Three up, three down: Yanks hot, Tribe on the rise
They slowed down the early-season excitement in Denver and Kansas City last week by taking two of three from the Rockies and sweeping the Royals, despite an offense that scored only 24 runs and hit .232. The bats, however, did come to the rescue the one night the rotation faltered. While Phil Hughes was charged with six runs in 5 2/3 innings at Kansas City on Friday, the Yanks pounded out an 11-6 victory. The Yankees' staff had a 0.95 ERA in the five other games, four of which the Yanks won. Mariano Rivera tossed four shutout innings and recorded four more saves, including his first two at Coors Field. That leaves Petco Park in San Diego as the only current stadium in which he has neither pitched nor earned a save. That opportunity, however, could come Aug. 2-4 when the Yankees make their way to San Diego for a three-game Interleague set.
The good news is Jorge De La Rosa is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, and on Sunday, he not only no-hit St. Louis for 6 2/3 innings, but followed up six shutout innings in a Tuesday win against the Yanks with seven more shutout innings. The left-hander is now unscored upon in four of his last six starts. Unfortunately for the Rockies, those two shutout efforts are the only games they have won out of their last seven. Don't blame the pitching. The staff has posted a 2.25 ERA in the last week, while an offense that was considered one of the more balanced in the game has scuffled. How bad was it? In an 8-2 win at St. Louis on Sunday, the Rox equaled their run total for the six previous games. They went 4-for-8 with runners in scoring position in that game after a 1-for-24 stumble the six previous. Troy Tulowitzki is hitting .227 in the last seven games, which is tops among the eight Colorado players with at least 15 plate appearances. Guess it's not a surprise the Rockies fell from first to third in the National League West.
Has Ubaldo Jimenez finally turned the corner? He certainly has been in the driver's seat the last two weeks, guiding the Indians into the American League Central lead, a half-game ahead of the Tigers. The Indians have won 12 of their last 14 games, and not only has Jimenez gone 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA in that stretch, but he has won games at Kansas City -- which led the AL Central at the time -- and at Detroit in a Saturday showdown with Justin Verlander. That output more resembles the pitcher the Indians thought they were getting when they acquired Jimenez from the Rockies in late July 2011. It's a far cry from the right-hander who was 16-20 with a 5.63 ERA in his first 46 starts in Cleveland. The Indians also are benefiting from the resurgence of Scott Kazmir. Limited by injuries to one appearance and five outs the past two seasons, the veteran left-hander has moved into the Indians' rotation this season and is 2-0 with a 2.65 ERA in the last two weeks.
The week began with James Shields working eight shutout innings in Chicago, only for the Royals to see Greg Holland give up a 1-0 lead -- his second blown save of the season -- in an eventual 2-1, 10-inning loss. It ended with the club being swept at home against the Yankees, leaving Kansas City with six losses in seven games. As a result, the Royals fell into third place in the AL Central. Manager Ned Yost realized something needed to change, and it started with the decision to move Alex Gordon from the leadoff spot to hitting third. That didn't seem to bother Gordon, who hit .393 with three home runs and eight RBIs during a week in which Kansas City only scored 23 runs. Concerns continue to grow about Jeff Francoeur, whose .105 average last week dropped his season mark to .229. At least Mike Moustakas got his power stroke back -- the third baseman hit three home runs to give him four for the season -- even if he continues to stumble with a .209 season average. Wade Davis, the other key starter who came along with Shields in the offseason deal with Tampa Bay, won his first two starts for the Royals, but he's 0-3 in the last four, giving up 19 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings.
Arizona did win five of seven games during the week, and the rotation was overpowering, with a 2.09 ERA. Brandon McCarthy, who is still looking for his first victory, rattled off eight shutout innings before turning over a 2-0 lead to fill-in closer Heath Bell against Philadelphia on Sunday, only to see Bell blow the lead in an eventual 4-2, 10-inning loss. But Arizona has been able to survive so far despite a bullpen that leads the league with 11 blown saves, so who is to say the D-backs can't overcome the loss of closer J.J. Putz (elbow strain)? But the rotation can be a force, particularly if McCarthy has turned the corner in his return from last year's line drive to the head. The only other starter with an ERA above 3.00 is returning ace Ian Kennedy. Patrick Corbin, meanwhile, has dominated so far, going 5-0 with a 1.75 ERA, and the D-backs also have received solid efforts from Trevor Cahill (2.70 ERA) and Wade Miley (2.93).
With the A's having lost six of their last seven -- and with a rotation ERA of 6.23 during that stretch -- there's a bit of concern around the team that won the AL West a year ago, as it has fallen below .500. Manager Bob Melvin is preaching patience. The A's, after all, went through a similar mid-May swoon a year ago, seeing a 19-17 record on May 14 scarred by an 8-19 slide before rallying to win the division. Just the same, if there's a big series in May, it opens Monday in Oakland. The Rangers, who saw the A's overtake them last year and deny them the division title on the last day of the season, renew acquaintances with Oakland for the first time in 2013, opening a stretch in which the two teams will play six times in the next nine games. The Rangers arrive not only with the only winning record in the division (24-13), but a six-game lead on the second-place A's (19-20). The A's not only took 11 of 19 from the Rangers a year ago, but swept the final three games of the regular season in Oakland to overtake Texas and win the division, which the Rangers had led for all but three days (the second and third days of the season and the final day).
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.