Do you remember back during Spring Training in March when everyone was thinking that the AL East was wide open for anyone to grab? Well it turns out not much has changed in the last 5 months. Not only is the AL East the only division with 4 teams above a .500 winning percentage, but the 5th team that is under .500 is arguably one of the most dangerous offenses in the game. As a Mets fan, I am nearing the point in my baseball season where I can stop caring about the Mets demise and I can start paying attention to the contenders whom I’ll be watching come September and October. There is no doubt that the AL East is the most exciting division in baseball and I am going to break down how I feel the final 60 games will unfold and who will reign supreme in the East.
1st Place – Baltimore Orioles
Right now, Baltimore is 3.5 games out of first place trailing both Tampa and Boston. The reason I predict they will finish in first is because they are just too damn powerful in every position to not. I’ve had the pleasure of watching a lot of Orioles games this year because of my addiction to watching Chris Davis At-Bats. (Side note: I haven’t enjoyed watching two powerhouses like Davis and Cabrera go back and forth with bombs so much since the glorious 98′ season with Sosa and McGuire.) The Orioles rank first in baseball in Slugging Percentage, 3rd in Runs and 4th in Batting Average. Rarely do you see so much power mixed with batting average for a whole team. Buck Showalter has the luxury of changing his lineup on a nightly basis based on pitching matchups without ever sacrificing power or average. The one weakness that the Orioles have faced all year long is their uneven pitching rotation. While there have been some glimpses of success, for the most part the Baltimore rotation has sucked. So while I believe that the O’s will power through with their offense for the rest of the regular season, I also think that their dismal pitching will lead to their playoff demise.
2nd Place – Tamp Bay Devil Rays
If you jump back exactly two months from today you would have seen the Devil Rays sitting in 4th place in the AL East. If you look at the standings today, you will find Tampa in sole possession of first place by a half game over the Red Sox. Tampa has been lights out since May 27th by posting a 35-17 record since then. They have had all of their success with a steady balance of offense, pitching and defense. Between Evan Longoria doing what Evan Longoria does and Matt Moore proving in his second season that he is a legitimate Ace in this league, the Devil Rays are set for many more seasons to come. They have also found a nice diamond in the rough who actually used to hover around the Mendoza line while with the Dodgers; James Loney is hitting a remarkable .317 with 10 HR’s and 50 RBI’s after only hitting .249, 6 and 41 all last year between LA and Boston. It also helps that he has stayed healthy all year and has played in 101 of Tampa’s 103 games thus far. (Side note: The Devil Rays just lit up CC Sabathia, who I think is a top 5 pitcher in the AL, for 7 runs making it the third time they scored at least 5 on him this season.) The reason that I feel the Devil Rays will finish as one of the AL’s two Wild Card teams and not with the pennant is because while they are good in a lot of categories they aren’t the best in any of them and to win a division you need the best.
3rd Place – Boston Red Sox
If you tried to tell me before this season started that you believed the Red Sox would be leading the Majors in Runs and On-Base Percentage I would have laughed in your face. Well surprise surprise, that is exactly where they rank with just two months left in the season. Big Papi David Ortiz is having a career year when most people thought he should have been washed up at this point. It should only be a few months before we find out it is all from PED use, but let’s enjoy it while we can. In his 16th season, the ageless wonder has a ridiculous stat line that would easily be up for MVP talks if it weren’t for the seasons that Davis and Cabrera are having. The career .287 hitter is batting .323 with 19 HR’s and 65 RBI’s. With Ortiz proving age doesn’t matter, the emergence of Jose Iglesias and Dustin Pedroia putting up consistently great numbers, the Red Sox offense has been great all year. Their pitching, however, has the same issues that Baltimore’s does. Lester, Lackey and Buchholz have all had streaks this year of great successes but for the most part, their inconsistencies are the exact reason they will lose to the Devil Rays in the one-game Wild Card playoffs. Yeah, that’s right, I think both Wild Card teams this year are coming out of this beast of a division.
4th Place – New York Yankees
While it pains me to say this, the Yankees are the most impressive team, (based on what they have), in this division. Plagued with more injuries than I have ever seen a team suffer through, the Yankees have had to put laughable lineups on the field on almost a daily basis. No Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Granderson has led to lineups filled with the Overbay’s and Hafner’s of the world that would barely make it in the minors. Even with all of this adversity, the Yankees, whom I hate very much, have played way above average ball. In fact, they have been in playoff contention since day one of the season until recently. Even Yankees fans can admit that they did not expect to be above .500 at this point in the season but their roster and skill set are coming back to reality as they are now 7 games out of first. CC has been struggling worse than he ever has in his career and outside of Cano, there is not one bright spot on the entire roster. Thank God for Mariano Rivera who is absolutely killing it in his final year. If there was ever going to be a season where the Mets were going to out play the Yankees it was this one and yet it still didn’t happen. The Yankees have a lot of rebuilding to do over the next few years but they should not put their heads down because this season was way more of a success then it should have been.
5th Place – Toronto Blue Jays
Before this season started I was talking about how the Blue Jays had a great chance to take this division with the offseason moves they made. Turns out I was terribly wrong. My boy, RA Dickey, is proving that there is a huge difference between pitching in the AL East and the NL East. Last years NL Cy Young winner is getting lit up this year with a nearly 5 ERA and a pitiful 8-11 record. It doesn’t help that he pitches in the best hitting division in baseball and in a stadium that seems to give up 10 Home Runs every game played there. The Blue Jays struggles can not all be blamed on Dickey because their entire pitching staff BLOWS! In fact, the best ERA on their starting rotation comes from Mark Buehrle and his awful 4.50 mark. Pathetic! It was a very tough start to the season for Toronto with Jose Reyes being injured and not one person on their team hitting above .300. With the Blue Jays it has been Home Run or Strikeout all season long and it has led them to a pretty disappointing season. The brightest spot on their team this year has been the power surge that Edwin Encarnacion has been on. While his batting average is below .270 he has hit 28 Home Runs already and knocked in 80 RBI’s before August. Unfortunately for Toronto, there is not much to cheer about this year and with the amount of money they spent in the offseason you can expect to see this team dismantled during the Winter.
You might disagree with my predictions for how this season will unfold but there is no denying that the American League East is the premier division in all of Baseball.
The Baltimore Orioles had a few good teams in the 1990’s, lead by Cal Ripken Junior, Roberto Alomar, Brady Anderson and Mike Mussina. Unfortunately, their success took place during the latest Yankee dynasty and therefore the O’s were never able to reach their desired pinnacle of a World Series Title. After the retirement of Ripken, the Orioles dropped off the face of the relevant baseball planet. For over a decade the Orioles looked up at the standings every season and saw the Yankees and Red Sox sitting pretty atop the leader board.
The good news for the Orioles is that they were at least competitive with the Rays and Blue Jays for the battle for 3rd in the AL East. Then in the late, 2000’s, the Rays all of a sudden got talented and began competing with the Red Sox and the Yanks. All of the Rays years of sucking paid off, and their quality draft picks came to the big leagues and took off. Tampa reached the World Series in 2008, a feat Baltimore was unable to accomplish in their 90’s run. As a result of Tampa’s success, there were two basement beaters in the AL East…Baltimore and Toronto.
Then the craziest thing happened this year…The Boston Red Sox and Baltimore switched places. Boston fell apart, the Orioles pushed the Yankees for the division crown and eventually settled for a Wild Card birth and first round matchup vs. New York. Well, the Yankees disposed the Orioles in five games but baseball experts all over the world were saying how successful of a season Baltimore had and that it could be a building block for next year.
Fast forward 6 weeks and the Toronto Blue Jays are the talk of the big leagues. After their blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins, the Blue Jays have put themselves in a position to compete with the rest of the division. Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Mark Beurhle and Josh Johnson are all bonafide big leaguers who will help contribute immediately to a Toronto Blue Jays that already has big league talent on the roster in players like Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie. Then two days ago, the Blue Jays inked Melky Cabrera to a deal and even though he’s coming off a steroid scandal, he’ll still add to their suddenly deep team.
As for Baltimore’s future, I believe the Toronto moves drop them back down to fourth in the division. The Yankees will always be the Yankees because they have the money to retool year after year. The Rays still have the youngest and deepest rotation in the American League and if some of their players like Evan Longoria were healthy all last year, I believe they could have taken the AL East crown from both the Yankees and the Rays. The Blue Jays will be better than the Orioles next year because their talent will have time to go to Spring Training together and mesh, unlike the Dodgers talent collection attempt this past year. The other thing Baltimore needs to consider is that the Boston Red Sox are down right now, but we all know that they will be back in short time. The demand for a winner in Bean Town is too strong and the front office has already stated that they are willing to spend money to build sooner rather than later.
So, Baltimore Oriole fans, if you are out there…sucks to be you! You had a good year, it was cute but you didn’t really accomplish all that much actually. The Yankees beat you in the division race and the playoffs and Yankee fans are disappointed with the end result of 2012! It’s time for you to go back to the dungeon for the next decade or so and let the AL East heavyweights battle it out. Hey, at least the Ravens are relevant….
With last night’s Baltimore victory over the Texas Rangers in the Wild Card play-in, the stage is set for the first round of the American League Division Series. This year’s field includes teams that weren’t supposed to be in the postseason (Orioles, A’s), the all-time great postseason franchise (Yankees) and a team who has been knocking on the door for a while but has been unable to pull through (Tigers). Below is my prediction for who will be playing in the next round for a shot at the World Series.
Yankees vs. Orioles:
These two teams battled all the way to the last day of the regular season for the AL East Crown, so it’s only fitting they matchup in the first round of the playoffs.
In the past few postseasons, the Yankees have been unable to get the big hit with RISP, something that also plagued them in the 2012 regular season. They are a team that relies heavily on the HR, but in the playoffs, that recipe often fails. During their stretch run, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson caught fire, and the Yankees will need the two of them to drive in Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki, who have done a wonderful job setting the table. The Yankees pitching will be lead by C.C. Sabathia, who had an up and down year but is still a bona-fide ace. The Yankees biggest question mark might be one that has never been an issue before, as Mariano Rivera is replaced by Rafael Soriano this time around. Though Soriano had a wonderful year recording 42 saves, nobody can truly fill in for the great Mariano. The Yankees are hoping that Soriano does a serviceable and the supporting cast takes care of the rest.
The Orioles were supposed to fade a long time ago. The AL East was supposed to be a three-horse race, which it turned out to be, though the Orioles took the place held by the Boston Red Sox for the past decade. Though they don’t do anything particularly spectacular in either their lineup or starting rotation, this team has found ways to win all season long. The Orioles are an inexperienced playoff team, which didn’t seem to faze them at all as they ousted to Texas Rangers in the play-in game last night. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters will need to carry their offense through this series, and the presence of rookie Manny Machado provides the Orioles with a young 5 tool player in the making. While the Orioles don’t have a pitcher of the Justin Verlander caliber, they have a rotation that has given Manager Buck Showalter a chance in every game this season. Wei Yin-Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman have all put up solid seasons in a tough division. Oriole closer Jim Johnson converted a stellar 51 saves this year, blowing only 3 which was a main reason for their extra inning dominance.
Predicition: The Yankees and Orioles know each other well. The Yankees have the players who have been here before, know what to expect and have the rings to prove it. While I believe the Orioles have been gritty and shocked us all to get to this point, their run will end in the Bronx. The Orioles pitches haven’t faced a monster like October baseball in Yankee Stadium and they will prove to be in over their heads: Yankees in 4.
Tigers vs. Athletics
The AL Central Champion Tigers and AL West Champion Athletics both fought up-hill most of the season to reach this point. While the Tigers were disappointing most of the season as they chased down the Chicago White Sox, the Oakland A’s were the biggest surprise in baseball as they posted the best record since the All-Star break and catapulted over both the Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels.
The Athletics are led by Cuban Rookie Yoenis Cespedes, who jumped into the #3 hole and blasted 23 HRs while hitting .292 and stealing 16 bags. Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick, who was traded from the Boston Red Sox for Andrew Bailey last offseason, protected Cespedes in a lineup featuring players that casual baseball fans don’t know about. Like the Baltimore Orioles, the Oakland A’s don’t necessarily feature an Ace, but have been winning all season long with a solid cast of pitchers who were relatively unknown. Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin will all be getting the ball in the first playoff series, as most of their rotation will be making their postseason debut. Grant Balfour was reinserted in the closer role in August and killed it for Oakland, nailing down 17 straight saves as the A’s caught the Rangers. He will need to continue his success, as Oakland isn’t the type of team who will blow anybody out.
As mentioned before, the Detroit Tigers had a fairly disappointing season. After losing in the ALCS last year, they signed free agent Prince Fielder and were expected the blow the AL Central away. They got off to a slow start and finally caught Chicago in the last two weeks, clinching the division with just a few games left. Lead by the Triple Crown winning Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers are a top-heavy team that relies on their stars to carry them. Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson helped Miggy provide the offensive punch for a team that has perhaps the best pitcher in the game. Having Justin Verlander in a short series is a huge advantage. The reigning AL MVP put up another unbelievable season, notching 17 wins and posting a 2.84 ERA. When Detroit can start him twice in a short series, and fill in the other spots with reliable Doug Fister and somewhat unpredictable Max Scherzer, they feature a rotation unmatched by any in the AL. Their closer Jose Valverde always make Tigers fan sweat, but does a good job closing the deal more often than not.
Prediction: Both these teams had to play good ball down the stretch to find themselves in the playoffs. The Oakland A’s have been on a magical ride all season long, as Bob Melvin is easily the Manager of the Year in the AL. However, the Tigers have more experience and more fire power in both their lineup and pitching staff. Like the Orioles, the A’s magical ride comes to an end, but not before they put up a good fight: Tigers in 5.