The AL East: a two-team race

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It’s the second week in August, and we now have confirmation that it’s a two-team race in the AL East between the Yankees and Red Sox. The Rays have slipped after being within a few games of first place for the first two months of the season, and the spotlight is now on the teams with the league’s two best records. Let’s go one-by-one and see what’s up.

ORIOLES

… well, it’s not going too well for Buck Showalter’s boys. On June 26th, they were only five games under .500 at 35-40, and 9.5 games behind the division-leading Yankees. But since then, aided by a few five-plus game losing streaks, they’ve gone 8-27 to sink their winning percentage to just .391, worst in the majors aside from the Astros. Their pitching has been atrocious: in those 35 games, they have allowed 228 runs in the 299 innings pitched, or 6.9 per game. The trading deadline made them sellers of their star reliever Koji Uehara (7.8 K/BB out of the setup role), who was shipped to Texas for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter. Another reliever, Jim Johnson, is showing good stuff, but other than him there’s no standout pitcher on the team right now. Youngsters Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Chris Tillman have all struggled and/or have spent time in the minors, though Tillman has looked better with improved velocity in his recent return to the majors. On the offensive side, they’re also unspectacular; Adam Jones is having a solid season and is on pace for three and a half wins or so. Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis are league-average players and are not progressing as much as the Orioles would like. Overall, the Orioles have a long way to go until they can think about competing in the AL East.

BLUE JAYS

The fourth-place Toronto club is hovering around .500 and is still being led by outfielder Jose Bautista. Joey Bats’ pace isn’t as ridiculous as it was in May or June, but he’s still accumulated seven WAR and has an 1.100 OPS. Yunel Escobar has probably been the team’s second-best hitter, with a .383 on-base percentage and as many walks as strikeouts – impressive coming from a middle infield spot. The recent addition of Colby Rasmus from the Cardinals is very intriguing, considering that they likely underpaid for his talent due to Rasmus’s issues with Tony La Russa. Pitching-wise, the Blue Jays have a solid one-two punch in Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, and Carlos Villanueva has been solid since entering the rotation from the bullpen early in the year. The bullpen now features some effective groundball machines in righty Casey Janssen and lefty Luis Perez, while strikeout artist Frank Francisco has had trouble with the home run ball at times this year. The Jays look like a team with plenty of bright spots (Bautista and Morrow stand out), but not enough overall talent to make a splash in the division.

RAYS

Having fallen off to 10 games off the first-place pace, the Rays are mainly looking towards next year, acting as sellers at the deadline by entertaining offers for James Shields. Speaking of Shields, he and flame-thrower David Price have combined for 6.5 WAR at the front of the Tampa rotation. Since coming back from an injury in June, Jeff Niemann has looked improved, sporting a K/BB ratio above 3.00 since June 20. The bullpen is always a question for Tampa, and aside from closer Kyle Farnsworth, Joe Madden doesn’t really have anybody whom he can turn to with confidence. Offensively, Ben Zobrist is their best hitter right now, with his power and patient approach (not to mention his fielding value). Evan Longoria is having a down year, but is still near 3 WAR. Matt Joyce (since coming down from a first start) and B.J. Upton have been solid, and the lineup is posting a league-average OPS.

RED SOX

Having scored 614 runs already, the Red Sox are setting the offensive pace in the American League. They have THREE players in their lineup (Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez) who have already surpassed five WAR—only 11 teams have ONE hitter over 5 WAR in the lineup. That alone would make their lineup scary, but throw in good seasons from Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and newcomer Josh Reddick, and it becomes frightening. In addition to the offensive juggernaut, the Red Sox can pitch some, too. They’ve been hurt by a likely year-ending back injury to Clay Buchholz, but Josh Beckett (looking to be back in prime form) and Jon Lester are a good 1-2 punch in the postseason. Maybe recent acquisition Erik Bedard can help things out in the rotation as well. If the starters can get through six, things look alright with Matt Albers, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon shutting things down (all have FIPs under 3). The Sox are a well-rounded team featuring a monstrous offense and more than enough pitching to succeed in the postseason.

YANKEES
The Bronx Bombers are right up there with the Red Sox, though there’re doing it a slightly different way. Somehow, the Yankees are pitching exceptionally well and are third in the league in ERA and second in FIP despite their heavy reliance on offseason depth moves Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, who have mostly pitched out of the rotation this year. They have certainly exceeded everyone’s expectations. Ace CC Sabathia has kicked it into another gear since the third week in June, adding some velocity to his fastball and racking up Ks like mad. Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett have struggled this year, and Ivan Nova‘s recent strong performance has given manager Joe Girardi something to think about. The bullpen is anchored by setup man David Robertson, who has done an excellent job (1.44 ERA, 1.68 FIP and a league leading 68 relief strikeouts) in the setup role, and the ageless Mariano Rivera. The Yankees’ offense looks pretty good, too: their team OPS of .788 is second only to the Red Sox. Both of these teams look like they’re in very good shape, and it’ll be fun to see them duke it out for first place.

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Comments

  1. Robert H. Bonter said...

    Used to be a Red Sox-Yankees battle for first place in August meant something. Now it means NOTHING, both are going to the playoffs and this idiot sport needs 162 games to determine which of these two teams will earn “home advantage” vs. the other.  I liked it better when it was “over and out” if you didn’t win it all in the regular season.

    Best of seven games series in October means more than the results of 162 games April-September = “Genius marketing.”  The Red Sox winning two of three vs. the Yankees over the weekend meant about 2 on a scale of 1-5,000.

  2. FromThisSeat.com said...

    Yeah sure, we knew it would be the Yankees and Red Sox this year, especially after the money they spent in the offseason. The small market Rays we knew would give them a run for their money in the middle of the season.
    Nothing hints at the need for a salary cap like the rumor that Big Papi could wind up a Yankee and Sabathia could wind up being a Red Sock.

  3. scott said...

    yankees-red sox so what.  is there a more over-hyped rivalry in sports?  all baseball fans kneel to the almighty rivalry!!!!!  it’s enough to make me a permanent national league fan.

  4. Mitch said...

    While we’re ranting…

    I simply don’t have the patience to watch a Yanks/Sox game anymore. While it should be a marquee matchup, it is almost criminal when a low-scoring game like Sunday night’s takes 4 hours to complete 9 innings. Not that TV ratings mean a whole lot for an individual baseball game, but I wonder at what point it starts to hurt. At least Bobby Valentine had a few moments of clarity to complain about the slow pace. Kudos to him.

  5. Rob Bonter said...

    MITCH:

    I haven’t done the research but I understand that there are more and longer commerical breaks when network TV is nationally televising a game. I find this crass commericalism of baseball and all sports to be nauseating. I stopped listening to the Yankees and Mets on the radio because they are inserting live commercials by the play-by-play man right into the games’s action. “This call to the bullpen is brought to you by…”  “The out of town scoreboard is brought to you by…”  “Geico wants you to know that one 15-minute call can save you money.”

    I want Geico to know that they drive me up the wall and I am tuned out now, thanks to their overkill.  And grateful for so much quality time of my life recovered in the process.

  6. dave silverwood said...

    dont be surprized if either team goes to the series and also dont be surprized if both do heavy roster work this winter.

  7. Robby Bonfire said...

    Why would anyone be surprised if the Red Sox or Yankees go to the WS, this or any year?  Angels have a terrific big three starting unit, and the Texans are talented and capable of going all the way, too. So that nothing other than Cleveland or Detroit going to the Series, will surprise me.  Phillies better look out for Milwaukee. Since the July 4th resumption of intra-league play, Milwaukee has been playing as well as any other team in MLB. The Giants, whom many like to repeat, are just spinning their wheels, right now. They have slipped a notch.  Cain and Lincecum are iffy, right now.

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