Seven weeks into the season and the American League East is still baffling prognosticators. The Rays and their opener strategy remain atop the pile, while the Yankees continue to make the most of the “next man up.” The defending champion Red Sox appear to have pulled beyond an ugly early-season
Seven weeks into the season and the American League East is still baffling prognosticators. The Rays and their opener strategy remain atop the pile, while the Yankees continue to make the most of the “next man up.” The defending champion Red Sox appear to have pulled beyond an ugly early-season funk and are 8-2 in their past 10 games, a recent push that only contributes to the divisional intrigue.
But who are the masterminds behind the curtain? Which guy, more than the others, has made crucial contributions to his team’s success? This week, we take a look at one player each team couldn’t do without.
Blue Jays: SP Marcus Stroman
A homegrown talent and a familiar face among a new-look roster this season, Stroman is Toronto’s most indispensable player.
A first-round Draft pick in 2012, Stroman has posted a 3.12 ERA over his first nine starts of the season, and though his 1-6 record doesn’t reflect his efforts, his presence would be sorely missed from the roster if the Blue Jays' Opening Day starter wasn’t leading the rotation.
The 28-year-old right-hander has twice started more than 30 games and finished more than 200 innings in a season for the Blue Jays in his young career, and there’s no doubt the team north of the border will look for him to do so once again.
Orioles: RP Mychal Givens
Givens is the only veteran member of an AL bullpen that can’t hide its struggles this season, and the only arm back there rookie manager Brandon Hyde truly trusts.
The Orioles have only won 14 games and Givens has pitched in 10 of those wins and saved four. He's also gone multiple innings in eight of his 14 appearances, struck out over a batter per nine and owns an ERA in the 2's.
Could Baltimore use more than just a bullpen pick-me-up this season? Sure, but without Givens to keep them in close games, the Orioles would be all but lost in the late innings.
Rays: SP Blake Snell
You could make the argument that Snell, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, was already the most indispensable player on the Rays’ roster, but with Tyler Glasnow sidelined at least four to six weeks, Snell becomes that much more important to a Rays pitching staff that likes to operate in a unique way.
Snell is off to a bit of a slow start, with a 3-4 record and a 3.56 ERA through eight starts this season, but the southpaw’s stuff is filthy -- he has 62 strikeouts in 43 innings. The Rays are confident it’ll all even out and expect the left-hander to be the ace of the staff once again as Tampa Bay aims to make a postseason push in 2019.
Red Sox:OF/DH J.D. Martinez
Sure, Mookie Betts was the AL’s most valuable player last year and is unquestionably the best all-around player on the Red Sox. But Martinez is the masher in the middle of the batting order who has made the entire lineup better in his two seasons in Boston.
Martinez is a major threat in terms of power and average, and he’s always on the mind of the opposing pitcher. Also, he is viewed by most of his teammates as another hitting coach. Martinez spends hours in the batting cage, not just perfecting his own swing but doing what he can to make his teammates better.
To see what the lineup would look like without Martinez, just check out Boston’s offensive totals in 2017.
Yankees: 1B Luke Voit
With so many injuries to their roster, the Yankees treasure guys like Voit even more at this point in the season.
The burly 28-year-old was the lone offensive threat in New York’s lineup for a while and he not only shouldered that burden but hit like an All-Star, leading the team with 32 RBIs -- 17 of those coming since April 22 -- and coming in second in home runs.
Also consider this: With Greg Bird on the injured list and the next-best option Mike Ford not quite Majors-ready, who would man first base if Voit weren’t around?
Dawn Klemish is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Tampa. Follow her on Twitter @Sportsgal25.