nothing short of spectacular; combining for a 13-1 record and 2.53 ERA.
Former MVP Dustin Pedroia has paced the Red Sox offense, hitting .332 along with a .419 on-base percentage. Slugger David Ortiz has given them some renewed pop in the middle of the lineup as well, hitting 8 home runs and batting .333.
Boston has also gotten contributions from several castoffs, with Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino and Stephen Drew all chipping in. Even Daniel Nava, who has bounced back and forth from the minors to Fenway Park the last several years, is hitting .288 with 7 dingers.
We just past Memorial Day and the standings should look pretty familiar to those who have followed the AL East closely in recent seasons. While the Orioles and Rays are far from out of it, for the first time in a long time, it's actually surprising to see the Yankees and Red Sox sitting atop the division.
Then again, maybe we shouldn't be surprised at all.