There’s no division as close as the A.L. East is and now that the Toronto Blue Jays have seemingly forced themselves back into the conversation of respectable teams it only figures to get tighter. As we continue to progress through the regular season and this tough as nails battle going on in the American League East let us take a look at how each team in the division stacks up in different aspects of the game.
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It all starts at the top with the Boston Red Sox as they currently lead the majors in runs scored and don’t appear to be slowing down. Even though their offense gets a good bit of attention it’s really been their pitching staff that has carried them through and allowed them to keep a firm grip on first place.
The Baltimore Orioles are just as scrappy as ever and continue to win series, they’ve won the most series in baseball, to propel themselves into second place and aren’t looking back at all. They do still have some concerns at the back-end of the rotation and also have to figure something out in the bullpen as it’s been up and down all year, but the team continues to get the job done across the board.
The New York Yankees started off strong but over the last several weeks have really started to show their age and lack of premier talent behind their aging starters who have been hurt. Over the last 30 days their offense has struggled quite a bit, as they’ve managed an anemic .222/.285/.337 batting line with a 22.5% strikeout rate. Their pitching is the only thing keeping them afloat right now and if the offense doesn’t turn it around soon then they could soon find themselves out of contention for the division or even the wild-card.
As far as the Tampa Bay Rays are concerned, they have been hanging in there with a solid performance on offense all-around but their pitching staff has had its fair share of struggles and staff ace David Price has been dealing with a triceps issue which landed him on the disabled list. It’s difficult to say just how effective he will be once he does return to the rotation but they’ll need him if they are to stay in contention.
Finally we have the resurgent Toronto Blue Jays. It was barely two weeks ago that we were all saying the Blue Jays won’t even be a .500 team but a seven game win streak has changed all that now. They are looking to get themselves back into the thick of things in the division, somehow, and have been playing very well as of late it’s hard to ignore them as a serious threat to the rest of their division now. Even if they don’t end up contending for a playoff spot they could still find themselves in the role of playing spoiler.
Now, onto the stats and rankings (all stats current through 6/18/13 and are courtesy of Fangraphs).
|Team||Offensive WAR||MLB Rank|
|Boston Red Sox||14.6||2nd|
|Tampa Bay Rays||12.4||6th|
|Toronto Blue Jays||8.6||15th|
|New York Yankees||4.6||23rd|
Even though the Red Sox have scored the most runs in the majors this year, according to the offensive WAR rankings on Fangraphs they’re ‘technically’ not the best offensive team in the majors overall. It’s very, very close though as you could look at these rankings tomorrow and they could switch positions. Three teams from the division are in the top tier of offensive productions overall but the biggest surprise is probably the Yankees being in the bottom tier of baseball.
|Team||Pitching WAR||MLB Rank|
|New York Yankees||9.9||6th|
|Boston Red Sox||8.3||7th|
|Tampa Bay Rays||5.1||20th|
|Toronto Blue Jays||4.0||24th|
The Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles have all had their own issues when it comes to their respective pitching staffs. The Rays issues are pretty much two-fold as three starters in their rotation have been struggling quite a bit; David Price hasn’t been healthy or effective, Jeremy Hellickson being a bit unlucky and not that sharp, and of course Roberto Hernandez has been mediocre to dazzling in three or four starts and downright atrocious in the rest.
Toronto spent the first two months of the season unable to get regular quality outings from their rotation or keeping guys healthy. Now that they’ve gotten some guys back in the rotation and others are healthy they have been much better, but the early season self-inflicted wounds have seriously skewed their numbers to date.
Then of course the Orioles have had their own concerns with the back-end of their rotation, and of course waiting for Wei-Yin Chen to come back from injury, so in the meantime they are rolling with Freddy Garcia who has been nothing more than below league average while also giving multiple chances to Jake Arrieta. The bullpen has also been nowhere near as effective as they were last season, which isn’t surprising, but there are certain relievers who have been a nightmare to pitch late in the game (see Strop, Pedro).
|Team||Fielding (combined UZR at all positions)||MLB Rank|
|Boston Red Sox||7.4||8th|
|New York Yankees||7.2||9th|
|Tampa Bay Rays||1.3||14th|
|Toronto Blue Jays||-9.4||23rd|
Say what you want about fielding metrics but they are certainly better than not having anything other than fielding percentage to gauge a team’s ability in the field. This has been a staple of the Orioles since August of last season when they really made their playoff push and earned themselves a wild card berth. They’ve continued to play exceptionally well on defense and that’s a large reason why they have been able to stay in many of their games this season – especially when their pitching staff may not be so sharp on any given day.
You can also see that the Red Sox and Yankees are no slouches on defense, overall, either as they are both in the top 10 but they are still worlds apart from where the Orioles are defensively. The Rays were previously known as a great defensive team but they’ve not been playing up to their reputation this year and the Blue Jays have just been horrible on defense overall, which isn’t all that surprising considering some of the players that were hurt for a while.
The real question is how will each of these teams finish? Fangraphs still projects the Orioles to play .500 ball the rest of the way and finish with 86 wins, the same mark they predict the Yankees to reach as well, while the Red Sox are projected to win the division and the Rays and Blue Jays are being projected to win 83 and 81 games respectively.
Projections are fun to look at and then try to determine how close to reality we all think they are but things change constantly in baseball. The unexpected always occurs and sometimes it’s in the form of a devastating injury or surprisingly good performances from rookies or role players. With the division as tight as it is, and is likely to continue being, how can we really count out any of the teams this early into the season?
It’s good to know where they stand right now, what they do well, what they don’t do well, etc. but one trade or one call-up can fix certain issues. For example…
The Red Sox could be better if third baseman Will Middlebrooks starts to hit like he did in his rookie season, Jackie Bradley gets called up and shows he can handle major league pitching, and the injury to starting pitcher Clay Buchholz doesn’t linger or become more serious.
They could feasibly get worse if Middlebrooks continues to devolve as a hitter, the injury to Buchholz becomes more serious or lingers enough to seriously impact his performance on the mound, the performances of John Lackey and Ryan Dempster regress somewhat, and players such as Mike Napoli, Mike Carp, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia see their BABIP’s regress back to league average a bit and their offensive performances suffer as a result.
The Yankees could be better if their lot of injured players regain their health and get back on the field and perform at an above league average level since their replacements have all come back down to earth. The arrival of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez could give this team a punch in the arm just as the re-arrivals of Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson could do the same. Also having Michael Pineda rejoin the rotation after some successful rehab starts would be another boost to the rotation as well.
They could get worse and continue to slide out of the thick of contention if their lot of injured players don’t get back on the field any time soon or don’t play particularly well once they do. Now that it appears the magic elixir Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, and Lyle Overbay were all sipping has worn off they are barely even playing at a league average rate at this point and could continue to slip below that level.
Tampa Bay could be a lot better than their recent performance indicates if they get back a healthy and effective David Price while also having Jeremy Hellickson put his struggles behind him and have Chris Archer put it together to truly earn himself a permanent spot in the rotation. They also could see reliever Jake McGee and closer Fernando Rodney go back to being their dominant selves from last season, which would effectively give them one of the better eighth and ninth inning combos in the American League.
Toronto has been much improved over the last month of the season, especially in June, than they were the first two months of the season – that much is certain. How much better though? The pitching staff has a 3.11/4.16 ERA/FIP line and is getting ground balls at a 49.1% rate. If they keep that up going forward then they could very well be much improved overall with the pitching alone.
Additionally, if they continue to put up top 10 numbers on offense the way they have been doing over the last 30 days then that will only further contribute to a rise in the standings as we inch closer to the All-Star break and beyond. And they are doing all of this without Jose Reyes and Brandon Morrow, but if both come back healthy and produce the way we all know they can then they will certainly become one of the more dangerous teams in the American League.
However, they could perform far worse than recent numbers suggest if it’s all simply a mirage. If health continues to be an issue and consistency becomes a thing of the past, once again.
Finally, we come to the Orioles who are the scrappiest group of players to be playing this season just as they were last season. This is a team that could greatly improve by getting a healthy Wei-Yin Chen back and finally figuring out the back-end of the rotation while getting some consistency from it. Whether that player is Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, or someone else no one knows but if they find that guy and he performs well enough then instead of winning the majority of their series’ they’ll start sweeping them.
That also goes for certain members in the bullpen such as Pedro Strop, who was considered a dominant late inning force last season but hasn’t been nearly as consistent or good this year. If he can regain his form and composure on the mound going forward that’s just an added bonus to the pitching staff.
As far as the offense is concerned, it’s difficult to imagine the offense getting much better but it is absolutely possible. This is a team that is still without players such as Nolan Reimold, Wilson Betemit, and Brian Roberts. Reimold has already begun his rehab assignment and should be back in the lineup in a week or so and Roberts is set to begin a rehab assignment within the next week. Each of those players should be able to provide a boost to the offense, thus making it even better.
But there of course is a flip side and the flip side to the more optimistic view with the Orioles is that they are unable to resolve the issues with the back-end of the rotation, second base continues to be a black hole offensively, and Matt Wieters continues to vastly under perform with the bat. Not to mention that Chris Davis and Manny Machado can’t possibly stay on the torrid paces each have been on all season long.
They play an all-around solid game but without the top tier talent in the rotation that their division rivals all have they could easily find themselves sliding down the standings in the division if anyone suffers a major injury or doesn’t perform up to their talent levels the rest of the season.