MLB Notebook 5.16.11: A Balanced AL East, Jose Bautista Is For Real, Adrian Gonzalez's Amazing May

A month into the 2011 season, New York Yankees fans were feeling pretty good about their squad. At the beginning of May, New York was 17-9 overall and three games ahead of second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East standings. The preseason favorites, the Boston Red Sox, were 13-15 and five games behind New York. Oh how quickly things can change in just 13 days.

As of Monday, May 16, the Yankees are 20-18 and have lost seven of their last 10 games. Tampa Bay has a two-game advantage on New York, while the Red Sox have just come off a three-game sweep of the Bronx Bombers and are now just a game behind the Yankees, and two behind the Rays.

What's even more surprising in the AL East isn't Boston's quick rally or the Rays consistency. It's that all five teams are in the hunt for first place. Here's a look at the standings entering Monday:


AL East Standings

W L PCT GB STRK
Tampa Bay 23 17 .575 0 Lost 2
New York 20 18 .526 2 Lost 5
Toronto 20 20 .500 3 Won 5
Boston 20 20 .500 3 Won 3
Baltimore 19 20 .487 3.5 Won 2

(updated 5.16.2011 at 10:53 AM EDT)


Now, its tough to imagine that Toronto and or Baltimore hanging in for the long haul, but it's not impossible. Yes, New York, Boston and Tampa are consider the class acts of the division, but the O's and Jays are going to make it one heck of a challenge to grind through. It will be interesting to look back at these division standings come the All-Star break and see were things stand. From what I've seen, I wouldn't doubt that things stay this close for awhile.

Now, onto the top MLB stories of the week...

Jose Bautista is for real: The biggest reason why Toronto is in the AL East race is because of slugger Bautista, who hit three home runs in Toronto's 11-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins. In the three-game sweep of the Twins, Bautista homered five times and now leads the league with 16 home runs.

According to the Detroit Free Press:

"The rightfielder is hitting .415 with 13 homers and 21 RBIs over the past 19 games. His 16 home runs this season are two behind the total of the entire Twins team and his five in the series is one shy of the six Minnesota has at Target Field this season."

Last season, Bautista led all of the major leagues with 54 homers. At the beginning of the season, MLB followers were looking for Bautista to have a Brady Anderson-like season -- in 1996, Anderson hit 50 homers and followed it up with just 18 in '97. However, Bautista is for real and he isn't going to slow down anytime soon.

"Bautista continues to defy conventional wisdom..." wrote sportsnet.ca on Monday, "(Bautista) is on pace to easily surpass the Blue Jays record for fastest player to reach 20 home runs in a season. The record was set by George Bell during his MVP season in 1987 and it took the slugger 53 games to reach the 20-homer mark."

Adrian Gonzalez's amazing May: At the end of April, Boston's first baseman had just one homer and 15 RBI. 16 days later, Gonzalez is scorching.

"(Gonzalez's) May now includes eight homers and 19 RBI, and the month isn’t even half over," wrote John Tomase of the Boston Herald on Sunday. "He’s hitting .325 and leading the American League in RBI with 34. He has homered in four straight games and has six homers in his last six games."

I've always been a Gonzalez fan, even though now he's a Red Sox. There was no doubt in my mind that Gonzalez would eventually pull out of his early-season funk and become productive, but this is downright ridiculous.


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Adrian Gonzalez 40 163 26 52 13 1 9 34 14 29 1 0 .319 .374 .577

Is "Pronk" back?: The Cleveland Indians are still in the first place in the AL Central -- three and a half games ahead of the Detroit Tigers -- and one of the best stories to come out of the Indian's situation is the hitting of designated hitter Travis Hafner.

Hafner isn't not putting up Bautista or Gonzalez numbers, but his five HRs and batting average of .340 is one of the reason why Cleveland continues to rock -- on Friday, Hafner hit a walk-off HR in a 5-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

Last season, in just 118 games, Hafner hit just .278 with 13 HRs. In '09, he played in 94 games, hit .274 and had 16 homers. In '08, "Pronk" played in 57 contests.  For the Indians to stay winning, Hafner, who signed a four-year, $57 million deal in '07 and has been a disappointment since, will need to at least stay productive.

Evan Longoria is a superhero: Here's the video.

Weekly Nugget No. 1: Just six days after tossing his second career no-hitter, Tigers' ace Justin Verlander pitched another gem against the Kansas City Royals. On Friday, May 13, Verlander pitched eight innings, allowed just two hits, one earned run and struck out seven in a 3-1 victory.

Weekly Nugget No. 2: I just finished the book Odd Man Out: A Year On The Mound With A Minor League Misfit. It's the story of Matt McCarthy, a Yale pitcher who was drafted by the Anaheim Angels in '03, who documents his season as a member of the Provo Angels.

The hardcover version of the book, which I bought on clearance at Barnes & Nobles, is 300-plus pages and I finished it in a day and a half. It's a great, easy read that has a lot of interesting story about notable players like: Bobby Jenks, Erick Aybar, Joe Saunders and Howie Kendrick. If you need a summer read, I highly recommend it.

Weekly Nugget No. 3: This is hard to believe, but Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran hit three homers at the Colorado Rockies on Thursday afternoon. So far, Beltran hitting .285, with eight homers and 24 RBI. Not great, but it's also not too shabby for a guy looking for some early-season confidence.

Fantasy Baseball Advice: It seems at least once or twice a season my fantasy league, which is a 16-team keeper, has an issue with a lopsided trade for a top keeper for next season.

Only six weeks into our head-to-head season, my league already has faced an issue with Team A trading Robinson Cano to Team B for Cliff Lee, Brain Roberts, Hunter Pence, Alexei Ramierz and Corey Hart. The trade is lopsided, but I feel no need to veto (as does much of the league) because we feel there's no collusion between the two owners. Team B, which is in dead last and will need a miracle to make the playoffs, is already looking forward to next season. Team A want to sell his future to win now.

However, there is some uproar. Which brings me to this point: If this happens in your league don't be that owner who tells other owners what to do. Unless you truly feel that one team is colluding with another, then stay out of it. Be mad at yourself that you couldn't get the deal for yourself. Trust me, in the long run your league will be better for it.

Have your own thoughts on the MLB Season? E-mail: JaredSmith16@gmail.com; or Tweet: Jared_E_Smith. Here are other previous MLB Notebooks: 4.21.11; 4.25.11; 5.2.11, 5.9.11.

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