This is a weekly Monday feature where I’ll look at things that are happening around the AL East, and baseball in general.
The Jays were surging, it seemed, but all of it was given back with a poor week. And that’s a damn shame, because save for the Rays, nobody in the AL East is doing much right now.
American League East
Yankees 25-16 (0 GB) +55 run differential
The New York Yankees just won’t go away. I think we all figured 2017 would be a good season for them, filled with the usual ups and downs associated with a young team, but so far, it’s been almost entirely ups. They own the best run differential in the American League at +55, and are scoring more runs per game, 5.66, than anybody else in the league by a damn mile.
Aaron Judge has been the mail catalyst behind New York offence, posting a 1.128 OPS through his first 164 plate appearances. Behind him, Aaron Hicks, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury are all having strong offensive seasons, but some seem more legitimate than others. For example, Castro seems to be finally hitting his stride in the major leagues, but has an on base percentage nearly identical to his batting average and Gardner has suddenly found power that he’s never had before.
The Yankees will be successful so long as their offence can carry their starting pitching. So far, their pitching has been holding up, as the team’s 4.32 runs against per game is ninth best in baseball. But that seems to largely be due to their bullpen, as their starters rank just above league average in wins above average according to baseball reference.
That theme was noticeable this week. The Yankees played six games and went 3-3. In two of the three games they won, the Yankees pounded seven and 11 runs, and in the other, their bullpen put up four innings of lockdown relief as CC Sabathia was only able to go five. Then, in their three losses, their starters were clubbed around for five runs twice and nine runs, and their offence couldn’t compensate.
Masashiro Tanaka has been the main cause of worry. You expect Sabathia to be average and Michael Pineda to be rapidly inconsistent at this point, but Tanaka is supposed be this team’s sure thing. He’s got a 6.65 ERA through nine starts, and scouts have suggested he doesn’t look right. Yeah, fuck, no kidding!
But in more positive Yankee news, which I know you all surely are itching to hear, the team’s top prospect, Gleyber Torres, has been promoted to Triple-A. Torres, who’s only 20, has posted an OPS of 0.863 in Double-A this season, and will join other top prospect Clint Frazier, who both seem to be getting close to joining the team. Greeeeaaaaaaaat! Remember when the Yankees were bad for, like, four years? Same. That was fun.
Things seem to bo going swimmingly in Yankee Land, but, for some reason, Joe Girardi felt it was necessary to do this:
1/2 Joe Girardi got mad about the strike zone and did this. pic.twitter.com/5vbu0QArO0— Pablo (@pabloknows) May 20, 2017
Orioles 25-17 (0.5 GB) +12 run differential
The Orioles went 3-3 this week thanks largely to some generosity from the Blue Jays, but if you look back a little further, they’re 3-7 in their last 10 games. That said, six of those losses came by one run. Soooooo I’m not quite ready to suggest the O’s are falling down to earth. Though, this does bring up some concerns.
Their starting pitching has been predictably poor, but Chris Tillman’s return from injury massively improves their rotation. Dylan Bundy has evolved into the staff’s ace, which was noted before the season as a key to the team’s success. Another key to their success was Kevin Gausman doing something similar, but that hasn’t happened. Gausman has been terrible this season, owning a 6.65 ERA through 10 starts. Wade Miley has filled in the blanks, somehow posting a 2.59 ERA despite leading the league in walks.
Like the Yankees, the key to their success has been clubbing and late-game relief. Their offence will continue to hold up, because it can mash with anybody in the league. But their bullpen? That’s a little more difficult. Zach Britton will be out until July, making their ‘pen much, much weaker. Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Mychal Givens are still good, but again, it isn’t the same without the ace of the ‘pen around.
I mentioned earlier how the O’s were losing all of those one-run games, right? In three of them, the bullpen blew a lead. In the past, the Oriole blueprint was to get five or six innings and bridge the rest of the game with Givens, O’Day, Brach, and Britton. But without Britton, Brach has moved up to closer, and the middle between the starter and the back-end has become convoluted. As a result, guys like Vidal Nuno and Alec Asher are having to pitch key innings.
Still, there’s a lot of room for error when everyone in your lineup is hammering the ball:
Red Sox 22-21 (4 GB) +8 run differential
The Red Sox, who were given the American League East Banner before the season started, haven’t been able to get things going yet. Save for a four-game winning streak back in mid-April, the Sox really haven’t had any prolonged success. They’re league average offensively and slightly below league average in terms of pitching.
The pitching you could realistically expect. Chris Sale has been excellent, but beyond him? Meh. David Price’s injury has been difficult to overcome as both Drew Pomeranz and Rick Porcello have been disappointing. Eduardo Rodriguez has been a bright spot, but the Sox also have another hole to fill as Stephen Wright’s season came to an end because of a knee injury.
The big surprise in Boston has been their stagnant offence. They’ve only hit 38 home runs, the second fewest in all of baseball, and, like I said, are just league average in terms of runs scored despite being expected to be an elite lineup. Sandy Leon and Jackie Bradley have been massive black holes in the lineup, and both Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez have had disappointing starts at the plate. Hilariously enough, if not for goddamn Mitch Moreland, the maligned offseason addition who’s popping and 0.806 OPS, things could be even worse. Maybe they’re missing the leadership of David Oritz in the clubhouse?!
The Sox went 3-3 this week, but got hammered by the listless Oakland Athletics on two separate occasions. Their poor play has caused the pot to start stirring in Boston, as John Farrell’s head seems to be on the chopping block:
Rosenthal: Wouldn't Be Surprised If Red Sox Fire John Farrell This Week - CBS Boston / WBZ https://t.co/BgDGgHFJSt— Red Sox reports (@RedSoxreports) May 22, 2017
Rays 23-23 (4.5 GB) +21 run differential
Those Rays, man! Don’t count ’em out! While everybody else was spinning their tires in the mud going 3-3 this week, the Rays put together a 4-2 week, gaining one game in the standings! Hoo boy, baseball!
Anyways, yeah, the Rays. The team we all just kind of love to forget about is flying under the radar here with its +21 run differential. They boast above average pitching and offence, and should be doing better than their 23-23 record suggests. Corey Dickerson has been leading the charge offensively, putting up and MVP-calibre season with his 1.032 OPS, and their starting pitching, while unspectacular, tends to be good enough.
Obviously the AL Beast is loaded from top to bottom, but the Rays are a team that you need to keep an eye on, I think.
Can’t touch this. pic.twitter.com/8vKZM7qiWg— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) May 21, 2017
Blue Jays 19-26 (8 GB) -16 run differential
Sooooooo… Remember when the Jays were picking up ground? Well, they gave it all back this week by going 2-5. They’ve fallen back down to eight games out, which is going to be massive task to hurdle considering how unlikely it is all four teams go cold at once. All you can do is continue to win and take it one day at a time, but unlike in 2015 and 2016, this hole the Jays have dug for themselves seems damn near insurmountable, and that -16 run differential doesn’t inspire confidence either.
But, in good news…
Troy Tulowitzki & Josh Donaldson will both be in the lineup for hi-A Dunedin tonight. The smart money is now on Dunedin in said game.— Keegan Matheson (@KeeganMatheson) May 22, 2017
American League Wild Card:
Orioles 25-17 (+2 GU)
Twins 22-18 (0 GB)
Cleveland 23-19 (0 GB)
– – –
Rangers 24-21 (0.5 GB)
Red Sox 22-21 (1.5 GB)
Angels 23-23 (2 GB)
Rays 23-23 (2 GB)
Tigers 21-21 (3 GB)
White Sox 20-22 (3 GB)
Mariners 20-25 (4.5 GB)
Blue Jays 19-26 (5.5 GB)
Royals 18-25 (5.5 GB)
Five-and-a-half games back in the Wild Card ain’t bad, right? Unfortunately the Jays are going to have to jump over literally everybody in the league, though, that doesn’t seem as daunting as hopping four AL East teams for some reason. But then again, even if the Jays are going to climb back into the Wild Card, they’re going to have to likely finish second or third in the AL East, which isn’t quite as big a task, but will still be extremely difficult. Ugh. Fuck.