The best division in baseball, you ask?
It’s the American League East.
On Monday, thanks to a couple of pitching masterpieces, the East became the first division with three 40-win teams.
The New York Yankees (44-27), Tampa Bay Rays (43-29) and Boston Red Sox (40-34) sit atop the East, while no other division in baseball had a second team with at least 40 victories.
Heading into Tuesday night’s action, the Minnesota Twins (47-24) led the A.L. Central, with Cleveland (37-24) sitting 10 games back. The Houston Astros (48-25) were atop the A.L. West, and the Texas Rangers (39-33) were 8.5 games behind.
Over in the National League, the Atlanta Braves (43-30) have seized momentum in the East, three games in front of the Philadelphia Phillies (39-32); the Milwaukee Brewers (40-32) sat a half-game in front of the Chicago Cubs (39-32); and in the West, the Los Angeles Dodgers (48-25) were 10 games better than the Colorado Rockies (37-34) and Arizona Diamondbacks (38-35).
By the time we meet again, I’m sure there will be several new 40-game winners, but for now, let’s talk about the best division in baseball.
Personally, I think the Rays have the potential to emerge there, given how well the team is pitching. Tampa Bay had a league-best 3.02 ERA, despite Monday’s 3-0 loss in the Bronx, where Masahiro Tanaka threw a complete game, two-hit shutout to beat the Rays. The staff was the only one in baseball that hadn’t allowed 70 or more homers, while it had the third-lowest WHIP in baseball, at 1.12.
There’s yet to be official talk of Cy Young candidates, only rumblings, but Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton is in the conversation. The 32-year-old opened the season 8-1 with a 2.37 ERA and boasts a 11.0 strikeout-per-9 rate. He’s only given up six home runs and is projected to give up just 14 this season.
The Yankees just bolstered their lineup with A.L. home run leader Edwin Encarnacion. Add Giancarlo Stanton and eventually Aaron Judge to the mix, and this will be one of the Empire’s most lethal lineups, 1-through-9, the franchise has ever seen. Heading into their second game with the Rays, the pinstripes ranked ninth with a .258 batting average and with a .448 slugging percentage. With 113 home runs, they were tied for sixth. That number will grow exponentially with the addition of Encarnacion.
As for the defending World Series champion Red Sox, they may be the strangest of the trio from the East. Some days they resemble the team that hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy in October, on others they resemble a team that doesn’t belong in the playoffs. They devoured the East’s cellar-dwelling Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, and then responded with an impressive 2-0 win in Minnesota thanks to gem from starter Rick Porcello.
The Red Sox have done fine against the sub-.500 teams, but they headed into their series with the Twins without a series-win against a team that currently had a winning record since April 29-May 1. The Crimson Hose will need to do better in that regard, in order to contend.
After Boston’s win over the Twins on Monday, all three teams continue to have winning records against Central and West opponents combined.
The Red Sox return from the Twin Cities to host the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend, the start of an eight-game homestand that should pad their win column. The Yankees don’t have it as easy, as they’ll finish their three-game set with the Rays and open a four-game series with the very dangerous Astros.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay will have the toughest week ahead, and we’re about to see just how good this team is, as it continues its 10-game road trip by traveling to Oakland for four games starting on Thursday, and then travels to Minnesota for three games early next week.
This weekend could reveal a bit more, and just how strong the trio from the East is, as we head toward the All-Star Break.
Now, on to this week’s selections, as I look to rebound after last week’s dismal 0-3 showing.
Angels at Blue Jays: I’m going to turn to the Halos in this one, as they’ll be finishing up a four-game series in Toronto before heading to St. Louis.
The Angels are scrapping their way through the middle of the A.L. West, currently jockeying for the third spot with the Oakland A’s. And while their pitching staff has lacked this season, I don’t mind backing the Angels with Jose Suarez on the mound for this one. The left-hander just twirled the best start of his young career, lasting 5 2/3 innings against the first-place Rays. He allowed three runs and struck out three and is showing diversity by bringing along his off-speed pitches.
The bats are the Angels’ strength, and they should chase Clayton Richard early in this one, as he’s still in search of his first win of the season and is strapped with a 7.94 ERA in three home starts. ANGELS
Giants at Dodgers: In March, I featured three MLB betting systems I like to follow throughout the year. One of them involved pitching rematches and playing the losing pitcher from a previous meeting within a week prior.
Well, on June 9, San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner took the L in a 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Walker Buehler. Now the two meet in the series finale at Chavez Ravine, and I’m backing the Giants. Quite frankly, since these heated rivals won’t meet against until September, when Mad Bum could be pitching for another team, I like his chances to exact revenge and potentially pitch his best game of the season.
This will be the fourth time he will face the Dodgers this season, and he’s yet to earn a win. Bumgarner is 0-2 with a 0.94 ERA in the three starts. That’s got to sting. With one more chance to notch a win against what’s been the biggest rival of his career, I’ll take the road underdog. GIANTS
Reds at Brewers: Cincinnati was in fourth place in the N.L. Central on Tuesday, and by the time they play this game, could be in the cellar. Yet I’m going to back them in this situation, as I think they’ll be able to take advantage of Milwaukee’s struggling righty Chase Anderson.
While the Reds have one of the league’s better pitching staffs, it’s their hitting that needs to provide better support. They had a season-long run differential of +39 after beating the Astros on Monday, but that’s because of a staff ERA of 3.56 — third best in the league. The Reds ranks fifth in the bigs with 677 strikeouts, and fourth in opponents’ batting average (.231). If only they could hit the ball.
Against Anderson, they may have their chance. Since going 2-0 with a 2.78 ERA in his first five starts of the campaign, Anderson is 0-1 with a 5.79 ERA in three June starts. I expect Milwaukee to be overpriced in this meeting and will gladly take the big price on the road. REDS
Last week: 0-3
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