Last week saw a few interesting developments that could affect the American League East and American League wild card races.
The Yankees still have a comfortable lead in the East, but the club may regret not trading for a starting pitcher ahead of the July 31 deadline. That’s because of the tender elbow of ace CC Sabathia. He was placed on the disabled list on Saturday due to discomfort in his pitching elbow. Sabathia actually objected to the move and he apparently only told the team about it because his wife threatened to if he didn’t. Reason No. 144 to not tell your wife things, but that’s a story for another day.
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On the surface the injury doesn’t appear to be a big deal. Sabathia said he is sure that whatever is ailing his elbow will clear up within the next two weeks and will allow him to come off the disabled list Aug. 23, the soonest he is eligible to return. He fully expects to return to the rotation on Aug. 24, and an MRI came up clean. But this is the second trip to the disabled list this season for the workhorse. The guy is 32, overweight and has thrown a ton of innings the past five-plus seasons: Including the postseason, Sabathia has averaged nearly 256 innings a year over the last five seasons. His 1,340.2 regular season innings since the start of the 2007 season are by far the most in baseball. The No. 2 guy is Roy Halladay, and he was sidelined for a few months already this year with arm issues. Did I mention that New York still owes Sabathia around $94 million over the next four years?
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays are surging behind the Yankees. Entering Monday’s series opener in Seattle, the Rays haven’t lost since All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria returned last week from missing more than three months with a hamstring tear. Tampa Bay is 21-8 with him in the lineup this season and 41-44 without him.
But it’s pitching that carries the Rays. They have a 2.33 ERA since the All-Star break, more than three-quarters of a run better than any other club, and have held opponents to a .200 average in taking over the AL wild card lead. Young lefty Matt Moore, who starts Tuesday night in Seattle, has been practically unhittable lately with a 0.79 ERA in August. James Shields has been throwing more fastballs and has allowed only three earned runs in his last 24 innings. He starts Friday opposite Angels ace and Cy Young leader Jered Weaver. Moore is then scheduled to go in the series finale Sunday vs. Zack Greinke, who has yet to win as an Angel.
The Yankees are still -1000 favorites to win the division on Sportsbook.ag, with Tampa Bay at +500. But it might be wise to roll the dice on the Rays now. In addition to Sabathia’s injury the Yankees remain without Andy Pettitte until mid-September. Phil Hughes was just bombed by the Blue Jays over the weekend and looks to be slipping into “Bad Phil” mode again – he has allowed 27 homers this year, second in MLB. Ivan Nova was good against Toronto but in his previous two starts had allowed a combined 16 runs in just 10.1 innings. You know Tampa Bay’s pitching won’t be a question, but it’s easy to wonder about the Yankees’ staff.
Speaking of struggling pitching staffs, how about those Angels? For a while it looked like they might challenge the Rangers in the AL West. Now L.A. enters the week having lost eight of 11 to fall eight games behind Texas. Other than Weaver, who was beaten by the lowly Mariners on Sunday, their pitching has been pretty lousy recently. Greinke has been a disappointment, Ervin Santana has allowed the most homers in the majors, Dan Haren has allowed at least one home run in nine consecutive starts and C.J. Wilson, who starts Monday night vs. Cleveland, had allowed 27 runs in 29.2 innings over his past five starts.
Closer Ernesto Frieri had an ERA of 0.95 on July 22. Now it’s up to 2.04 with a 9.00 ERA this month. In his first 13 appearances as an Angel, which spanned 13 innings, Frieri didn’t give up a single hit while striking out 27 hitters. He didn’t surrender a run until July 15. Teams can still trade for players provided they clear waivers or if a team claims said player and works out a deal with the other club. Expect L.A. to remain aggressive in looking for bullpen help. Might former Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, now struggling with the Brewers, be an option?
Finally, it’s probably time to officially pull the plug on the Boston Red Sox. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks won’t need surgery on the fracture in his right wrist but still could be done for the season. Middlebrooks was hitting .288 with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs – that Kevin Youkilis trade is looking worse and worse. Former Twin Danny Valencia will get most of the time at third now. He’s hitting all of .192 this season.
In addition, it’s still not clear when DH David Ortiz will get back. Ortiz had circled Sunday as a possible return from a strained Achilles’, but he wasn't in the lineup yet again. The Red Sox are 11-15 since Ortiz went on the disabled list July 17. Ortiz has gone through a full workout but continues to feel a measure of pain when he runs. Don’t look for him this week.
On the bright side, the Sox are expected to activate Andrew Bailey for Tuesday’s game. He was supposed to be the team’s closer after a big offseason trade with Oakland but has missed all season with a thumb injury. Alfredo Aceves is expected to remain the Sox’s closer for now. The Sox start a three-game set in Baltimore on Tuesday, and then have to face the Yankees and Angels. It could get ugly.
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