Yankees, Votto Rising; Blue Jays Falling

CineSport— The New York Yankees are the hottest team in baseball, having won their last nine games. CineSport's Tara Petrolino & Sporting News' Stan McNeal discuss this, Joey Votto's success & the Blue Jays.

The AL East, often one of baseball’s most competitive divisions, again looks like it will be decided by a tight race, as each team is playing .500 baseball or better.

The Yankees are on a tear right now, riding a season-high 9-game winning streak. They have overcome hardships such as losing all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera for the season, playing without LF Brett Gardner for an extended period of time and a recent lack of run production.

The Yankees, having trouble getting runners home, would consistently rely on the long ball, rather than work to move runners. As recently as this weekend, the Yankees had not won a game without hitting a home run, which was a key factor in their early-season woes.

Over the last nine games the Bombers seem to have gotten back on track, as they have been able to produce runs and put together victories without relying on the long-ball.

Surprisingly, the Orioles have continued to stay hot, currently sitting just a game and a half out of first. Buck Showalter has a great young core, but as we’ve seen in recent past, young teams lacking experience often flame out late in the season.

We’ve seen this recently with the Braves, who were very close to making it to the playoffs last season, only to fall short in game #162. We also saw it with the Indians, who were ten games up in 2011 and lost control around the All-Star Break.

The Orioles have the potential to break the trend. However, they may need a little more seasoning before truly becoming contenders.

Like the Orioles, the Rays have a lot of young talent on their roster, but it has been a struggle for them to stay hot after losing All-Star 3B Evan Longoria.

Joe Maddon has tried using a small-ball philosophy and shuffling his lineup card over and over. As the season reaches its midpoint, this could put Tampa Bay at a disadvantage. Shuffling a lineup that much can take away from team chemistry, as young players may not be able to find their clear-cut role on the team.

Longoria is due to return soon, which may help solidify the lineup and help players fit into more defined roles as the season progresses.

The Blue Jays caught a tough break this past week, losing three of their starters to injury. A team that was holding their own in a very tough division may quickly see things go from bad to worse, as they will now be forced to piece together a rotation from meager options.

That leaves us with the Red Sox, who have continued to battle injury woes, power struggles and the intense scrutiny of the media.

The media has been extremely tough on the Red Sox and new manager Bobby Valentine throughout the season.

It’s a tough market no matter what, but Valentine brought much of the negative press attention on himself. Bobby V has made a point of bad mouthing his peers, such as Showalter and the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, both respected baseball men who most folks in the game don’t like to see insulted.

His own players, too, have been the target of and subsequently negatively affected by this sort of behavior. Valentine questioned the heart of 3B Kevin Youkilis, a longtime emotional leader of the squad, and has made many similar gaffes. This too has contributed to his poor rapport with the media, who thus far have mostly sided with his targets rather than with their ex-colleague Valentine.

If Valentine continues to alienate himself from the media, fans and his players, it may ultimately adversely affect the team’s performance, their ability to stay in the pennant race and his chances of keeping his manager’s job.

With each team still within striking distance of the top spot in the division, the AL East race is shaping up to be an exciting one. Because unexpected adversity has been a recurring theme for the division this season, the squad that lands on top may end up being the one that does best with figuring out how to rebound from setbacks.

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