It's 'Back to the Future' in AL East

Updated: August 9, 2009

Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

Since the All-Star break, Jason Bay is hitting .200 with only three RBIs in 17 games.

"Hello, McFly!" Duck, Red Sox Nation. That DeLorean that just came flying in out of nowhere leaving a trail of flaming tire tracks in the mall parking lot is the American League East race. While the Yankees are staggering out of the car like a giddy Doc Brown and telling you how amazing things look, Boston is watching its depth, its mojo and its place in the AL East vanish like relatives in a Marty McFly family photo. The AL East has gone "Back to the Future," and it looks a lot like it used to: The Yankees are flying by and kicking your tail along the way. Why?

The "Baseball Tonight" crew spent the weekend trying to figure it out and came up with a few different reasons. Eduardo Perez likes the consistency the Yankees have developed in their infield, especially with Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano on the right side. Eddy, as usual, makes a good point. I looked it up; while the Yankees have sent Teixeira, Cano, Jeter and A-Rod out there nearly every day for a couple of months now, Boston has had eight different guys play first base and has used five different shortstops.

Buster Olney compared the current Red Sox lineup to the typical Yankees lineup from earlier this decade; too many slow, lumbering, gimpy, athletically challenged veterans clogging up the base paths. There's no doubt, the Boston lineup is in the midst of a transition; many of the key contributors from the 2004 and '07 champs are simply older and slower.

Eric Young makes the case that this dramatic turn atop the division shouldn't really be a surprise. To quote the Mayor of Souvenir City, "Before the season everybody said, 'Wow, the Yankees will be an explosive offensive unit as well as a dominant pitching staff,' and that's exactly what they are right now." Thanks for visiting.

Orestes Destrade says it's the Yankees' bullpen. O is also correct, clearly. The Yankees' bullpen, a weakness in April, is now a strength in August. Phil Hughes has been amazing out of the 'pen. Count Hughes among the handful of players who have had the biggest impact on the division. Coming out of Tampa this spring, the New York bullpen was Brian Bruney in the eighth inning and hopefully there would still be a lead to give to Mariano Rivera. Since Hughes gave up his rotation spot, he has changed the group's entire dynamic while Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, David Robertson and others have performed well in getting to The Great One. Cue it up: "Exit Light ... Enter Night."

It doesn't take a genius to see a scoreless Friday and Saturday in the Bronx and conclude that the biggest reason why is simply that the Red Sox have stopped hitting, but let me lay some numbers on you because they're remarkable. After play on June 24, Boston had a five-game AL East lead. Look at what some key Red Sox hitters have done between June 25 and Sunday: J.D. Drew is hitting .225, David Ortiz .219, Jason Varitek .216, Jason Bay .181 and Nick Green .105. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis have both hit better than .300 over this span, so in watching Boston play it's been easy to see the following formula: If Pedroia and Youkilis don't get the game's big hit, the Red Sox don't win.

Red Sox Nation has gotten used to this from J.D. Drew. He vanishes for long stretches, tweaks groins and hamstrings almost on schedule, but eventually he always contributes. He was sensational last June but in 34 games since Boston was five up in the division, Drew has just 11 RBIs. Above all, however, it's been Jason Bay's slump that has killed the Red Sox. Bay played like the AL MVP to begin this season, hitting .288 in April and May with 15 homers and 49 RBIs in 50 games. Compare those numbers to these: .181, 2 homers, 6 RBIs, 36 strikeouts in 32 games heading into the Yankees' win on Sunday night that completed their sweep.

That five-game Boston lead on June 25 is now a 6½-game deficit on Aug. 10. It's great if you can "Hit 'Em Where They Ain't," but the Red Sox just ain't hitting. The Yankees and Red Sox have gone "Back to the Future." The lightning has hit the clock tower and it's 1978 all over again. Wow, that was fast.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Aug. 6 | Aug. 5 | Aug. 4 | Aug. 3 | Aug. 2

WEB GEMS SCOREBOARD

Touch 'Em AllHere is this week's leaderboard, with points still transferring between leagues despite Steve Berthiaume's protests.

Web Gem points will be calculated by awarding five points for the night's top defensive play, four points for second, three for third, two for fourth and one for fifth. Scoring will be based on the Web Gems from the last "Baseball Tonight" show to air on a given night.

Web Gem points leaderboard
Jack Wilson 37
Brandon Inge 31
Jacoby Ellsbury 27
Carlos Gomez 27
Mark Reynolds 27
Ryan Zimmerman 25
Cristian Guzman 25

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (players)
Brandon Inge Detroit Third base 10
Jack Wilson Pittsburgh/Seattle Shortstop 9
David Wright New York Mets Third base 9
Ryan Zimmerman Washington Third base 9
Carlos Gomez Minnesota Center field 7
Mark Reynolds Arizona Third base 7
Jacoby Ellsbury Boston Center field 7

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (teams)
Pittsburgh 31
Cincinnati 26
Washington 26
Philadelphia 25
Boston 24
Minnesota 22
New York Mets 22

ON DECK: MONDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Tigers at Red Sox, 7:05 p.m. ET (ESPN)

After getting swept by the Yankees, the Red Sox head home to the friendly confines of Fenway Park and will try to stop a six-game losing streak. But they have to face Edwin Jackson (8-5, 2.62 ERA) and the AL Central-leading Tigers. Jackson, though, has never won at Fenway Park (0-4, 7.67 ERA).

Rays at Angels, 10:05 p.m. ET

The Rays had a chance to make up major ground on the Red Sox in both the AL East and in the AL wild-card race, but they could do neither because they lost two of three to Seattle. Meanwhile, the Angels have watched their AL West lead slip to 3½ games after losing two of three to second-place Texas.

Dodgers at Giants, 10:10 p.m. ET

Can the Dodgers be caught in the NL West? The Giants, only 5½ back, will certainly try. L.A. has lost 10 of 15 games. The Giants, tied for the NL wild-card lead with Colorado, will go with Jonathan Sanchez, who's won consecutive starts (including the no-hitter) with a 1.42 ERA.

For the rest of Monday's schedule, click here.


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BBTN ON THE AIR: MONDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Eric Young,
Dave Winfield, Peter Gammons
12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Eric Young,
Dave Winfield, Peter Gammons

BBTN MINUTE: HOW'S AL EAST RACE SHAPING UP?

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Insider Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page. For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPSITUATION
Mark Reynolds, ARI36SosaTop 8: 0-1, 1 Out. None on.
Adam Dunn, WAS30PetitBot 1: 1-0, 2 Outs. 1 on.
Mark Teixeira, NYY29BardBot 8: 0-1, 2 Outs. None on.
Russell Branyan, SEA26BennettBot 6: 0-0, 1 Out. Grand Slam.
Miguel Cabrera, DET23BakerBot 5: 0-0, 1 Out. 1 on.
Alex Rodriguez, NYY21LesterBot 7: 1-1, 0 Outs. None on.
Johnny Damon, NYY21BardBot 8: 1-0, 2 Outs. None on.
The complete list of Sunday's homers

WEB GEMS: PLAYS OF THE WEEK

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at the Marlins' three-game sweep of the Phillies:

Inside The Series
Marlins Sweep Phillies, 3-0
Marlins Phillies
Runs 21 9
Home Runs 5 2
RBI: Coghlan vs Ibanez 4 0
BA: Ramirez vs Rollins .438 .231

SUNDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Derek Holland• Derek Holland found a great time for his first career complete-game shutout. The Rangers' rookie left-hander blanked the Angels on three hits in a 7-0 victory. He struck out eight and didn't allow a runner to reach second base.
WORST
Ramon TroncosoRamon Troncoso faced only five batters in the ninth inning Sunday, but the Dodgers' reliever gave up four runs on three hits, and the only out he got came on a sacrifice fly, as the Braves rolled to an 8-2 win.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Mark ReynoldsArizona's Mark Reynolds homered in his fourth straight game Sunday, tying Albert Pujols for the league lead in home runs with 36. Reynolds has 11 HRs in his last 13 games.

He can thank his increased success against off-speed pitches. Over his last 13 games, Reynolds is batting .450 with 5 HRs against off-speed pitches. The recent power surge against off-speed pitches has Reynolds slugging a robust 1.300 -- a far cry from his .417 slugging percentage through July 25.

Mark Reynolds
Against off-speed pitches (2009)
Thru 7/24 Since 7/26
BA .217 .450
Slug pct. .417 1.300
AB per HR 19.4 4.0

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF MONDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy Adam Madison examines the 10 games on Monday's slate.

Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Monday. Daily Notes