AL East Beat: Mediocrity or Tough Competition?

Heading into Thursday’s games, only one team in the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays, had a positive run differential. While run differential can be misleading early in the season, it has been a reliable indicator of quality teams. Four of the five teams have 20 wins with only the Rays trailing at 18 wins. 

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At the start of the season, the American League East looked like the toughest division in the sport. It still looks that way as every team in the division has dealt with significant injuries during the first month and a half of the season. There is some validity to the idea of each team taking turns beating the other up, but East teams haven’t fared well against other divisions. The Orioles are just 3-9 against Central Division opponents. The Red Sox are 3-2. The Rays are 4-9, while the Blue Jays are 5-6. The Yankees haven’t played a Central Division opponent, but they are just 5-6 against the West Division. 

At this point, there shouldn’t be too much weight put on those records. But, it does reflect just how much injuries have impacted the East. The Yankees are missing three of their five starting pitchers. They just placed Carlos Beltran on the disabled list. The Orioles were without Chris Davis for a bit and as soon as he came back, Matt Wieters was placed on the DL. The Orioles waited for a little more than a month for Manny Machado to return and shortstop JJ Hardy battled injuries early on. The Rays have lost as many pitchers as the Yankees, while the Blue Jays just got their closer, Casey Janssen back. The Red Sox are playing better of late, but that coincides with the fact that they were just able to field their intended starting team. 

The impact of all of these injuries makes the division wide open. Any team, even the Blue Jays, has a chance. Injuries are forcing the Yankees to pitch the likes of Chase Whitley–who fared well in his Major League debut–and now depend on their younger relievers. The Rays are sending Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos to the mound on a regular basis. The Blue Jays just placed center fielder Colby Rasmus on the disabled list. While the old axiom of “whoever stays healthiest will win” is generally true, it has never been more pertinent in the American League East. 

Yankees Lose Sabathia

There has been much concern about CC Sabathia’s lost velocity and his diminishing returns. No longer an ace, Sabathia made 8 starts, posted a 5.28 ERA, 4.76 FIP, and allowed 58 hits in 46 hits. The FIP is more of an indication of a league average pitcher, which is something the Sabathia will be until he can prove he can pitch with his new arsenal. With Sabathia out, the Yankees will have to replace roughly 6 innings per start of league average baseball. Chase Whitely started well in his debut, but there is much to prove. Like the entire Orioles’ rotation, league average pitching allows a team to compete each night. Sabathia was, at least doing that. Additionally, the presence of Masahiro Tanaka lessened the need for Sabathia to the be ace as Tanaka has been better than his advanced billing. Losing Nova and Pineda hurt; losing Sabathia puts the Yankees in real danger for the short term. 

Early Role Player Star: Tanaka isn’t a role player so he doesn’t qualify. Yangervis Solarte was an afterthought and feel good spring training story. Halfway through May, Solarte leads the American League with a .336 average along with 4 home runs and 23 RBI. He shares the role player award with Dellin Betances who has struck out 33 batters in 20 innings of work. Of all the Yankees’ relievers, he projects to be the long term closer. 

Blue Jays’ Bats Waking Up

It took Edwin Encarnacion more than a month to hit his first home run of the season. Now, the Blue Jays’ first baseman is up to .255/.333/.509 with 8 home runs and 30 RBI. Jose Reyes missed the first month of the season, but since May 8th, he has posted a batting line of .348/.400/.696 with 3 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, and 3 stolen bases. Adam Lind, just recently activated from the disabled list, is batting .321/.433/.536. All along, Jose Bautista has been quietly putting together his best season with a quick start of .297/.429/.554 with 10 home runs. Melky Cabrera is making Toronto forget his awful 2013 season with a .327/.363/.509 start. The Blue Jays will have to win with their offense and despite the slow start, they are currently 3rd in the American League in runs scored. Losing Rasmus and catcher Dioner Navarro hurts, but with Encarnacion back, they have more than enough offense. 

Early Role Player Star: The Blue Jays’ offense will be fine despite injuries because of the production on Juan Francisco. The 27 year old is batting .291/.380/.595 with 4 doubles, 1 triple, and 6 home runs in 92 plate appearances. 

Rays Lose Zobrist; Trying To Tread Water

As if the pitching injuries weren’t bad enough, the Rays placed Ben Zobrist on the disabled list, which will force Sean Rodriguez and Logan Forsythe into a more regular role. The Rays offense was already struggling as they are just 9th in the American League in runs scored, 6th in on base percentage, and 10th in slugging percentage. That may be a typical Rays’ offense, but their pitching staff ranks just 9th in the league in ERA, and 12th in home runs allowed. Despite all of those injuries and slow starts, the Rays are just 3.5 games behind. If David Price can figure out how to keep the ball in the park (9 home runs allowed), Alex Cobb can successfully return, and guys like Evan Longoria and Wil Myers get hot, the Rays can compete.

Early Role Player Star: 26 year old reliever Brad Boxberger has been a useful member of the staff since his call up after the rash of injuries. In 8 appearances, he has pitched 10.2 innings, allowed 5 hits, 9 walks (crazy high), and has struck out 14.  The walks are concerning, but when he is in the zone, he has been outstanding.

Pitching Leading The Way For Champs

The Red Sox offense ranks 11th in every slash category. They are tied for 9th in runs scored. Only David Ortiz and Mike Napoli have an OPS over .800. But, the pitching staff is the best in Major League Baseball according to WAR. Their 3.51 FIP is fourth best in the American League. Despite getting nothing from Clay Buchholz, the rotation has been stellar, which has limited the bullpen’s use. With a reasonably rested bullpen, six Red Sox relievers have ERA’s under 3.00. In the chaotic division, the Red Sox are pitching the best and they have every reason to believe that their offense will produce. Even if it doesn’t, adding a hitter is much easier than adding a quality pitcher.

Early Role Player Star: The Bullpen. The Red Sox have struck gold with the likes of Burke Badenhop (3.68 FIP), Chris Capuano (3.06 FIP), Andrew Miller (1.79 FIP), and Junichi Tazawa (2.67 FIP). Bullpens are a dicey proposition each year, but thus far, the Red Sox have found an outstanding combination leading up to closer Koji Uehara.

O’s Seeing The Good Ubaldo

April wasn’t too kind to Ubaldo Jimenez. The Orioles saw their big free agent investment pitch more like the guy who was jettisoned from Colorado and struggled during his first go around in Cleveland. In five April starts, Jimenez pitched 27.1 innings, allowed 33 hits, walked 17 batters, and struck out 21. That added up to a 6.59 ERA and an opponents’ batting line of .300/.398/.473. But, the turn of the calendar and a fix in his mechanics has given the Orioles the ace they were hoping for when they signed him just as spring training was getting underway. 

In three May starts, Jimenez is 2-0 with a 0.46 ERA. In 19.2 innings, he has allowed 13 hits, just 5 walks, and has struck out 20 batters. Obviously, the difference has been control as Jimenez has held batters to just a .191/.257/.221 batting line. Jimenez will eventually even out to be somewhat between the two extremes that he has shown, but this glimpse has given the Orioles legitimate hope that they finally have a legitimate top of the rotation starter who can make batters swing and miss. 

Early Role Player Star: The Orioles don’t really have a role player who is performing well at the moment. Steve Pearce does have three home runs after re-signing with the Orioles. But, other than relievers Zach Britton and Darren O’Day, no player really fits the bill as a role player. 

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About the author


Gary Armida  

Gary Armida is a Father to the best little girl in the world. After that, he is a writer who has been covering Major League Baseball since 2007. During that time, Gary operated FullCountpitch.com, one of the first independent online sites that gained Major League Baseball media credentials. Over the years, he has covered two Winter Meetings and has written feature articles for a variety of outlets while interviewing Major League personnel such as Rick Peterson, Jason Giambi, Zack Wheeler, Jeff Luhnow, Jack Zduriencik, Michael Bourn, and many others. In addition to his work at BSL, Gary contributes to USA Today Sports Weekly and maintains his personal site, garyarmida.com, that serves as his portfolio as well as a place for additional content.


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