As Memorial Day arrives, the American League East is loaded with offense. A five-team race is possible, assuming Toronto makes a comeback.
The National League East is the opposite. The Nationals have the best offense, a leaky bullpen and the only winning record in the division.
Here are answers to the most burning questions after baseball’s first two months:
Q: What should the Orioles do with pitcher Ubaldo Jiménez?
A: The best solution is to keep him and hope that he does what he always does: rebound from a bad streak. With the Jekyll-and-Hyde Jiménez, there’s always a chance of a dominating run. An example: In the final three months of 2013 for Cleveland, he had ERAs of 2.83, 3.10 and 1.09, including 51 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings during the final month. It’s too early to let him go, even if he’s in the final year of his contract. For now, the Orioles will go with Alec Asher in his rotation spot. Releasing him doesn’t seem like an option. He’s owed too much money and the Orioles need all the arms they can get - the last thing they need is to see Jiménez pitching well for another team.
Q: Is there any team in the NL East that can contend with the Nationals?
A: No. Of the four, Atlanta will be the team that finishes second. Miami has no pitching. The Mets have too many injuries and the Phillies’ rebuilding has stalled.
Q: Are the Yankees for real?
A: It’s amazing that Gary Sánchez and Aaron Judge have had no growing pains. They are becoming instant heroes in New York - and that’s not easy to do. At 6-fot-7 and 282 lbs., Judge is agile and bigger than any player on the Giants or Jets football roster. The Yankees are leading the AL in runs, home runs and OPS. They have a good mix of young and old. Their bullpen - with Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren - is outstanding and they hope Aroldis Chapman doesn’t stay on the disabled list long. The questions are with the rotation: CC Sabathia is fine. Masahiro Tanaka, pitching with a tear in his elbow, has slumped in May. Luis Severino is young and strong, but untested in the long run. Michael Pineda is talented, but inconsistent.
Q: Are the Blue Jays done?
A: No, it is too early to count the Blue Jays out, even though they had a horrible start (eight wins in April). José Bautista and Devon Travis are starting to hit. Troy Tulowitzki, out since April 21 with a hamstring, and Josh Donaldson, out since April 13 with a calf injury, returned to the lineup Friday night. Pitcher Francisco Liriano is about to go on a rehabilitation assignment and J.A. Happ isn’t far behind. Don’t judge the Blue Jays until they get their lineup healthy. The bad news is that ace Aaron Sanchez, the AL’s ERA leader in 2016, is on the disabled list for a third time with blister problems. If the Jays, who are five games under .500 going into Friday night, are a .500 team at the All-Star break, they’re back in the race.
Q: Could there be a five-team race in the AL East?
A: Yes. Tampa Bay enters the weekend with a .500 record. Maybe the Rays will keep closer Alex Colomé instead of trading him. As usual, their rotation is outstanding with Matt Andriese (5-1, 3.24 ERA) the No. 5 guy behind Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Blake Snell and Chris Archer. The Rays still strike out plenty - they lead the league in strikeouts after setting a team record last season - but they are also among the league leaders in runs, hits, extra-base hits and home runs, thanks in part to their best hitter, Corey Dickerson.
Q: Do the Twins have staying power?
A: The Twins are playing with basically the same players that contended into the final week of 2015, but they lost 103 games last season because their young players didn’t have a disciplined approach. The difference this year is that they make fewer mistakes with an improved outfield defense. Joe Mauer, a former batting champion, is no longer AWOL with the bat. The Twins are among the AL leaders in OPS for May. Third baseman Miguel Sanó, who is 15 pounds lighter, has turned the corner and developed into a contact hitter with power. Ervin Santana has been unhittable and José Berríos is young with nasty breaking stuff. Rotation depth will be their biggest question.
Q: How good are the Houston Astros?
A: From 22-year-old Carlos Correa to 40-year Carlos Beltrán, they have an incredibly deep lineup. Their bullpen is one of the best with Chris Devenski (46 strikeouts in his first 28 innings) and closer Ken Giles. The Astros bullpen leads the AL with 202 strikeouts in 157 innings. Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young winner who battled injuries last season, is back in form. He and Lance McCullers - he with the deadly curveball - are gold at the top of the rotation, but after that, the Astros rotation has Charlie Morton, Mike Fiers and Joe Musgrove, who has one quality start in the first two months. That’s why, as trade rumors heat up, the Astros will be looking for rotation help.
Q: Which team is the NL’s biggest surprise?
A: Colorado, especially because they are doing it without their two best pitchers, Jon Gray and Chad Bettis. Gray should be back within the month. Bettis is likely out for the season with testicular cancer. The Rockies always score runs. This year, they’ve improved the NL’s worst bullpen from a year ago, thanks to signing closer Greg Holland, who has been a save and strikeout machine. The bullpen has them 9-0 in one-run games. The Rockies are winning with young starters. Antonito Senzatela, 22, has never pitched above Double-A and has a 3.68 ERA. Kyle Freeland, their first-round pick in 2014, made his first big league pitch this year and is at 3.31. German Marquez (3.86 ERA) made three big league starts before this season. Tyler Chatwood is doing well after two Tommy John surgeries. It’s early, but the Rockies are confident they will contend for a third trip to the postseason, the others being the 2007 World Series and 2009.