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AL East trends that will -- and won't -- last

@baseballexis
April 25, 2019

It's almost a month into the 2019 season, and the American League East standings are right where everyone thought they would be, right? Not a chance, with the reigning World Series champion Red Sox in fourth place and six games back of the Rays, who sit comfortably atop the division

It's almost a month into the 2019 season, and the American League East standings are right where everyone thought they would be, right? Not a chance, with the reigning World Series champion Red Sox in fourth place and six games back of the Rays, who sit comfortably atop the division leaderboard.

With a small sample size can come both early excitement and disappointment, warranted or not, and the AL East teams are no exception. But while it might not yet be time to celebrate, it's also not the time to panic. Here’s a look at what each team can continue to expect for the remainder of the season -- and what might not last much longer.

Blue Jays

What’s real: Marcus Stroman’s success. It would be tough for the right-hander to maintain the 1.76 ERA he’s posted over his first 30 2/3 innings this season. But after missing time while on the injured list twice last year, he could be returning to his 2017 form; that season, he posted a 3.09 ERA over 201 innings with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.65.

What’s not: Danny Jansen’s offensive struggles. Though we are only looking at a small sample, it appears the 24-year-old catcher is not his offensive self so far this season, hitting .179/.270/.232 with six walks, 18 strikeouts and only three extra-base hits -- all doubles. Though Jansen has been defensively focused this year, he posted a .777 OPS, 166 walks and 185 strikeouts over 376 games in six Minor League seasons. Improvements should be expected.

Orioles

What’s real: Trey Mancini’s breakout. After his confidence sagged during a sophomore slump, Mancini looks more like the player he was during his AL Rookie of the Year finalist campaign in 2017. He ranks among the AL’s best in a slew of statistical categories, sitting second in total bases, extra-base hits and runs, tied for third in doubles and eighth in OPS. Mancini has long had the potential to emerge into a star, and now he is.

What’s not: Orioles pitchers' home run rate. The ball is flying all over MLB, and the O's are going to give up a lot of homers. But this pace cannot be sustained. They’ve allowed 14 more than the next closest team -- the Cardinals -- and are on pace to surrender 382. That would shatter the all-time single-season record of 258, set in 2017 by the Reds.

Rays

What’s real: Tyler Glasnow’s breakout. Glasnow is 4-0, leads the AL with a 1.53 ERA and has shown no signs of slowing down. Glasnow has commanded the strike zone through his first five starts, and his seven-and-a-half-foot range to home plate makes his 97-mph fastball look even faster. The talent has always been there, but it seems like everything is finally clicking for the right-hander.

What’s not: José Alvarado and Diego Castillo’s recent struggles. After a blazing start to the year, both Alvarado and Castillo ran into some trouble against the Orioles and Red Sox. Castillo gave up the go-ahead runs on Thursday and Friday, while the same happened to Alvarado on Saturday and Sunday. Both relievers have dominant sinkers and fastballs that touch 100 mph. A couple of days off should serve them well, and they’ll be right back to helping the Rays close out games.

Red Sox

What’s real: Ryan Brasier as a late-inning option -- and a closer when the Red Sox want him to be. Brasier came out of nowhere last season to become a lights-out setup man after pitching in Japan the previous year. Before 2018, the right-hander hadn’t pitched in the Majors since '13. Given his dramatic re-emergence, it was fair to wonder if Brasier could keep up the pace this year. He has, posting a 1.59 ERA in his first 12 outings and converting six of his first seven save opportunities.

What’s not: Chris Sale’s struggles. At 30 years old, it’s hard to believe Sale might have simply lost it, even though his 0-4 record and 7.43 ERA make it appear that way. There are a combination of things at work. Sale is coming off an injury-plagued second half of last season and could still be building arm strength. He also has specific instructions from his coaching staff not to go to maximum velocity at this juncture of the season. Sale has been battling mechanical issues, but those seem to be sorting themselves out. He held the Tigers to two runs and struck out 10 in his last start. The next step, as Sale would be first to admit, is to pitch deep into the game.

Yankees

What’s real: Clint Frazier’s emergence in the outfield. At the time of his acquisition from the Indians in 2016, Brian Cashman lauded Frazier has having “legendary bat speed,” and it’s showing here and now. Frazier is hitting .339 (19-for-56) with five home runs and 13 RBIs over his past 14 games and he homered in back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday, but he had an MRI on his left ankle, which he injured on a 12th-inning slide in Monday's 4-3, 14-inning win over the Angels, and was placed on the injured list.

What’s not: Chad Green. All of a sudden, the right-hander appears to be out of sorts and unlike the pitcher he has been over the past few years. His ERA is way up, his strikeouts are down and he doesn’t seem to have the swing-and-miss stuff his team is used to seeing. Either his mechanics are off, or he’s hurt. The Yankees will give Green a chance to rediscover his top form in the Minors after optioning him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday.

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.