Giving Thanks: The American League East

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I don’t have a ton of Thanksgiving traditions, but there are a few: I tend to start drinking right around the time the Macy’s Parade ends. I force myself to watch part of the Detroit Lions game because it almost, but not quite, reminds that there was a time in my life when I cared about what happened to the Detroit Lions. I turn the Lions game off ten minutes later and tell someone in my family what I really think about them. And since 2007 I think about what baseball teams have to be thankful for this holiday season and package it all up in a few posts so that the shut-ins and loners in Greater HardballTalkistan have something to read on a day when every other blog goes dark.

So, without further ado, the first of six installments you’ll read today about those things for which teams have to give thanks:

Tampa Bay Rays: The spring, which was very, very good to them, particularly on the road, allowing the Rays to jump out to a decent lead in the AL East. When the weather got hotter and the bats began to wilt, that cushion was nice to have.

New York Yankees: The little guys. At least relatively speaking. If I told you before the season that Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, Burnett and Posada were all going to have off years you wouldn’t have guessed that the Yankees would be playing in October. But they did thanks to Robinson Cano — probably too big to be a little guy, but compared to the other infielders, he is — Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher and Phil Hughes. Big contributions from so many guys who were thought of as bit players saved this team in 2010.

Boston Red Sox: Kevin Youkilis. Right now we don’t know if Adrian Beltre will come back. We don’t know if they can land Jayson Werth. But with Youkilis around we do know that they’ll still have an All-Star bat in the lineup and, more importantly, the flexibility to pursue both third base and first base options out on the market to fill the holes. Am I too optimistic about Youkilis’ prospects at third base? Maybe, but I really do think he can handle it alright if Beltre bolts and the Sox find themselves a first baseman.

Toronto Blue Jays: Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and whatever motivation was gained by everyone and their brother picking the Jays to finish in the cellar. The young rotation took a big step forward, Jose Bautista was insane, and even Vernon Wells stepped into the juvenation machine to help Toronto play some damn fine baseball all year. The sort of which, if it had occurred in other divisions, would have had them snagging more headlines than they ultimately did.

Baltimore Orioles: Buck Showalter. I’m still not convinced that Showalter isn’t really just a sophisticated version of Annie Savoy’s garters, convincing the Orioles that their downright respectable second half was all his doing as opposed to chance, metaphysics and regression to the mean. But it probably doesn’t matter either, because the Orioles seem to believe in it. Their fans seem to believe in it. And if the O’s can avoid another awful start in 2011, maybe it doesn’t matter if it was Buck or the fates that put them on the right track late last year.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman not considering demoting struggling Greg Bird

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Yankees first baseman Greg Bird gave his team tons of confidence to hand him the everyday job at first base to start the 2017 regular season, batting .451/.556/1.098 with eight home runs in 51 spring at-bats. But he’s followed that up by hitting .107/.254/.214 through the first month of the regular season.

GM Brian Cashman doesn’t have any intent to demote Bird back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports. Cashman said, “It’s not even an option for me in my mind right now, at all.”

Bird didn’t start Sunday’s game against the Orioles, a 7-4 loss in 11 innings. Lefty Wade Miley started for the Orioles, prompting manager Joe Girardi to put Chris Carter into the lineup at first base. If Bird isn’t able to figure things out, Carter might have an increased role on the team.

Chris Archer threw behind Jose Bautista

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Rays starter Chris Archer threw his first pitch to Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista behind the slugger’s back with one out in the first inning of Sunday afternoon’s game in Toronto. Bautista and Archer then had a staredown. Home plate umpire Jim Wolf issued warnings to both teams. Bautista ultimately flied out to right field and he appeared to have a quick word with Archer on his way back to the dugout.

Archer could have been exacting revenge — euphemistically known as “protecting his teammate” — because Jays reliever Joe Biagini hit Rays outfielder Steven Souza in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game. Souza was forced to leave the game and underwent an X-ray, which came back negative. He was held out of Sunday’s lineup. Biagini’s pitch did not appear to be intentional.

The Jays won Sunday’s contest 3-1 with no further incident. The two clubs meet again in Tampa for a three-game series starting on May 5, so we’ll see if Sunday was the last of the bad blood between them.