C.J. Nitkowski: ‘Orioles, Blue Jays Teams To Beat In AL East’

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BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 15: Catcher Nick Hundley #40 of the Baltimore Orioles tags out Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays trying to score at home plate during the eighth inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 15, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Toronto Blue Jays-Baltimore Orioles (Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The All-Star break isn’t here just yet, but now that we’re at the halfway point of the major league season, it’s only natural to analyze what we’ve seen so far and what we expect to happen in the coming months.

One of the most surprising – or disappointing – stories of the season is that the defending World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox, are 38-47 and 8.5 games back of Toronto (47-39) in the AL East.

“You look back at last year, and you start to realize that they got a little bit lucky,” Fox Sports 1 MLB analyst C.J. Nitkowski said on The John Feinstein Show. “They had some guys over-perform and they had enough of them over-perform where they were able to win a world championship, and this year it’s starting to catch up with them a little bit. So certainly they’ve been a big disappointment.”

The Seattle Mariners, meanwhile, have been a pleasant surprise. If the season ended today, the Mariners (47-38) would be a playoff team. Not bad for a franchise that went 71-91 a season ago.

“Despite the signing of Robinson Cano, none of us believed that they would be able to compete,” Nitkowski said. “And I think Lloyd McClendon deserves some credit for keeping that team afloat – because offensively, on paper, they do not look like a team that should be competing.”

The Mariners rank 21st in the majors in batting average (.245) and 28th in OBP (.303).

“But since about June 23rd, they are leading all of Major League Baseball in runs scored,” Nitkowski said. “So they’ve done a good job in that regard. Whether or not it holds is a different story, but at least up to this point, they’ve been a really good story for baseball.”

Getting back to the AL East, though, it’s shaping up to be a two-team race between Toronto and Baltimore (45-39) – even though the Yankees (41-42) are just 4.5 games out of first.

“Maybe the Yankees hang in there somehow,” Nitkowski said. “I mean, Joe Girardi did such a great job of that last year keeping them in it when they probably should have (fallen) out a lot earlier than they actually did. Maybe he can pull that trick off again.”

It might be more difficult this time around. The Yankees, who have lost five straight, rank 16th or worse in most major hitting and pitching categories. Is it possible they’ll look to make a big splash before the trade deadline?

“I don’t know how they’re going to do it,” Nitkowski said. “They don’t really have the pieces to trade. So their roster, as is, I don’t think they can hang in there. I don’t think the Red Sox can hang in there.”

Boston’s starting outfield makes less than $2 million.

“That’s pretty hard to believe the Boston Red Sox have that kind of outfield,” Nitkowski said. “I just don’t see how they can win with that outfield.”

Still, Nitkowski feels there’s much to be decided in the AL East.

“The Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays  are definitely the two teams to beat,” he said, “but ultimately, that division is going to come down to the general manager who makes the best move. And we won’t know that until July 31 – or maybe even after, as we get into the waiver deadline for that final month in August. But it’s going to be who makes the biggest move, the biggest impact.”

“I don’t know if one move saves the Yankees or Red Sox, but I do believe one big move could propel either the Orioles or the Toronto Blue Jays.”


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