East or Famine

Led by the best division in baseball, the game's balance of power tilts decidedly to the right side of the map
July 02, 2012

With interleague play done for the year, the AL East has again established itself as the game's most fearsome division. Its 53--37 interleague mark wasn't the best in baseball (the AL West went 45--27), but considering that the AL East mostly played the strong NL East, it was an impressive performance. All five AL East teams are above .500 in out-of-division games, and the division as a whole is playing .587 baseball outside of its group. This dominance began in the early 2000s, when the Yankees set a high standard by winning four World Series in five years and the Red Sox countered with a new owner (John Henry) and a new G.M. (Theo Epstein) to win in 2004 and '07. The Rays, under owner Stu Sternberg and G.M. Andrew Friedman, have built that franchise into a perennial contender, and the Jays are taking much the same approach under G.M. Alex Anthopoulos. To compete in the AL East takes more than assembling a decent team and hoping everyone has a good year—you have to build one of the best teams in baseball. Pushing toward that standard has raised everyone's game. You can see a similar effect in the NL East, where the Phillies' dynasty has pushed that division to the second best in the majors. There is a gap between the leagues, but it's not that the AL is better than the NL; it's that the AL East is better than everyone else.

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Merely Mortal

Does the Greek God of Walks have anything left?

Kevin Youkilis was a part of two world championships in Boston, but questions about his decline were in play even before a back injury put him on the DL for three weeks and created an opening for rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks (.326/.365/.583). Youkilis, a middle-of-the-order threat two years ago, is hitting .233/.315/.377 and has had back problems, which have sapped his power, for two seasons; his slugging percentage has dipped from .564 in 2010 to .377 this year, and he's stopped getting the ball in the air. (His flyball rate is 60% of what it was two years ago.) Most worrying, his plate discipline—so famously chronicled in Moneyball—has disappeared (39 strikeouts against just 14 walks in 165 PAs this year). The White Sox were desperate enough for offense at the hot corner that they were willing to ship two warm bodies to the Red Sox on Sunday (and pick up all but $2 million of the $7.5 million still owed the veteran), but it's no longer clear that Youkilis can provide enough pop to be worth more than two wins over a replacement player for a full season.

PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER (LONGORIA) EVAN LONGORIATAMPA BAY
PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER (PEDROIA) DUSTIN PEDROIABOSTON PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER (YOUKILIS) PHOTOERICK W. RASCO (CANO) ROBINSON CANONEW YORK PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON (JONES) ADAM JONESBALTIMORE PHOTOGREG NELSON (BAUTISTA) JOSE BAUTISTATORONTO CHARTINTERDIVISION WINNING PCT.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)