AL East Beat: 5 (Early) Things

The first week of the Major League Baseball season is exciting. While it tends to lend itself to hyperbole in terms of reactions to the first couple of games, there is nothing better than watching teams play in the early going. Everyone is in the race. Everyone could be “that team” and make the miracle run. Of course, the hyperbole is fun…the Yankees will never win a game; Nelson Cruz will hit 60 home runs. The Astros may be pull off the miracle.

But, the first week isn’t useless. The expression, “it’s early” is quite true, but April games count just as much as September games. And, while too much can be read into a bad start by a pitcher or a hot start by a role player, there are still signs of things impacting the pennant race. In the first couple of days of the American League East, that is already quite apparent.

{Discuss the very early going on the BSL Boards}

5 Early Things (Three AL East, Two Orioles)…

CC Needs Precision

The Yankees’ worst fears played out quite early in Houston in their opening game. CC Sabathia gave up six runs through two innings of work before settling down to throw four shutout innings. The story heading into the season for Sabathia was that he was coming off of his worst professional season and that his velocity is in extreme decline. Story met reality for Sabathia in his first start as the Astros battered his 88 to 90 MPH fastball. The problem, however, wasn’t really velocity; it was all about location. Sabathia didn’t locate well until the third inning. In his first two innings, he threw 50 combined pitches. He threw just 49 total pitches in innings three through six. The difference was location. And, that is the reality for CC Sabathia at this point in his career. He must become a version of Andy Pettitte as a pitcher can survive averaging 90 MPH with a fastball as long as he locates. Pettitte transformed into a serviceable number two starter. Sabathia has the type of arsenal to do just that. But, he will need to locate better, especially early in games. He no longer has the slack to miss a spot with a fastball and get away with it.

Many will read into his first start as a sign of a disastrous season. It’s not even close to that yet. It is a sign that this will be a transition season for Sabathia. He toyed with a cut fastball during the Spring. How quickly he refines his approach will determine just how much the Yankees are truly pennant contenders.

Blue Jays Can Hit

In the Blue Jays’ first at bat of the season, they lost Jose Reyes with a hamstring injury. In that game, RA Dickey had one of those bad knuckleball starts. But, there is one thing quite clear about the 2014 Blue Jays. They can hit, especially for power. In their first three games against the stellar Rays’ pitching staff, the Blue Jays have banged out 19 hits, including 3 doubles and 3 home runs. It is the one positive sign that give the Blue Jays hope of a winning season. Their pitching has questions and injuries have already cost them their closer and shortstop, but with six extra base hits already in the ledger, that projected power is very real.

Lester Starts Well

One of the biggest issues with any defending champion is getting the pitching staff in order. Many pitching staffs gain about one full run on their ERA the following season. There are many reasons for this. Obviously, it is the additional innings thrown in the postseason. There is also the time factor in that pitchers are throwing when they’d ordinarily be resting, which doesn’t allow the arm to heal properly. Additionally, many pitchers will alter their routine because of the aforementioned reasons, which generally results in being in worse condition once the season starts.

Jon Lester got off on a positive note during his first start of season against the Baltimore Orioles. Lester hit 95 MPH on the gun with his fastball and averaged 92.4 MPH for the game. Lester pitched 7 innings, gave up 6 hits, 2 runs, 1 walk, and struck out 8 batters. With his velocity in check, his location even better, and his ability to get through 7 innings on 104 pitches, Jon Lester’s first start is as positive as it could be. It will be interesting to see how Lester and the crew are performing a month or two in as fatigue could be an issue. Considering their vast playoff experience, it looks like they prepared properly.

Orioles Approach

The Orioles are one of the most powerful teams in the league. But, they are also one of the worst in terms of getting on base. While they came away with the Opening Day victory, the Orioles showed their lack of patience as Orioles’ batters saw just 116 pitches for the game. By contrast, the patient Red Sox saw 169 total pitches. The Orioles were a bit better in game two as the Red Sox drove the Orioles’ pitch count up to 148 while the Orioles saw 128 pitches. The home run power is great, but the Orioles’ approach will lend to some streakiness. That type of streakiness doesn’t project to do well in the AL East.

On the positive side, Nelson Cruz has given every indication that he can still hit for power and will do so in Orioles Park at Camden Yards. There was a bit of worry about Cruz’s ability to hit for power outside of Texas as well as him coming off of a suspension. In just two games, he has proven that his power is still there.

Britton Will Thrive

It’s only one appearance, but Zach Britton looked brilliant out of the bullpen on Opening Day. The best part about his outing was that he bridged a shortened start by Chris Tillman to the late inning relievers. The southpaw threw just 19 pitches in two innings and allowed just one hit while eliciting six ground balls and one line drive when batters made contact. There were zero flyballs. Britton is in the perfect spot to succeed as he can pitch multiple innings, but won’t have to go through the lineup more than once, which was a problem for him as a starter.  His presence allows for the Orioles to skip the underbelly of the bullpen and head straight into the late inning matchup crew, which Showalter did on Opening Day. Because Britton generates a ground balls at a prolific rate, he is the ideal middle reliever as home runs will be rare.

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About the author

Gary Armida  

Gary Armida is a Father to the best little girl in the world. After that, he is a writer who has been covering Major League Baseball since 2007. During that time, Gary operated, one of the first independent online sites that gained Major League Baseball media credentials. Over the years, he has covered two Winter Meetings and has written feature articles for a variety of outlets while interviewing Major League personnel such as Rick Peterson, Jason Giambi, Zack Wheeler, Jeff Luhnow, Jack Zduriencik, Michael Bourn, and many others. In addition to his work at BSL, Gary contributes to USA Today Sports Weekly and maintains his personal site,, that serves as his portfolio as well as a place for additional content.

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