Tag Archives: AL East

Blue Jays play spoiler in walkoff win over Orioles

Richard Urena mobbed after walkoff pushes Jays past O’s
The season has long been over for the Toronto Blue Jays, as far as their own contending status. But for a second straight night the Jays played the role of spoiler perfectly.
On Tuesday night at Rogers Centre, the host Blue Jays rallied against Baltimore closer Zach Britton. Toronto scored twice in the bottom of the ninth inning to walkoff the Orioles by a 3-2 score.
It marked the second straight night that Toronto registered a one-run victory over Baltimore. the loss also extended Baltimore’s recent untimely swoon to six consecutive defeats. As a result, the O’s are now 4.5 games out in the race for the final American League Wildcard playoff berth.
Just as importantly, there are five teams now sitting between Baltimore and Minnesota. The Twins currently hold possession of that final postseason slot.
Tim Beckham‘s 21st home run of the season, a solo shot, had put Baltimore in front by 2-1 in the top of the 8th inning. That blast somewhat spoiled an impressive outing by Jays’ starting pitcher Joe Biagini. The righty allowed just two runs on six hits across eight innings.
Biagini had been matched by O’s starter Dylan Bundy, who lasted just six frames, but struck out eight and surrendered just one run on five hits.


The Jays game-winning rally began when Britton walked Kevin Pillar leading off the bottom of the ninth. Teoscar Hernandez then singled, with Pillar rolling around to third base as the tying run.
Jays skipper John Gibbons sent Darwin Barney up to pinch-hit for Ryan Goins, but Barney grounded into a force out, keeping Pillar stranded.
Catcher Luke Maile came through, however. He drilled a first-pitch shot off O’s third baseman Manny Machado, and Pillar scored the tying run as the ball rolled into left field with Barney moving up to second base.
Richard Urena followed, and on a 1-1 offering from Britton he lined a clean single to center field. Pillar raced home with the winning run, and Toronto had their walkoff spoiler.


“They’re pitching well and we’re not swinging the bats well,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter per Eduardo A. Encina for The Baltimore Sun. “You don’t reach this level, either team, without having a lot of competitive spirit in you. I think both teams showed it. Two well-pitched games and we weren’t able to finish it off.”
Gibbons was quoted on his team’s big win by MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm:
“A lot of good things tonight. Urena getting the big walk-off hit. He’s been playing great. Tim Mayza getting his first. Teoscar nice piece of hitting in the ninth inning shooting the ball to right field and Maile, Lukey, with the big hit. You don’t get many balls by Machado, that’s for sure.”
The two division rivals will wrap up this series, and their 2017 season series with one another, with one final game in Toronto on Wednesday night.
The Orioles have won 11 of the 18 games this year between the two teams. But it is the Blue Jays who are gaining a measure of late-season satisfaction as they turn Baltimore’s postseason dream into a nightmare.

Rick Porcello turnaround could help Bosox pull away

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Rick Porcello helping the Bosox take charge in AL East

As late as June 2, the Boston Red Sox were just four games over the .500 mark. At that point, the team sat in third place in the AL East race, three games behind the arch-rival New York Yankees.

Flash forward a little more than seven weeks, and the Bosox have taken charge. They went 26-19 to flip the standings position, now leading the Yanks by 3.5 after the games of Saturday, July 22.
For the second straight season, Boston has an AL Cy Young Award front-runner. This time around, that top starting pitcher is lefty Chris Sale.
But last season’s top starter has struggled for much of the 2017 season. Rick Porcello won the 2016 AL Cy Young Award following the best season by far of his then eight-year big league career.
Porcello went 22-4 a year ago with a 3.15 ERA and 1.009 WHIP. He allowed just 193 hits over 223 innings with a 189/32 K:BB ratio.
Flash forward to this season, and Porcello’s numbers are nowhere near that level. The 28-year old righty has gone 4-12 with a 4.60 ERA and 1.436 WHIP. He has allowed 156 hits over 125.1 innings with a 115/24 K:BB mark.
Porcello has regressed to the type of pitcher he had been in his first seven seasons. That would be a nice, reliable, mid-rotation innings eater as opposed to a top of the rotation ace-caliber starter.
However, his recent starts have begun to signal what could be a turnaround towards numbers closer in line to last season.

Over his last five outings, Porcello has a 3.31 ERA. He has allowed just 32 hits over 32.2 innings with a 30/6 K:BB ratio. He also has just a .252 Batting Average Against in that period. Over a full season, that would be his second best mark, behind only last year’s Cy-winning campaign.
Boston skipper John Farrell was asked recently whether he thought that Porcello was regaining last year’s form.
“Oh yeah,” said Farrell, per Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald. “And you see it in his body language, the rhythm and pace he establishes in the game. All the while knowing he’s been pitching while, let’s face it, 50 percent of the time there have been zeroes on the board when he’s been on the mound. I think he’s done a very good job of pitching independent of that and just executing to the best of his ability.”
David Price returned from the Disabled List on May 29 and was increasingly looking like his own old, dominant self. That is, until he was roped around by the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night. That should ultimately prove a blip on the veteran left-hander’s pitching ledger.
Sale is dominating. Price is back in top form. Lefty Drew Pomeranz has been strong. Last week, lefty Eduardo Rodriguez returned to the rotation and provided an encouraging outing.
If these last handful of starts are more indicative of what Boston can expect from Porcello from here on out, the Red Sox just might begin to run away with the division. It would also give the team a trio of strong, seasoned starters come the postseason.

Blue Jays in last place, but still a contending team

Gibbons (leaning on dugout rail) has Jays contending again
In each of the last two seasons, the Toronto Blue Jays have played deep into October. The Jays lost in the ALCS both years, defeated in five games a year ago, and in six games by the Kansas City Royals in 2015.
After three consecutive winning campaigns, Toronto is currently struggling along in last place in the AL East Division standings. The Jays 35-36 record has them tied for that distinction with the Baltimore Orioles, five games behind the division-leading New York Yankees.
Despite that last place standing nearly three full months into the season, the Blue Jays are far from out of things. They are just two games off the pace in an extremely crowded race for an AL Wildcard playoff berth.
There are a number of reasons that manager John Gibbons and his team should feel confident. First of all is that recent track record of success. This is a mostly veteran team that knows how to win. If they can stay reasonably healthy, that experience should pay off over the second half of the season.
Toronto has been playing much better in recent weeks. The team fell to a season-worst 11 games below the .500 mark in late April. As recently as May 20 they were still eight games below that break-even mark.
Since that point, the Blue Jays have gone 17-10. The club entered play on Thursday afternoon having won three of their last four games.


The biggest culprit in Toronto’s mediocre 2017 season has been their lack of offense. The Blue Jays have been one of baseball’s top offensive attacks in recent years. But this season, the Jays bats have gone silent all too often.
The Blue Jays are 25th in MLB in Runsscored to this point, with a combined OPS of .732, just 24th in the game. With just 29 steals, they are tied for 22nd in baseball. Their 227 walks is 20th in MLB.
The Jays are no longer out-slugging anyone, and they’re not finding other ways to get on base and produce run-scoring opportunities.
Perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson was held out of the lineup on Thursday afternoon against the Texas Rangers with a balky knee. The third baseman has already spent time on the DL this year from mid-April until the last week in May.
Donaldson was the 2015 AL MVP and finished fourth in the voting a year ago. He banged 41 and 37 home runs in his first two seasons with Toronto after coming in a December 2014 trade from the Oakland Athletics. He also scored 122 runs in each season, and won a Silver Slugger each year.
On Wednesday, a story in the National Post quoted Gibson on Donaldson. “He’s got that attitude. You guys see it, you guys know it. He’s on the field, there’s just something. Good things happen with him, too. But there’s definitely something different about him.”
The Jays are going to need a healthy Donaldson returning to his accustomed production levels if they are ever going to get this 2017 lineup turned around.


Veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki seems to spend time each year on the DL. He was out during almost exactly the same time frame this year as was Donaldson.
Tulo is a 5x All-Star and former perennial MVP candidate himself. But this season he is hitting for a weak .235/.297/.333 slash line with just two homers and nine runs scored.
Much was made back in the off-season of the return of popular veteran Jose Bautista to the lineup. ‘Joey Bats’ signed an $18 million deal guaranteed for just this season, with a mutual $17 million option for next year.
With a dozen homers thus far, the 6x AL All-Star has provided his typical pop. However, the now 36-year old is hitting for just a .219/.334/.398 slash line.
The Blue Jays have worked hard over the last month to climb back into contention. They sit just a couple of games out of a Wildcard berth, just a handful of games out in the AL East race.
Unless they get substantially more production from Donaldson, Tulowitzki and Bautista, they may finish this year right where they are in those divisional standings. Rather than another trip to October, the club could end up closer to the bottom than the top.

Starlin Castro reaching his full potential in the Bronx

To the surprise of some, the New York Yankees are on top of the American League East Division standings
The Yankees current 24-13 record has the club 1.5 games up on the second place Baltimore Orioles.
One of the biggest keys to the surge by the latest incarnation of the Bronx Bombers to the top of the standings has been the play of second baseman Starlin Castro.
Castro was dealt by the Chicago Cubs at the 2015 Winter Meetings to the Yankees. In exchange, New York received pitcher Adam Warren and a player to  be named later. That PTBNL turned out to be infielder Brendan Ryan.
Castro was always seen as having dynamic offensive potential. The Cubs hierarchy simply believed that he had reached the peek of his skills, and that they had better in-house options.
At the time of the trade, the Cubs had both Javier Baez and Addison Russell ready for full big league opportunities. In fact, Russell broke into the starting lineup on the North Side as a second baseman in 2015, as Castro had been established as the Cubs starting shortstop.
Castro was signed out of his native Dominican Republic, and in 2010 made his big league debut. He finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting that season after hitting .300 with 31 doubles, 10 steals, and 41 RBI over 503 plate appearances.
The following year of 2011, Castro led all of Major League Baseball with 207 hits. And in three of the four years between 2011-14, Castro was a National League All-Star.


With the development of Baez and Russell, the Cubs saw an opportunity to bring in a valuable arm in Warren for a player they believed was unwilling to change his approach in order to improve his game.
For the Yankees part, they saw that dynamic offensive package in a player who was still young. The then 25-year old was plugged into a retooling Yankees lineup at second base in the first season of the post-Derek Jeter era.
In his first season in pinstripes, Castro hit .270 with 21 homers and 70 RBI. This year, the now 27-year old is entering his prime, and his production has exploded. He is currently hitting for a .351/.387/.545 slash line with seven homers, 26 RBI, 29 runs scored, and nine doubles.
Those statistical figures are either first or second in the Yankees regular lineup. As quoted by Billy Witz for the New York Times earlier this month, Yanks GM Brian Cashman commented on his approach and production:
“If you focused on the negatives, you can get tripped up and frustrated, but if you focus on what he does well, you’ll appreciate what he brings to the table. You watch his at-bats play out, and you see he’s not Wade Boggs working the count. But he is a tough out. You get him 0-2, 1-2, that’s when the at-bat starts. He’s a tough out and a very dangerous hitter, and I don’t think he’s a finished product.”
While he is never likely to be a Gold Glove defender, Castro holds his own defensively at the Keystone position. Teaming with defensive whiz Didi Gregorius helps, as does his own offensive value.


The trade with Chicago has proven a bit convoluted. The Yanks reacquired Warren last July, along with a package of highly considered minor league prospects, in exchange for closer Aroldis Chapman.
That deal certainly worked out for the Cubs. Chapman proved to be a lights-out closer on a World Series championship team. But the Yankees may benefit greatly in the long run.
One of the prospects received in last summer’s deal is shortstop Gleyber Torres. He is now the top prospect in the system and one of the top prospects in baseball.
The New York Yankees are already at the top of the divisional standings. If Cashman is proven correct that Castro can still improve, he may prove pivotal in helping them stay there.

Tim Beckham Making Most of Latest Opportunity

Former top MLB draft pick Tim Beckham finally producing in Tampa
The Tampa Bay Rays won the American League pennant in 2008, reaching the World Series for the only time in their history.
The excitement of that 2008 Fall Classic came just one year after the Rays had finished with the worst overall record in Major League Baseball.
As a result of that poor 2007 finish, Tampa Bay held the rights to the top overall pick in the MLB Amateur Draft in June of 2008. With that selection, the Rays chose shortstop Tim Beckham out of Griffin High School in Georgia.
Also selected in that first round included first baseman Eric Hosmer at third overall by the Kansas City Royals. The San Francisco Giants chose catcher Buster Posey with the fifth overall pick.
It was a third consecutive year in which the Rays were selecting within the top three overall picks of the draft. The previous year, the club chose pitcher David Price with the top overall pick. In 2006, the Rays took third baseman Evan Longoria at third overall.


There was much debate in the Rays draft “war room” as they whittled the final decision down to Beckham and Posey. In the aftermath of the Beckham choice, an Associated Press report quoted EVP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman:
“It was an active debate, but I think at the end of the day when push came to shove and we were racing time, I think it was pretty clear to everybody that Beckham was the guy at the top of our board. We feel like he’s got an advanced approach to the game, a genuine enthusiasm for what he does, and we feel like he’s got a great chance to be an impact player in the major leagues.”
Friedman and the Rays could not have gotten the pick more wrong.
Price and Longoria would quickly rise to become key cogs for a Rays team that finally became a consistent contender. Beckham would take much longer to develop. Meanwhile, Posey was becoming a superstar.


In the 2009 season, Beckham would hit .275, drove in 63 runs, and steal 13 bases at Low-A Bowling Green. The following year with High-A Charlotte, he hit just .256, but stole 22 bags.
In 2011, Beckham split the year between the AA and AAA levels. He posted professional career highs with a dozen homers, 44 extra-base hits, 70 RBI, and 94 runs scored. Beckham was just 21 years old at that point, and all signs were continuing to point up.
However, trouble would surface in the 2012 season. In May of that year, Beckham tested positive for the second time for a “drug of abuse’, and was suspended for 50 games.
Back at AAA in the 2013 season, Beckham hit .276 with a .342 on-base percentage. He appeared to possibly be back on track, and even got his first cup of coffee in the big leagues during late September.
It seemed as if the former top overall pick was finally on the cusp of a regular role with the Rays. But then, more disaster struck. This time it was in the form of a torn ACL while working out in preparation for the 2014 season. He was quoted at the time for MLB.com by Bill Chastain:
“Just training; it was supposed to be my day off. While doing a drill at the end of the workout, my tennis shoe hit the ground and I tried to cross over into a sprint. I was sprinting out of the drill and when my foot hit the ground, my foot slipped and my knee gave.”
Beckham would subsequently miss most of that 2014 season. He would receive just 95 at-bats across three levels of the minor leagues that year.


In coming out for the 2015 campaign, the shortstop was simply looking to re-establish himself and show that he was healthy. After hitting .294 over his first 51 at-bats, Beckham was back in the bigs.
In Miami on April 11, 2015, Beckham cranked his first big league home run. The blast off Marlins lefty reliever Mike Dunn helped the Rays to a 2-0 victory. It would prove to be an outlier, not the sign of a long-awaited breakout.
Over the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Beckham failed to establish himself as a regular in the Rays lineup. In fact, he was demoted at the start of September of last season due to a series of base-running gaffes and a perceived lack of hustle.


All of Beckham’s struggles have been exacerbated by thoughts of what might have been for Tampa Bay. What might have happened had they only chosen Posey on that June day back in 2008?
The catcher would go on to become one of the great team leaders in the game, and one of its best players as well. Posey was the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year. He was the 2012 National League Most Valuable Player.
Posey has captured three Silver Slugger Awards, a Gold Glove, and has been a 4x NL All-Star. Oh yes, and he helped lead the Giants to three World Series championships.


But perhaps now in 2017, something is finally clicking for Beckham. He was provided with an opportunity to play regularly thanks to starting shortstop Matt Duffy‘s slow recovery from off-season heel surgery. Beckham has thus far been making the most of that chance.
Through five weeks of the 2017 season, Beckham is hitting for a .275/.306/.520 slash line. He has driven six homers and has 11 extra-base hits over 109 plate appearances in his first 28 games.
His production is part of the reason that the Rays are off to a surprising start in the standings. The club was at the .500 mark prior to a Friday night loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
After a Rays victory earlier this week, Tampabay.com’s Roger Mooney quoted manager Kevin Cash on his shortstop’s performance this season:
“Beck’s having a good time out there. He’s obviously gotten some consistency. He’s got into that everyday routine, that everyday role. You know, he probably hasn’t had too many of those opportunities up here at the big-league level, and he’s making the most of it right now. He’s helping us win games, and that’s probably the most important thing.”
Talent has never been the question with Beckham. His problems have more to do with discipline, personal responsibility, and injuries. Still early in his prime at just age 27, if he can continue to produce, it could make for an interesting and exciting season for both Beckham and the Rays. Finally.