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Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Grading the AL teams through May


New York Yankees (29-23)

For all the dithering and complaining that’s been going on in the Bronx, the Yankees have the second-best record in the American League, propelled by the best offense in baseball. Russell Martin (.253/.363/.479) has been a gem, helping replace the disappointing production of Jorge Posada (.169/.285/.338,) and Curtis Granderson (.276/.350/.613, 15 homers) has learned to take advantage of the short right-field power alley in the new Yankee Stadium. Mark Teixeira (.258/.368/.546) looks like he has declined, but that’s masked by the low offensive numbers around the game. His 148 OPS+ would basically be tied for the second best of his career, and he’s easily been one of the top three first basemen in the AL. CC Sabathia (6-3, 2.98) has been predictably excellent, A.J. Burnett has returned to form, and the Yanks are getting great work out of retreads Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. It’s like 2005 all over again! Mariano Rivera (2.11 ERA and 13 saves) continues to defy logic on the back end and is backed up by the incredible David Robertson (35 K's in 21.1 innings and a 1.27 ERA). This isn’t exactly how they drew it up, but it’s working.

That said, the AL East is wide open and the Yankees could really use a boost by Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner. Also, anything they can do to hustle Jorge out of the lineup in favor of Jesus Montero will pay dividends. Especially since they are stuck with Derek Jeter’s mediocre production (.259/.321/.325) as the starting shortstop. And if we could stop having manufactured controversies such as “batting order-gate,” that would be awesome, please. Grade: A-.
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

Boston Red Sox (30-24)

After a brutal 2-10 start that caused Red Sox Nation to go into full-on panic mode, the Boston has righted the ship by going an impressive 27-13 over its past 40 games. Adrian Gonzalez, fully recovered from his offseason shoulder surgery, has led the charge, producing a .342/.374/.602 triple-slash line with eight home runs and 30 RBIs in May. Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz have provided steady, ample lineup protection for Gonzalez, combining some serious power with top-notch on-base abilities. Carl Crawford, after being mired in a gruesome .155/.207/.227 April slump, appears to have fully rebounded in May, hitting a far more robust .308/.333/.495 with 11 extra-base hits. Pitching-wise, Josh Beckett’s re-emergence as a true ace and serious Cy Young contender has given the Red Sox three top-of-the-rotation starters with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz flanking him. In the bullpen, Daniel Bard and Matt Albers (surprise!) have done a great job providing a sturdy bridge to re-energized closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Despite their recent run of success, the Red Sox have not been without their share of struggles. After a scorching hot start, Dustin Pedroia has cooled off considerably, hitting only .211/.331/.270 since April 21. Luckily, there are signs the pocket-sized second baseman is about to turn it around. In the rotation, the performance of John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka has been so putrid that Red Sox Nation breathed an audible sigh of relief when the two pitchers hit the disabled list. If the Red Sox are going to be serious World Series contenders, they’ll have to get consistent, steady production out of the four and five spots in their rotation. While the Red Sox have improved considerably over the last few weeks, they're still a work in progress. Grade: B.
--Chip Buck, Fire Brand of the AL

Tampa Bay Rays (28-25)

The Rays are just a game and a half back of the division lead. That sounded like a dream scenario in February. So perhaps we should be easier on this club. Nevertheless, it feels like the Rays left some meat on the bone when they squandered Boston’s terrible start and their early-season division lead. True to form, the Rays are in the hunt without obvious explanation. We should be grateful that a lineup that includes, on a regular basis, Casey Kotchman, Sam Fuld, and Reid Brignac’s corpse has generated enough thump to support the most underrated pitching staff in baseball. There is no way any Rays fan would have expected that club to be three games over .500. But the Rays have been lucky, missed chances at home (13-15), played a lot of sub-.500 teams (24 games, five more than the Yankees and 13 more than the Red Sox), and have players that will surely regress toward their career averages. So, I give them points for over-performance, but deduct points for missed opportunities. Grade: B-.
--Mark Heilig, The Ray Area

Toronto Blue Jays (28-26)

Only two games back in the stacked AL East? The Jays will take it! Jose Bautista (.356/.502/.791, 254 OPS+, 20 homers) continues to destroy AL pitching and prove that 2010 was no fluke, justifying the risk Toronto took in extending him. He’s the engine that makes the No. 2 offense in the AL go, but Adam Lind (.313/.343/.516), Yunel Escobar (.293/.368/.429) and Rookie of the Year candidate J.P. Arencibia (.259/.321/.503 ) deserve a lot of credit too. Ricky Romero (5-4, 2.88) has officially become a stud and Kyle Drabek’s star is on the rise (3-3, 4.16). And the bullpen has been outstanding everywhere except the closer role. The Jays may not have the guns to stick it out against the Yanks, Sox and Rays, but they could be big buyers this year if they decide to make a push. Upgrading the rotation would be a great start, as would be finding a new starter at either second or third base, while allowing Brett Lawrie (who has 15 homers at Triple-A Las Vegas) to take over the other spot. Grade: A-.
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

Baltimore Orioles (24-28)

The three major strengths and slight surprises have been the play of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Zach Britton. Wieters' has stepped forward to become one of the best catchers in the American League. He has thrown out nearly half of those attempted to steal and his bat is above average. Jones' bat has exploded over the past month, but with a .402 BABIP one has to question how sustainable this is. Britton has also been a surprise as he was to have been pitching in Norfolkd. Instead, the Orioles were forced to promote him when Brian Matusz was injured at the end of spring training. Britton and his 2.35 ERA are now on pace for major consideration for AL Rookie of the Year.

The weaknesses were foreseeable. Brian Roberts' fall was expected as the early 30s is historically a wasteland for second basemen. Derrek Lee's play is also eroding and he looks like another in a line of poor first base acquisitions for the Orioles. Mark Reynolds is not making contact with the bat and when he is, it is not jumping off it like it has in years past. Reynolds' defense is also just as lackluster as advertised. Perhaps the most distressing aspect for Orioles' fans has been the play of Nick Markakis. His power has been cut in half and his defense is looking exceptionally poor. Markakis' range has been evaporating over the past few years, leaving almost all of his worth coming from his ability to prevent runners from taking extra bases. Those throws have appeared often to be off line. Hopefully, this is just a hiccup in his career. Grade: C.
--Jon Shepherd, Camden Depot

Cleveland Indians (31-20)

The Indians' season has provided far more good moments than bad. However, the bad has been really, really bad. We wonder where our starting pitching has gone, and we wonder if sometimes the Indians take the late-inning magic for granted. They seem to have developed an inability to put together a series of hits to score a run or three. The big losses over the past week have illuminated the team's weak spots. They need to put together better at-bats and score runs. Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson need to locate their pitches better and throw more strikes. Grade B+.
--Susan Petrone and Stephanie Liscio, It's Pronounced "Lajaway"

Detroit Tigers (27-26)

If you can explain the 2011 Tigers, we're all ears. This team has been nothing less than mystifying through the first two months. They've strung together winning streaks of three, four and seven games, and skids of four, five, six and seven. Yet, they are just five game back of the Indians heading into play on Tuesday. The first two months of the season have had pleasant surprises: Justin Verlander's no-hitter against the Blue Jays, Jhonny Peralta's offensive awakening, and Alex Avila's rapid development at and behind the plate. Meanwhile, the Tigers' bullpen has given manager Jim Leyland -- and fans -- acute indigestion with its inconsistency, and the club is getting zero offense from Brandon Inge and Ryan Raburn. Still, the Tigers are in the hunt, which should make this summer entertaining, if not perplexing, in Detroit. Grade: C.
--Mike McClary, The Daily Fungo

Chicago White Sox (25-31)

Not much has gone right for the Sox so far. Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin have continued to rake. Brent Lillibridge has more homers (five) in 66 plate appearances so far than in the rest of his career combined (three in 290 PAs). And Alexei Ramirez has established himself as one of the top three shortstops in the American League. Sergio Santos and Phil Humber have risen to take up huge roles as the closer and sixth starter respectively. And Jake Peavy is back and looking OK through three starts. But offseason prize Adam Dunn has simply not hit (.181/.320/.331). John Danks and half of the bullpen have imploded, with ERAs above 5.25. A.J. Pierzynski, Gordon Beckham, Juan Pierre, and Alexis Rios are four of the least productive regulars in baseball, but have nothing on Opening Day third baseman Brent Morel, who just Sunday night drew his first walk of the season, 118 plate appearances in. The Sox are nine games back of the Indians and 10th in the American League in both runs scored per game and runs allowed. Even if everyone rights themselves, they don't look likely to make up the difference. This is not how they drew it up last winter. Grade: D-.
-- The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

Kansas City Royals (23-30)

The process is under way in Kansas City with the early May call-ups of top prospects Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy. Hosmer, in particular, has been solid, posting a line of .274/.314/.505 in his first 102 plate appearances. Meanwhile, it's all gone wrong for Royals closer Joakim Soria, who has seen his walk rate double from last season, while his strikeout rate has taken a corresponding tumble. The team flirted with contention early, but has drifted back to their natural position in the Central, where they're likely to remain for the rest of the year. Everything seems to be moving according to schedule. Grade: C.
-- Craig Brown, Royals Authority

Minnesota Twins (17-35)

Baseball in Minnesota has been an unmitigated disaster. Expected to contend after a hugely successful first year at Target Field, the Twins have seen disaster strike across the entire roster. Their starting pitching has been terrible, their injury-ravaged lineup has been abysmal, and their bullpen is a wreck. Ball fans here in Minneapolis have seen more of Joe Mauer in Head & Shoulders commercials between innings than on the field during games. Perhaps it's fitting -- the face of a franchise that has totally lost its identity is nowhere to be found. Grade: F.
-- Nick Nelson, Nick's Twins Blog

Texas Rangers (29-25)

On the one hand, it's difficult to be too displeased with an 87-win pace and sole possession of first place at the end of two injury-ravaged months. On the other hand, it could be viewed as a golden opportunity lost. The Rangers have received truly tremendous performance from a few unexpected sources, including the three-headed first base hydra of Mitch Moreland (.301/.379/.519), Mike Napoli (.229/.364/.571), and a renascent Michael Young (.340/.382/.500), and though the starting rotation depth has been so crippled by injuries that the Rangers don't really have a viable No. 6 starter right now, Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando have been good enough to offset most of the back-of-the-rotation difficulties.

Unfortunately, not much else has gone according to plan since the sizzling 9-1 start. The Rangers' entire Opening Day starting outfield (Julio Borbon, Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz) was on the disabled list simultaneously at one point, and though it's now finally beginning to hit its stride health- and production-wise, the extended absence of two of the team's biggest superstars put a sizable dent in the Rangers' hopes of pulling away early. The largest outstanding issue, though, is the bullpen -- Neftali Feliz's 1.45 ERA truly belies just how awful he's been, and the injury bug coupled with all-around ineffectiveness has rendered this the Rangers' major Achilles' heel. If the bullpen is fixed, though ... well, look out. Grade: B.
-- Joey Matschulat, Baseball Time in Arlington

Los Angeles Angels (29-27)

If the Angels manage to get into the postseason this year, they're going to be exceptionally hard to beat behind Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, or Dared as I've taken to calling them in US Weekly. But can they get there? The continuing injury problems of Kendrys Morales have left the offense with little thump. Howie Kendrick has been remarkable in picking up some of the slack, but he's playing over his head. So are Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis. All are good bets to regress. Jeff Mathis continues to soak up far too much playing time over youngster Hank Conger, and Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells have proven disappointing at the outfield corners.

The hope is that Russell Branyan can pick up some of the slack at first base, where Mark Trumbo is lost against righties and has a .294 OBP, and that Joel Piniero can stay both healthy and productive in the rotation. But this is a club that desperately needs to upgrade around the margins, get healthy, and maximize the value of who they have on hand. The AL West is very winnable right now, but somebody needs to start making moves. Grade: C+.
-- The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

Seattle Mariners (27-26)

The 2011 season has been nothing short of surprising for the Mariners. Everyone knew going in that the team would be based on pitching and defense, but nobody expected the pitching to be as good as it's been. Felix Hernandez has been himself, but Michael Pineda has been a revelation, and both Jason Vargas and Doug Fister have exceeded expectations. That Erik Bedard has been healthy and effective is just gravy. The hitting has been decidedly lax, however. Ichiro has been very un-Ichiro-like, Chone Figgins has actually somehow been worse than last year, and Justin Smoak has cooled off considerably since April. I'm not sure how long this team can contend given the lack of offense, but considering what the expectations were coming in to the year, any contention at all is simply a bonus. Grade: B.
-- Conor Dawley, Pro Ball NW

Oakland Athletics (27-28)

It's no surprise that the A's would struggle to score, but they're averaging just 3.6 runs per game, and the players comprising the five infield positions have a collective OPS+ of 70. Newcomers David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui have been disappointments, and Mark Ellis looks like he might be nearing the end. On a positive note, the pitching has been all it was made out to be: The A's have had eight pitchers start at least two games, and the worst ERA among the bunch is Brandon McCarthy's 3.39. The starters have a 2.62 ERA and the staff as a whole has a 2.84 ERA. With three starting pitchers on the DL, and little offensive help on the way from Triple-A, the A's are in a precarious position heading into June. The Rangers and Angels (and yes, even the Mariners) have allowed the A's to hang around, but the A's look more like sellers than buyers as we head toward the trade deadlines. Grade: C.
-- Dan Hennessey, Baseballin' on a Budget