The American League East is the most closely contended division in all of Major League Baseball with just a few weeks remaining in the 2012 regular season. The top two teams, however, have been thrown an extra challenge after suffering injuries to to of their top offensive and defensive players.
The New York Yankees have a one game lead in the A.L. East over the Baltimore Orioles and a two game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. Due to the addition of a second wild card spot in each league, it is conceivable that all three of the teams chasing the division crown could make the 2012 MLB Playoffs.
Then again, with the teams in the American League West still fighting for control, it is almost as conceivable that only the division winner will qualify for the postseason.
And after Mark Teixeira and Nick Markakis suffered injuries that could possibly end their regular season for the Yankees and Orioles, respectively, it could be the Rays who reap the benefits of two big players going down this weekend.
Teixeira has been on and off the disabled list this year, but it is now his injured left calf that has everyone in New York concerned. In fact, Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi said that while there is a chance that Teixeira may be back in time for next weekend’s series against the Rays, he is also worried that this could effectively end the team’s star first baseman.
“There is part of me that wonders that,” Girardi said of Teixeira’s setback resulting in a prolonged absence. “There is basically 3½ weeks left. If it does go back to square one, then I’d really wonder.”
Teixeira, however, said he does not expect this to put him on the shelf for quite as long.
“That would be the worse-, worse-case scenario,” Teixeira said on the possibility of being done for the season.
In the meantime, the Yankees will use Nick Swisher and Steve Pearce at first base to help fill the void.
The Orioles, however, may have a more difficult time replacing their lead-off hitter in in right field following the broken left thumb to Markakis.
Since moving Markakis to the lead-off spot, he has batted .335 as the Orioles have gone 33-21 during that same span. He has been a key catalyst to their offense, and the team will now look to Nate McLouth and Lew Ford as his possible replacements.
The biggest difference between the injuries to Teixeira and Markakis is that while there may be a chance that the Yankees 1B only misses a handful of games, the Orioles RF is out for at least the next few weeks. If Baltimore does reach the postseason, it would still not be certain that Markakis could return.
With all of that being said, the Rays could now be the favorites to take control of the division. Unfortunately for them, however, they probably have the hardest road left ahead of them in terms of their remaining schedule.
The Yankees have 6 games remaining with the Boston Red Sox, 6 against the Toronto Blue Jays, 3 against the Rays, 3 against the Oakland Athletics and 3 against the Minnesota Twins. The Orioles have 6 games remaining with the Rays, 6 against the Red Sox, 4 against the Blue Jays, 3 with the Athletics and 3 with the Seattle Mariners. The Rays finish up with 6 against the Orioles, 6 against the Red Sox, 4 against the Chicago White Sox, 3 with the Yankees and 3 with the Blue Jays.
With just a few weeks left, this race could very well come down to the final weekend.