Baltimore Tied Atop the AL East with New York Again

With 21 games left in MLB’s regular season, the divisional races are only heating up and the hottest of them all is the AL East. The back and forth see-saw battle for first place in the East continued last night as Baltimore jumped back into a tie for the lead with a win over Tampa Bay 9-2 while New York dropped its game by a score of 4-3 to Boston, who has taken on the role of potential spoiler.

J.J. Hardy's homers helped lift the O's to another big win

The Orioles busted out the big bats Tuesday, hitting three home runs in the game and jumping out to a 7-1 lead over the Rays after seven innings. J.J. Hardy hit two of Baltimore’s bombs, a two-run shot in the third inning and another two-run homer in the ninth.

Jason Hammel, one of the O’s bright spots this season, pitched well, only giving up one earned run, but left in the fourth inning with an injured right knee. He had surgery on the same knee back in July when he went on the DL. Tuesday was his second start from returning.

The win as huge for the O’s as the loss was for the Rays, who are also still right in the thick of the race. Tampa is now two games back of both Baltimore and New York, but still has plenty of chances to catch up as Tuesday was just game one of a three-game set with the Orioles and they play three games with New York this weekend.

Game two of the key series will feature Miguel Gonzalez for Baltimore and Alex Cobb for Tampa in the pitching matchup. Gonzalez is 6-4 on the season with a 3.64 ERA and went seven scoreless innings against the Rays the last time he faced them on August 5th. Gonzalez has pitched well recently, but Cobb has been on fire. Cobb is coming into today’s game with a 5-0 stretch in his last seven starts, including a win over New York in his last outing.

Although Baltimore’s offensive has stepped up lately, I like Cobb and the Rays in this one to cover -1.5. Gonzalez may have shut down the Rays last time out, but now that they have seen him before, they are more likely to find some runs against him today.

Ellsbury and the Sox still have something to play for

Meanwhile, the Yankees are currently taking on the Red Sox in a three-game set in Boston. Yankees reliever David Robertson gave up the game winning hit to Jacoby Ellsbury in the bottom of the ninth to lose game one 4-3. Although the Red Sox have had a more disappointing season than any team in baseball this year, they still have the desire to finish the season strong.

“With the Yankees in town, they’re battling for a (playoff) spot, and at this point we can just go out and try to play spoiler,” Boston’s left fielder, Cody Ross told ESPN. “We don’t care who we play. We just want to win.”

The Yankees thought the series with Boston would be a great opportunity to create some space in the division, but so far things have gone according to plan. However, the Yankees will once again have the advantage in the pitching matchup for game two, as David Phelps (3-4, 3.55 ERA) squares off against Aaron Cook (3-9, 5.17 ERA).

Boston is motivated to try and ruin its rival’s chances, but New York is more motivated, as they actually have a shot at the postseason. With that in mind and considering who is on the bump for Boston, look for New York to cover -1.5 the runline today.

New York should still be the favorite to win the East and I know many folks like O’s with the way they are playing, but don’t count out the Rays. A win tomorrow and they could be only one game back again. And don’t forget how banged up both the Orioles and the Yankees are right now. Hammel just went down for Baltimore and the Yankees are listed Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira as day to day. It could all come down the season ending series between Baltimore and Tampa Bay in the first week of October if New York does stumble.