Red Sox-Yanks Renew Rivalry

RED SOX-YANKS RENEW RIVALRY

A rare day off in the NBA gives us a chance to get caught up with Major League Baseball. The big news this week has been in the American League East, where…

*The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees renew their storied rivalry this weekend. Tonight's game will be nationally televised by FOX, in a rare Saturday Night TV window. Sunday Night's game will be the Game of the Week on ESPN.

*The Tampa Bay Rays surged past the Yankees into first place. This may surprise many of you who are only half paying attention to the bases. Tampa Bay started out the season very poorly. They've done a great job lately of rolling over lesser teams. They entered the weekend series with a one-game lead over the Yankees, and a five-game lead over Boston.

*The five-team division as a whole had been playing reasonably competitive baseball at worst over the last three weeks. We'll look at the numbers in a moment. There are no disasters in the division (though Boston fans may think their spot in the standings is a disaster!), like we see in the AL Central.

We had initially planned to go in depth with the Red Sox and Yankees to get you ready for their prime time TV games. But, Tampa Bay is hosting Baltimore from the AL East this weekend. And, Toronto has a chance to make up ground on the road against struggling Minnesota. It made more sense to look at the AL East as a whole rather than just the two big name franchises. Tampa Bay is the defending AL East champion after all. With their early slump a thing of the past, we may once again be looking at a season where either the Yankees or Red Sox don't even reach the postseason.

Let's run the AL East through a gauntlet if indicator stats that you regular readers should already be familiar with. Because of publication deadlines, all numbers are through the games of Thursday Night…

RUN DIFFERENTIAL
Tampa Bay: +37
NY Yankees: +33
Toronto: -5
Boston: -15
Baltimore: -29

This will serve as a starting point before we make any adjustments. No real surprises here. Tampa Bay and New York have earned their spot at the top. Baltimore is probably playing at a worse level than your newspaper standings would suggest. This stat by itself suggests Baltimore is 'as bad' as the top teams 'are good.' Sometimes it takes a couple of months for the standings to line up more exactly with run differential. And, sometimes a really bad or good game here or there can create illusions in run differential. Still, a good place to start.

WINS MINUS HOME GAMES PLAYED
Tampa Bay: +3
Toronto: even
NY Yankees: -1
Boston: -3
Baltimore: -4

Well, this makes things more interesting. Toronto is the only team in the AL East right now who's played more road games than home games (and that's expanding this weekend in Minnesota).  The Yankees had an enormous 21-14 split in favor of home games (which is also expanding as we speak!). This is a very big deal…because the Yankees aren't playing nearly as well as the newspaper standings would suggest. It's easy to look good when 60% of your games are on your home field.

Note also that Baltimore falls further off the pace here. They have a losing overall record while playing a home friendly schedule. That negative run differential looks even worse now. Buck Showalter isn't exactly working the magic that ESPN was leading us to believe was in the cards!

PERFORMANCE VS. TEAMS AT .500 OR BETTER
NY Yankees: 8-8
Toronto: 11-14
Boston: 9-12
Tampa Bay: 3-5
Baltimore: 7-15

Now it's time for Tampa Bay to take a hit. The Rays have only played EIGHT games vs. teams with a winning record this year. And, a home series with Baltimore isn't going to change that at all (unless the Orioles sweep to get back over .500, which means Tampa Bay would look even worse in this stat). It's interesting that nobody is over .500 right now vs. teams at .500 or better in this division. We would have expected a better performance.  What really caught our eye those was the extremes in schedule 'challenge.' Let's just run the number of games without worrying about the records…

PERFORMANCE VS. TEAMS AT .500 OR BETTER
Toronto: 25
Baltimore: 22
Boston: 21
NY Yankees: 16
Tampa Bay: 8

It's so easy for the newspaper standings to give false reads early in a season. Just to this point, we're seeing:

*Tampa Bay possibly being an illusion because they've played a soft schedule.

*The Yankees probably being overrated given their very favorable home/road split and a schedule that hasn't been too demanding in terms of quality.

*Toronto possibly being much better than expected given their unfavorable home/road split and the difficulty of their schedule.

*Baltimore still being a disappointment, but at least having a possible bailout of early schedule strength schedule explaining some of their issues.

We want to add in a note on recent form. As we get deeper into the season, we'll regularly check in on 20-game or 30-game samples to make sure everyone's in synch with what's happening NOW rather than in early April. This division had a weird early April! Let's see what's happened the last 20 games.

RECORDS THE LAST 20 GAMES
Tampa Bay: 14-6
Boston: 11-9
NY Yankees: 11-9
Baltimore: 10-10
Toronto: 9-11

Remember that games played within the division cancel out. The AL East as a whole is 10 games over .500 over the last 20 games, triggered by a very hot run vs. lesser teams from Tampa Bay. Maybe Tampa Bay isn't quite World Championship material this year. But, they're clearly better than the big hunk of mediocrity that's making up the AL at the moment. And, nobody in the AL East is demonstrably inferior to the big hunk of mediocrity once you adjust for home/road splits and schedule strength.

Interesting that we entered the weekend wanting to outline Red Sox/Yankees. But, now it's clear that this series will go a long way toward helping us understand where those two power franchises really stand in the big mix. There's enough pollution in the early records to cast doubts on many beliefs. What would the standings have looked like if everyone had played identical schedules? Be sure you watch the FOX and ESPN telecasts for current reads.

We'll talk more about baseball here in the NOTEBOOK very soon. The NBA playoff schedule is starting to wind down. Obviously we're very much looking forward to the start of the Miami/Chicago series on Sunday. We've already begun putting together our expanded preview for that series that will run right here tomorrow on these pages. Remember that game day releases in both baseball and basketball can be purchased with your credit card a few hours before the first game right here at the website. If you have any questions about offers or combination packages (that could include the Preakness and the Belmont if you're a horse racing fan), call our office at 1-800-323-4453.

We've had a great run in the NBA the past few weeks. And, baseball is always easiest to beat when oddsmakers are worried about a different high profile sport. Given all the hype and hoopla surrounding Miami-Chicago in the NBA….that means THIS WEEK is the ideal time to start your baseball program if you've been dragging your heels.

IT'S TIME TO WIN…IT'S TIME TO LINK UP WITH JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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