While there is still plenty of baseball left to be played and things can always change quickly, we’ve gotten deep enough into the season to be able to pinpoint what a team’s identity is, and which clubs have a realistic shot at making a run at the postseason.
In the American League East, it’s becoming more and more clear that it’ll be a three-team race at the top between the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox, while the Blue Jays and Orioles continue to build for the future.
That’s what we think we know in the division, but how exactly have we gotten to this point? Let’s take a look at one stat that reflects why each team is currently where they are in the standings.
Blue Jays: .658
Led by Marcus Stroman, Toronto's pitching has been better than most expected. Entering Thursday’s game, the staff had allowed 215 runs, which ranked 10th in the AL. But while the pitching staff has kept the team in games, the Blue Jays' lineup has struggled to generate much power.
Through 49 games this season, the offense had a .658 OPS, which ranked the lowest in the division. In fact, the only teams in the Majors with a lower OPS than the Blue Jays are the Marlins, Tigers and Giants. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been a welcomed addition, and his five home runs in the past week and a half have given the Blue Jays a boost, but with a 20-29 record, they’re going to need some more power from the rest of the lineup.
Even though every team is optimistic coming into a season, the Orioles knew their first year of a full rebuild was going to have its share of disappointing moments. Baltimore ranks among the worst in the Majors in many categories this season, but there’s one number that best represents why the O's had the worst record in the big leagues (15-34) through 49 games -- 105.
That’s the number of home runs the Orioles have given up this season -- a rate of over two per game. Camden Yards, which has long been known for being a hitter’s ballpark, hasn’t helped the cause, as O's pitching has surrendered 62 home runs at home. But the struggles have carried over to the road, as the pitching staff has allowed 43 home runs in away games.
At this pace, the Orioles are projected to give up well over 300 home runs this season, which would shatter the record of 258 by the Reds in 2016.
Tampa Bay has done a lot of things well as the club jumped out to a 28-18 record this season, but it all starts with what the pitching staff has been doing. Through the team’s first 46 games, the Rays led the Majors with a 3.23 FIP, which is similar to ERA, but it focuses solely on the events a pitcher has the most control over such as strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit by pitches and home runs. The closest team to the Rays in the AL is the Astros with a 3.59 FIP.
Even with Tyler Glasnow, who leads the AL in ERA at 1.86, on the injured list, the Rays have enough arms to contend in the AL East. Blake Snell and Charlie Morton continue to lead the rotation, while power arms like José Alvarado and Diego Castillo continue to show they’re more than capable options in the back end of the bullpen.
Tampa Bay is dealing with multiple injuries, but as long as the pitching staff keeps the team in games, the Rays will have a chance to compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox.
Red Sox: 41.4
Despite a slow start to the season, Boston entered Thursday at 26-23 and in the second AL Wild Card spot. The pitching staff is still not where the Red Sox want it to be, and it should improve once Nathan Eovaldi returns from injury, but it’s the Sox lineup that has kept them in the race so far this season.
Boston lead the AL East with 259 runs scored and they hit the ball really hard. The Red Sox are tied for second in the big leagues with 41.4 percent of their batted balls being hard-hit, according to Statcast.
New York has endured injuries to a number of its star players this season, but the Yanks still find themselves at the top of the division with no signs of slowing down. While there are a lot of factors that have contributed to the Yankees jumping out to a division lead, a key number is that they’re 23-8 (.742 winning percentage) against teams with a losing record this season, which is the best record against such teams in the division.
New York is 8-8 against teams over .500, which is also tops in the division and shows it's also playing well against good teams. But the Yanks are being led by their nine wins against the Orioles and a 6-1 road trip in April against the Angels and the Giants.
It’s only a matter of time before the Bombers are fully healthy, but as long as the current club keeps taking care of business against the teams they’re supposed to, the Yankees should be in good shape until the star players are ready to return.