AL East chase resumes; Urrutia’s time in Baltimore about to begin (Harvey’s debut)

The Boston Red Sox begin the second half tonight as the American League East leader. Tampa Bay is in second place after an impressive run to end the first half. But both clubs begin the second half with challenging schedules as the chase for the AL East resumes.

The Red Sox reside atop the division with the best record in the AL at 58-39 and are playing .598 baseball. The Sox lead the division by 2 1/2 games over Tampa Bay, by 4 1/2 over the Orioles and by six games over New York.

Those three teams all get a shot at the Red Sox coming out of the break as Boston will play three against New York, followed by four versus Tampa and three in Baltimore against the Orioles.

Boston is 4-2 this year against the Yankees and 9-3 against Tampa, but just 2-5 versus the Orioles.

The Rays made a very impressive pitching-led charge heading into the break, winning 10 of their last 11 and 17 of their last 21, pitching to a major league-best 2.03 ERA. Tampa Bay is 41-23, best in the majors since May 8.

But Tampa Bay will play three AL East rivals on the road over the next 10 games with series at Toronto, Boston and New York. While the Rays are 35-17 outside of the division this year, their record is only 20-24 versus the AL East.

As play resumes tonight, there are four AL East teams playing .537 ball or better. The rest of the AL has four combined and there are just five in the entire National League.

By the way, AL East teams were 46 games over .500 at the break. Since divisional play began in 1969, only once has that number been higher. In 1986, AL East teams were a collective 47 games over the .500 mark.

If Henry Urrutia is, as expected, added to the Orioles roster in Texas, he’ll create some excitement for O’s fans who have seen the impressive stats the 26-year-old Cuban posted this year in the minors.

Over 52 games for Double-A Bowie and 15 with Triple-A Norfolk, Urrutia batted .365 with 20 doubles, seven homers, 43 RBIs and a .958 OPS. In his last four games with Norfolk, he went 10-for-17.

Urrutia hit well against both left-handed (.343 average) and right-handed (.374 average) pitching at both levels of the minors.

He had a .397 average (27-for-68) when batting with runners in scoring position and hit .400 (4-for-10) when batting with the bases loaded.

It appears Hammerin’ Hank’s time has come and plenty of fans will be excited to see what he can do.

Read more about Hank: In this early May interview, O’s director of player development Brian Graham talked about Urrutia’s good start with the bat this season, but said that other aspects of his game still needed work at that time.

In this late June interview, Urrutia was making progress on defense and in other aspects of his game and Graham and Bowie manager Gary Kendall talked about that.

In this interview from last week, O’s vice president Dan Duquette said of Urrutia, “Looks to me like he’s making a good case to be an everyday major league player.”

Harvey’s debut: The Orioles’ first-round draft pick, right-handed pitcher Hunter Harvey, made his pro debut this afternoon when he got the start and pitched a shutout first inning for the Gulf Coast League Orioles against the GCL Rays. Harvey allowed one hit and had one strikeout.

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