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.
This is about as close as it gets. With 6 games left, the New York Yankees have the slimmest of division leads over the Baltimore Orioles, as they enter play tonight with a mere 1 game advantage. Tampa Bay is only 4 games out of first as well, meaning there is a lot to be determined in the next week. The New York Yankees play three games against two out of contention teams, Toronto and Boston. While each of these opponents have had a disappointing season, we all know that both of them would love to help contribute in the Yankees losing out in the divisional race. It is up to the Bronx Bombers to make sure that it doesn’t happen!
Thankfully for the Yankees, the Orioles and Rays will play each other the final three games of the season, meaning if they take care of their business, there is a good chance those two squads will knock inflict enough damage to the other to allow the Yanks to escape with the crown. In years past, making the playoffs as the Wild Card was just as effective as clinching a division, but with this years rule change of a Wild Card play-in game, the importance of capturing the division has never been greater.
The Yankees have a lot of question marks this year. The recent woes of both Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova lead the team to believe they really don’t have a fourth starter. The bats have been criticized to be all of nothing, that is if the Yanks don’t hit HRs, they don’t usually win. However, I believe their solid record against both the Red Sox and Blue Jays this year will stay true to form during the last 6 games. During a season in which the Yankees have been ravaged by injuries, it is looking as if their health might be at an all-time high entering the post season. Andy Pettitte and Brett Gardner (in a defensive and pinch running role) have recently rejoined the club, and now the Yanks eagerly wait for Mark Teixeira to battle back from his ailment.
Once the Yankees make it into the playoffs, I truly feel they would be a tough out for any opponent. The ability to throw CC, Andy and the overachieving Hiroki Kuroda in the first three games of any series will keep the Yankees in any series. If players like Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and ARod can somehow snap out of some of their recent woes, which they are all capable of, the Yanks still have as potent of an offense as their is in baseball. The acquisition of Ichiro Suzuki seems to have invigorated the veteran outfielder, and his recent contributions are a huge reason they are still in first place today. If all these guys follow the lead of their captain and carry themselves like Jeter does in October, I still like my Yankees chances to capture the crown.
The next week will be fascinating to watch. I’ll admit that I thought Baltimore would have fallen back by now, but they have played unbelievable in September. I figured Tampa Bay would be a factor until the end, but definitely did not figure the pesky O’s would be so hard to shake. To me, this is the greatest time of the sports calendar and I can’t wait to watch this story, and the other races around the big leagues unfold. My Yankee fandom allows me to always stay optimistic (the polar opposite feeling I have when thinking about my Jets), and I truly believe when the dust settles, the Yankees will remind everyone what organization will always prevail over all others. The playoffs basically start tonight and I’m excited to see how all these teams respond. Enjoy your hardball!