AL East Report: Yankees and Orioles starting to run away with race for first place

Photo credit:Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Holden
1 month ago

Baltimore Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles have once again proven the kids are good! While the O’s began the year chasing the Yankees for the top spot in the AL East, after a massive series at Camden Yards, Baltimore has taken over first in the division once again, and they haven’t looked back.
After taking three of four against the Bronx Bombers, the Birds have gone 4-1, with their only loss coming against the pesky Washington Nationals. 
Their success has been solely on the homegrown talent; Gunnar Henderson has returned to his 2023 AL Rookie of the Year form, leading the team in home runs with 11, first in RBIs with 25, and sits fourth on the team with a clean .271 batting average. But it hasn’t just been his youthful bat leading Baltimore to the top of the East. Colton Cowser has been an absolute revelation for the O’s this season. Cowser sits second on the team in OPS amongst players who’ve played at least 30 games with .910, behind only Gunnar Henderson. 
While much of the organization’s youth has blossomed for the Orioles this season, not everyone has been granted the same fate. After calling up baseball’s No. 1 prospect, Jackson Holliday, the Orioles quickly returned him to Triple-A Norfolk after a 2-34 start to his MLB career. Since his return to Norfolk, Holliday has hit for a .282 average after going hitless in four of his first seven games. 
On April 23rd, the Birds called up the Organization’s No.4 prospect, Heston Kjerstad. While Kjerstad got into 13 games for the O’s last season, he began the 2024 campaign in Triple-A. Kjerstad raked in Norfolk, hammering 10 homers and bringing in 30 runs in 21 games. However, that early success has yet to transition to the Major Leagues. In six games since his call-up, Kjerstad has only 11 at-bats for Baltimore, registering two hits for a .181 average and only recording more than three at-bats in one game this year, which happened to be his first game of the call-up. 
Lucky for Baltimore, calling up Holliday and Kjerstad has not been detrimental to the team’s continued success, especially as they get healthier in their rotation. 
Kyle Bradish and John Means began the season on the injured list after suffering arm injuries during Spring Training. After the pair cashed in some rehab starts, both have looked phenomenal in their returns to the rotation.
Bradish has made two starts since returning from injury and has been beyond solid. Allowing only one earned run in each of his starts, Bradish boasts a 1.86 ERA while striking out 14 in 9.2 innings, including a nine-strikeout performance in his most recent outing against the Nationals. 
Means has been just as effective. In his only start since his return from injury, Means struck out eight in 7.0 shutout innings in his season debut. That was not at all what most were expecting from the big lefty. Means threw a measly 8.68 ERA in his six starts at Triple-A while striking out 22 in 18.2 innings. Means registered one win in those six games, including a seven-run debut in Norfolk, lasting only one inning and climbing to a 63.00 ERA. Means is set for his second MLB start this weekend as the O’s faceoff against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Camden Yards. 
For now, the AL East runs through Baltimore, but could the Yankees again catch the Birds?

New York Yankees

After losing three of four against the Orioles, the Yankees were finally dethroned from the top of the AL East, but that doesn’t mean the Yanks have begun to slip. In fact, that is far from the truth. 
After losing in Maryland, the Pinstripes rattled off five consecutive victories, three against the Tigers and two against the Astros, before finally losing their get-away game in H-Town. 
Since the O’s series, the long ball has been in full swing: 10 homers in the last six games for the Yanks, while none other than Aaron Judge leads the way with three of those. Despite his early struggles, Manager Aaron Boone said this outburst from Judge was bound to happen sooner rather than later. 
He’ll get it going, and look out when he does.”
And that he did. One of those three homers for Judge was a 473 ft missile into deep left-center field at Yankee Stadium. Not to mention, he has 10 hits in 22 at-bats since May 3rd and seven extra-base hits in those six games. 
Meanwhile, Anthony Volpe has been turning into the player Yankee fans expected and needed after a disappointing debut season in the Bronx. Volpe has been the perfect leadoff guy for the Yanks, clocking in a .257 average and .349 OBP, leading the teams in Runs with 27 and five homers. 
All this talk of the Yankees, and we haven’t even gotten to their marquee offseason acquisition this winter, Juan Soto, which is a testament to the rest of the Yankees lineup, considering Soto was, without a doubt, the best Yankee through the first month of the season. But, that doesn’t mean Soto’s bat has gone quiet since then. Outside of Judge, the only Yankee with more than five hits in the last six games is Soto, who is going 8-23. Childish Bambino leads the team in that span with RBIs, cashing in eight and recording a .348 average. 
The next few weeks for the Yanks look pretty straightforward forward too: They head into a three-game series with the fourth-best team in the AL East, the Tampa Bay Rays, another three-game set against the Twins, host the worst team in the American League, the Chicago White Sox, and the inconsistent Seattle Mariners back-to-back. If the Yankees can go on the run, we expect them to cover those four series, Baltimore better watch out for Those Damn Yankees. 

Boston Red Sox

Riddled with injury problems to kick off the season, including offseason addition Lucas Giolito, the BoSox have navigated the ship pretty well. Currently sitting third in the division and three games back of the final Wild Card spot, Boston has tread through some rough waters relatively well, and all while still getting healthier.
Nick Pivetta, Rafael Devers, Tyler O’Neill, and the guy they got for Chris Sale, Vaughn Grissom have all returned from injuries since the middle of April, and they have been productive since their returns. 
After missing five games with a bone bruise in his knee colliding with Tyler O’Neill, Raffy Devers leads all Red Sox in hits, tied for first in homers,  and runs scored, and second on the team in RBIs. 
That guy he is tied for homers and runs with happens to be O’Neill, who has also stayed hot since his return after receiving eight stitches from that collision with Devers. O’Neill is also in a three-way tie for extra-base hits on the team with Ceddanne Rafaela and Jarren Duran, (who has four triples since April 24th). 
But, it hasn’t been all good on the eastern seaboard for the Red Sox from some of their returnees. Vaughn Grissom has not had a great start at the plate in his new digs. In 17 at-bats, Grissom has registered two hits, two RBIs, and a double since his debut at Fenway. Grissom has been grossly outperformed by Rafaela, and while BoSox Manager Alex Cora has been deploying both of them recently, Rafaela’s bat has been the one to watch. With two homers, 12 RBIs, and five doubles, the 23-year-old has been hot. 
Speaking of disappointing returns, Nick Pivetta’s elbow injury kept him out of Major League action for a month, and on his return, it looked like it. Facing off against the Braves, Pivetta went 4.0 innings allowing five earned runs on seven hits and only whiffing one batter, it wasn’t a promising start for the Canadian. But, we probably shouldn’t be too shocked; in his only rehab assignment start, Pivetta allowed four runs on three hits, working only 3.0 innings with the WooSox. Pivetta is expected to get back on the mound for the BoSox in their series against the Tampa Bay Rays, next week.
But it’s not all good news on the injury front. Mataka Yoshida has been placed on the IL with a thumb injury. Initial reports are of a strained left thumb, but Yoshida is seeking a second opinion on the injury. Manager Alex Cora did not exactly pour cold water on the severity of the knock on Yoshida, either. 
We’ll compare the information we have with what they have here. We’ll talk to our doctors and then go from there.”
Although the Red Sox dropped a 17-spot on the Chicago Cubs on April 27th, they sit with a 4-5 record since the thumping and face off against those pesky Nationals this weekend. 

Tampa Bay Rays

Finally, the second-worst team in the AL East, (outside of the Blue Jays), the Tampa Bay Rays. In their last 17 games, the Rays have an 8-9 record, including getting swept by the worst team in baseball, the Chicago White Sox. 
Tampa lacks star power from its bats, as Randy Arozarena has been basically pedestrian since April 20th. Arozarena has swung a miserable .113 batting average, registering seven hits in 62 at-bats. Of those seven hits, four have been home runs. Yes, over half of his hits for almost a month have been long balls. 
Shockingly enough, the best hitter for the Rays since the start of May has been none other, than Jonny DeLuca, the outfielder the Rays acquired from the Dodgers in the Tyler Glasnow trade. Since his Rays debut, DeLuca has as many hits as Arozarena in 23 at-bats, while leading the team in RBIs with 10. 
But it hasn’t been all good news from the Dodgers acquisitions recently as Ryan Pepiot has hit the injured list for the Rays. Pepiot currently sits second amongst pitchers who have thrown at least 30 innings for the Rays this season in ERA with a solid 3.68 while striking out 41 in 36.2 innings pitched. Pepiot took a liner to the calf from Starling Marté in his last start against the Mets, and while he was confident he could make his next start, he has hit the 15-day IL with a lower left leg contusion. 
The next month for the Rays is an absolute slugfest as each of their next four series will be against divisional opponents; starting this weekend against the Yankees, then heading to Boston, up into Canada for the Jays before wrapping up back at home against the BoSox. This month is key to the success of the Rays season this year, and if Tampa can come out with a record above .500 over the next 13 games, the Rays may be a team to watch heading into the dog days of summer… That’s a big ‘if’ though. 

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