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The American League East Goes Crazy (May 2011)

Tampa Bay sits two games ahead in the division. Can they maintain first in the AL East?

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The American League East has gone out of control. This is the final week before inter-league play and all the divisions in major league baseball are going head-to-head. By the end of the week, all five teams in the AL East will have faced at least two opponents within the division. After a month and a half, there is still no front runner in the AL East, as all five teams have had their struggles.

The Yankees (20-18) have lost 9 of their last 12 after being swept by Boston at home. The Yankees were poised for a come back after Carl Crawford dropped a ground ball that allowed a runner to score from first, but the joke Joba Chamberlain gave up a dinger to Saltalamacchia to put the game out of reach. The team has also suffered much drama at the hands of former catcher Posada's "back stiffness". The Yanks are two games back, and spend their next two games at Tampa Bay before hosting two against the Orioles.

The Red Sox (20-20) have a win percent of .500 for the first time this season. They walk out of Yankee stadium with a sweep (for the first time since 2004), but lost two of two at Toronto just before. Boston is 4th in the league in OBP (on base percentage), but 26th in ERA. Their weakness seems to be on the mound. Boston will likely continue their pitching struggles as they spend the next two days at the Orioles, putting Matsuzaka and Lackey on the mound before hosting two games against the Detroit Tigers where Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett will face Phil Coke (who has a 3.18 ERA on the road) and Justin Verlander (who just threw a no-hitter against Toronto before 2-hitting Kansas City). Yikes.

The Blue Jays (also 20-20) just murdered Minnesota and have won five in a row, coming off a sweep of the Twins and a two game series where they dominated Boston. The blue birds have won 7 of their last 11 to keep pace with the rising Red Sox and tie their third place record in the East. Against the league, Toronto is 8th in runs scored and slugging percentage, 10th in OBP and 15th in ERA. Not bad. To top things off, Jose Bautista had three homers on sunday and has hit 63 homeruns in the last calendar year, 22 more than the next-best Albert Pujols. To give that context, only 58 players have hit 22 home runs in the same span. Evan Longoria had 15.

The Orioles (19-20) have won five and lost five of their last ten, have a home record of 10-11 and a road record of 9-9. They are by definition 50-50. Hot and cold. Baltimore has been piecing things together this season but will continue to struggle in the east. They are 27th in ERA and 24th in OBP. That said, the Orioles are only 3.5 games back, so they could resurge. They took two from the Rays, but have Boston and New York to contend with over the next four games.

The  Rays (23-17) just dropped two of three against the Orioles, marring rookie Jeremy Hellickson's first complete game shut out with sub par performances from the 4th and 5th pitching slot. With Jeff Niemann still injured, Tampa may need to call a rookie up from AAA to take his place. Niemann's replacement, long reliever Andy Sonnanstine, has lost both starts in his stead.

After such a crazy week, the Rays still lead the division thanks to only 3 losses on the road, but their achilles heel has been the Trop. Tampa has lost 12 of 22 at home this season and are heading into an important week, hosting two games against second place New York before another two games at third place Toronto. Their first place record has also seen a rise in attendance, as the weekend series against Baltimore saw over 20,000 fans each night.

As of May 15th, the most runs the Rays have scored at home has been 5. Once. However, Tampa's strength has been their pitching, ranked third in the league for ERA, WHIP, and BAA (batting average against). Luckily, Tampa will send David Price and James Shields to the mound against New York's A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova, then Jeremy Hellickson and Wade Davis to face Toronto's Rocky Romero and Jo Jo Reyes. If the bats can wake up at home against NY, and continue their hot hitting ways on the road, Tampa Bay could put themselves five games ahead in the division by Friday.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.