AL East Roundup: Coming Into Focus

Can anyone catch the Yankees?

A lot has changed in the division since the last AL East Roundup, yet the standings look mostly unchanged. The Yankees still lead, the Orioles still trail, but the middle three teams have started to make things interesting.

AL East Standings – 6/14
New York still owns baseball’s record in mid-June, and now it’s not particularly close. The Yankees have more wins than their crosstown rival Mets and are running away with the division with an eight-game gap between them and the second-place Blue Jays. Its tough to pinpoint one thing that’s worked for New York. They own the best ERA in baseball and are scoring the second-most runs per game in the entire league.
New York’s offense has few holes. Headlined by an otherworldly season out of Aaron Judge, who’s posted a 204 OPS+, the Yankees lineup is deep. Judge is joined by his fellow Bronx Bomber atop the statcast barrels per plate appearance and average exit velocity leaderboards. One of the lone disappointments in the lineup, Joey Gallo, has started to show signs of life at the plate as well. He’s up to eight home runs and an 88 OPS+.
The Yankees pitching staff—and in particular their starting rotation—remains probably the best in baseball. You know you’re in a pretty good spot when Gerrit Cole and his 3.63 ERA are the worst on the staff. Nestor Cortes has continued his brilliance with his ERA sitting at a sub-two 1.96 as well as a 2.85 FIP behind it. Michael King is still proving to be a beast out of the New York pen, having given up just 10 earned runs while striking out 44 batters in 33 innings.
Blue Jays
The Blue Jays leapfrogging the Rays for second place in the AL East was the lone change in the division standings since we looked last month. Toronto is 14-4 in its last 18 games, propelling itself ahead of Tampa Bay.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has somehow been labeled by many as a disappointment for the Blue Jays in a year in which he’s slashing .258/.341/.493 with 15 home runs. It obviously has to do with the sky-high expectations he had coming into the year, but he’s still been a force at the plate. Toronto features one of the best backstop combinations in the league led by Alejandro Kirk’s 146 OPS+.
If one thing is going to hold this team back as the heart of the season sets in, it might just be the back half of the rotation. The Jays invested heavily in trying to shore up their pitching staff over the past couple of years, and while some moves—like Kevin Gausman and his 147 ERA+—have panned out, they’ve also had their fair share of misses. José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi both sport ERAs north of 4.40 and Hyun-Jin Ryu has struggled to find his form with a 5.67 ERA.
For now, through a strong bullpen and excellent years from Gausman and Alek Manoah have the Blue Jays perched in second, and threatening to make noise in the American League.
The Rays currently sit at 10 games above .500 as the halfway point of the regular season approaches. In a lot of ways that is a resounding success. While they have a record that would leave them right in the thick of most division races, in the AL East, its good enough for third place, nine games back of the first-place Yankees.
As said before, the Blue Jays rode a red-hot stretch to move past Tampa Bay at little fault of the Rays. Over that same 18-game stretch, Tampa went a pedestrian 10-8 as Toronto breezed past them.
Ji-Man Choi has always been a fan favorite, but this year his bat is matching the hype. He owns the highest OPS+ on the team and a .284/.372/.485 triple slash. The Rays are also producing their usual shut-down pitching with the fourth-best ERA in baseball. Relief ace Andrew Kittredge is sidelined for the remained of the year, but Tampa Bay features enough arms to make up for the loss.
Red Sox
After a rough start to the season, the Red Sox appear to be finding their footing. They’ve finally gotten their record above .500 and are winners of nine of their last 11 games.
Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez have continued to carry a Boston offense that had much higher expectations coming into the year. Instead, a pitching staff that entered the year with a lot of question marks—and probably still has quite a few—has been a surprise. They own baseball’s seventh-best ERA and have gotten great seasons out of Michael Wacha and Nick Pivetta. The underlying stats tend to favor the latter over the former, but nonetheless, the Red Sox have managed to keep opponents from scoring runs.
The bullpen still remains a concern, especially after Garret Whitlock was moved to the starting rotation and subsequently injured.
If Boston sees itself continuing its ascension up the AL East, the lineup will need to step up. Big-time offseason signing Trevor Story seems to be over his early-season slump, but the second baseman still only owns a 101 OPS+, far below what Red Sox fans had in mind.
No one is especially surprised the O’s find themselves at the bottom of this list. They’re in the midst of what’s been a lengthy rebuild, but the good news is the end seems to be in sight. The pitching staff has been bad and so has the offense, but the farm system they’ve worked to build is finally bearing fruit.
Adley Rutschman made his MLB debut last month and has been underwhelming in his first taste of Major League ball, but with the spot Baltimore is in, he’ll be given every chance to adjust. Top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez appeared on the cusp of joining the MLB club, though a lat strain now might sideline him for the remainder of the year.
Trey Mancini has looked like himself, slashing .290/.373/.424 for the O’s while Austin Hayes has been a pleasant surprise with his team-best 132 OPS+.
Artwork by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)

Noah Bortle

Noah Bortle is a freelance writer from Massachusetts. When he isn't arguing the merits of Shelby Miller or discussing the yips, he can be found traveling, hiking, or playing video games. His writing can also be found at College Hockey News.

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