Last evening, the Yankees and Rays continued to battle it out in what is becoming the most exciting rivalry in the game of baseball (at least for this year). For the second straight evening, a game was won in extra innings. These two teams hold the best records in the game of baseball. They each are over 30 games over 500. And they both appear to be getting stronger as we hit the stretch run. Both teams can really score. Both teams have solid pitching. And both teams have that knack for pulling out close games. I guess these are all expected attributes of teams that have won 30 more games than they have lost.
Many sports writers of late, have been saying, “This series is a nice preview of an epic ALCS to come.” And I must say, I am beginning to agree. I have always believed in the Yankees, but now the Rays have me believing too. These two teams appear to be the best in baseball. And the remarkable thing is how tough a of a division they play in. The Blue Jays are a game over 500. And the injury depleted Red Sox are 17 games over 500 (another amazing story in itself). Most of you realize that divisional foes play each other 18 times. So playing in a division like the AL East does not give a team the most favorable schedule in that they have to go head to head early and often.
First of all lets take a look at Dick Vitale’s favorite MLB team, the Rays. They are led offensively by two young guns in Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria. Crawford is 29 while Longoria is just 24 (hard to believe). These two guys have been getting the job done all year for this team. The amazing distinguishing factor about this team offensively is not necessarily their home run power, or batting average. But their amazing ability to run the bases and bring guys home when they are on base. The Rays have two guys with over 40 stolen bases this season (Crawford and BJ Upton). There are only 6 guys in the entire Major Leagues who have over 40 stolen bases (2 of them are on TB). This type of speed puts major pressure on opposing pitchers when runners reach base. Secondly, I mentioned how well this team hits with runners in scoring position. The Rays have over 700 RBIs this year and currently sit in 3rd in the MLB. That is always a good sign.
Now outside of the Rays hitting, how about the pitching staff? They have the top of the rotation ace covered in David Price. Plus they have a very nice number 2 in Matt Garza. Do they have a reliable 3rd guy for the playoffs? A major key for this team has been Rafael Soriano. This guy has been absolutely dominant and gives this team a chance to relax in the 9th. He gets the job done with a great frequency. Now I will admit, I picked the Rays to miss the playoffs this year and finish in 3rd behind the Yankees and Reds Sox in the East. I was wrong. These guys can really play and will advance deep into the postseason.
Now how about those Bronx Bombers. Nobody is really surprised to see the defending champs holding the best record in the baseball. It has been pretty much expected with a team that has great hitting and pitching (and great money). Now I do realize that most people are more familiar with the Yankees than other teams due to their high number of national television appearances. But the old Pinstripes are getting the job done in every facet of the game. They are leading the League in Runs scored by a solid margin. They are 3rd in home runs. And they have been led by a number of guys each contributing in their own ways. Nick Swisher has hit great. Brett Gardner has provided a major base stealing threat with his utterly amazing speed. ARod continues to be near the top of the League in RBIs. But the real story of this team. The guy that has been the “it” factor. The guy who has been the engine to make this locomotive go. Has been none other than Robinson Cano. Baseball analysts have been praising this dude for years. Well he has finally realized his potential. And in a big way. Cano is currently batting .319, with 27 home runs and 98 RBIs. The guy has done it all, and really picked up the slack for the lack of production from the “Captain” (Derek Jeter).
Pitching is really a non issue for the Bombers this year. CC has been outstanding. Hughes has been very solid. And of course they have the best closer of all time at their disposal in Mariano Rivera. The question is who will be their 3rd guy come playoff time? Possibly the return of Andy Pettite?
Continue to enjoy the Yankees and Rays going toe to toe down the stretch here. These two teams are on a major collision course to meet in the ALCS. Home field advantage could a be a major determining factor between these two in who represents the AL in the Fall Classic. And I will admit, this would be the matchup I would most enjoy watching out of the American League.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.