After a couple of very hectic weeks of travelling, I get to catch up on baseball a bit. First off, the Red Sox are amazing. This nine game winning streak comes with some rather historic production offensively, especially for being on the road. They're now first in average, on base percentage, and runs, and second in slugging. They're the easy choice to win the AL East and finish with the best record in baseball.
The darlings of the early going, the Indians and the Royals, both have struggled since the early season. The Indians pitching is starting to catch up with them, and the struggles of key offensive players like Carlos Santana and Shin Soo Choo have hurt chances. They're 4-14 since May 24th, and have watched a massive lead in the AL Central vanish to a Tigers squad that is 10-7 over that same span. It is hard to blow a 6.5 game lead that quickly, but the Indians have managed it. Sliding in Jason Kipnis at second base to replace the veteran Orlando Cabrera would help the offense, and Lonnie Chisenhall may eventually be called on to replace Jack Hannahan at third, but the pitching is a different story. Without many other options for their rotation in the minors, I think the Indians will continue to struggle and may quickly fade from playoff contention.
The Royals appear to have given their fans hope a year too early. Now 6.5 games behind the Tigers and Indians and 8 games under .500, their playoff hopes are pretty slim. Unlike the Indians, the Royals have an incredible farm system that will start to be showcased this summer. The top two hitters, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas are both with the major league club, as is pitching prospect Danny Duffy. Left handed starters Mike Montgomery and John Lamb have both struggled a bit in the minors, but came into the season extremely highly rated by Baseball America. We could see them in July or August for some major league experience. If these arms develop as scouts expect, the Royals could be a force to be reckoned with in 2012. For now, their rotation is a mess.
The standings in the AL west were extremely tight, before slumps by the Angels (2-8 in their last ten) and Oakland (1-9, 1-12 over their last 13). Texas currently has a slim lead over Seattle, but looking at the runs scored/runs allowed numbers show that Texas (+35) ought to easily pull away from Seattle (-3).
The Yankees have been hitting well, almost as well as the Red Sox 330 runs, second best in baseball), but the wheels seem to be coming off their pitching. They've had great success so far this year, allowing very few runs (255, second best in the AL, only behind a park aided Seattle at 244), but the injuries are starting to pile up. Either they'll have to make a trade or turn to some replacement level players. I think that down the stretch the Yankees pitching will fade, but the lineup ought to carry them to the AL wild card. The lack of a strong competitor certainly factors in to that - I have little faith in the Yankees pitching, especially with Hughes and Colon on the shelf, but apart from the division leaders, the only teams that have scored more runs than their opponents are Toronto (+1) and Tampa Bay (+12). Both of those numbers are dwarfed by the Yankees league leading run differential (+75).
As far as awards, that's a bit more of a crap shoot, but I'll take a stab at it.
AL MVP: Jose Bautista. Coming into the season I had concerns about Jose Bautista's ability to repeat his spectacular 2010 season. Well, he's beating it. Pitchers have started to give him the Bonds Treatment, pitching around him rather than trying to get him out. To his credit, he's not swinging at anything out of the zone, leading to a sky high OBP of .489, 50 points better than Miguel Cabrera at #2. And he's leading the league in slugging (.709), 80 points better than David Ortiz. If votes end up following convention and voting for a player on a winning team (or get enamored with EBI totals), the obvious choice is Adrian Gonzalez, who is showing no ill effects of shoulder surgery or switching from the NL to the AL.
AL Cy Young: Jon Lester. He looks like he's through his early season slump after a rough May, and Lester is currently second in the league in strikeouts per nine innings. Couple his historic second half performance, a strong team behind him, and the fact that he's already 9-2 indicate that he's well on his way.
AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Pineda. This was a tough choice between Michael Pineda and Eric Hosmer, . I think we have probably already seen the best of Pineda's season, but he's been an ace, and is near the top in all the important pitching categories. He and Felix Hernandez are the big reason that Seattle is respectable this year. Hosmer has a very bright future ahead of him, especially given that he won't turn 22 until after the season is over, but I think because he's so young the power numbers that voters look for won't show up this season. If he continues to hit home runs at his current pace, he'll end up with about 17 on the season. Given his ability to hit for average, work the count, and his age that's a massive success, but it isn't all that impressive for a first baseman.