Boston Red Sox
Remember when all those ESPN experts made their predictions on the division and not a single soul chose the Red Sox to win it? Good call guys. The Boston Red Sox have performed one of the best turnarounds in recent memory after finishing in last place in the division a year ago.
After another win against the White Sox this afternoon, Boston has distanced itself from the likes of Tampa Bay and New York by stretching their lead to 5.5 games. With strong starting pitching (3.84 ERA for starters), and a run-happy offense (474 XBH, thank you Fenway), the Sox have remained in first place throughout much of the year.
The offseason, and all the new acquisitions it brought with it, have worked out ingeniously so far for Boston. Obviously, there’s a few guys that never really hit their stride (Ryan Dempster?), or never really got a chance to hit their stride (Joel Hanrahan?), but for the most part, Shane Victorino, Mike Carp, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, and Stephen Drew have been excellent additions and a huge piece to the puzzle.
They are clearly the best team top-to-bottom in the division, and if they remain healthy, the Sox should be able to snag their 7th AL East title while making some serious noise come October.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays currently find themselves in a funk, having lost 7 of their last 8 games, and 4 straight. They now trail Boston by 5.5 games for the AL East crown. Their recent spell has also cost them precious breathing room in a congested Wild Card race, allowing the Orioles and Yankees to crawl their way back into serious contention.
Tampa currently holds the second Wild Card spot with three teams (Baltimore, Cleveland, and New York) all within 3.5 games. Despite a tough stretch that’s seen their offense essentially disappear, the Rays have some of the best starting pitching in the MLB, and are far more talented in that position than either of the three teams trailing them. Their starters have a combined record of 55-40 with a 3.88 ERA, and with two legitimate aces, the Rays can be deadly even with a meager offense.
As bad as they look right now, Joe Maddon knows how to coach his guys to get them back on track. It may be a bit unconventional, but he knows. While they may be too far off to catch the Sox, look for Tampa to lock up one of the Wild Card spots and be a pain in the backside for Boston come playoff time.
Trailing by 8.5 games in the division, Baltimore’s only shot is to play their way in through the Wild Card. The good news is that they don’t have to pass any other teams to get to that second spot though. At the moment, they are behind the Rays by 3 games, and with no games remaining against them this year, Baltimore is going to have to put it together for this final month if they plan on overtaking Tampa and fending off the Yankees simultaneously.
What’s gone horribly wrong for the Orioles is their pitching staff, and not just their starters either. Their once-amazing group of relievers has dwindled into a mess of a bullpen this season. Ranking near the bottom of the league in ERA, and first in home runs allowed; Baltimore’s pitching has reversed it’s fortunes from a year ago. Their 22 blown saves and punchless starting pitching are two huge reasons why they are stuck in the middle of the pack, rather than sitting comfortably in a playoff position.
Without Manny Machado or Chris Davis, this team would probably be hanging out with the Blue Jays at the bottom of the division. Despite having a lot of positive things going for them, the Orioles just don’t have the pitching strength to keep from drowning in the American League playoff race.
New York Yankees
The Bronx Bombers enter September trailing by 9 games for the division, and 3.5 games for a Wild Card spot. If you think this is where I start berating the Yankees for having such an awful year, you’re poorly mistaken. Besides the obvious choice of the Red Sox, I think the Yankees have actually played the best baseball in the division, and I don’t say that lightly.
Given the injuries they’ve faced as a team, to still be in contention is a miracle. When the Sox played them in April I thought they would surely finish under .500. But they never caved in, the replacements held down the ship until reinforcements arrived, it was just too late in the season for them to make a true run at the division. To play without Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, A-Rod, and Mark Teixeira, and still have a shot at the playoffs come September, that’s just a grade A job by their management.
They have one of the easiest schedules remaining with some cake-walk games against the White Sox, Giants, Astros, and Blue Jays, so if anyone can pass the Rays, it’s probably them. With all that being said, I can still proudly say that I despise the Yankees and nothing would make me happier than for them to miss the playoffs.
Toronto Blue Jays