American League East – Who Comes Out on Top

american leagueThe American League East is arguably baseballs toughest division.  At the moment all five teams,  Orioles, Red Sox,  Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays, are separated by just four games.

All five teams are currently at or above 500, and all the teams in the division have been affected by injuries. To coin a phrase, there is parity in the American League East.

We thought we would look at which team was in the best position going forward to win the division, while looking at pitching , hitting and defense.

As it was so eloquently told to me last night via twitter, “Everyone has an opinion, fortunately no one has to like any one else’s.”

Pitching

The Tampa Bay Rays lead the American League in pitching with a team ERA of 3.47.  The Orioles are at number 4 and the Yankees are at number 6. The Blue Jays at number 8 and the Boston Red Sox just a little better than the Minnesota Twins at number 13.

The Rays lost starter Jeff Niemann and Alex Cobb has filled in nicely after being recalled from Durham. David Price has assumed the role of ace of the staff with James Shields a bit inconsistent. Jeremy Helickson has been solid. Rookie Matt Moore is beginning to find his major-league legs after a rough start. The Rays are deep in starting pitching so that’s not likely to be an issue going forward.

Fernando Rodney is taking care of the backend of games and may be the best free agent acquisition of 2012 before it’s all said and done.  Jake McGee looks like he may be developing into the pitcher the Rays have always hoped he would be.

C.C Sabbathia is leading the Yankees staff, and the return of Andy Pettitte has helped solidify the rotation. Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes have been  serviceable. Hideki Kuroda is beginning to settle in as a member of the Yankees turning in quality starts in his last two efforts. The Yankees pitching is a little better than middle of the pack in the American League. That’s not going to be good enough for them as we will discuss.

Felix Doubront has been a nice surprise for the Red Sox but it’s not likelythat anyone in the organization thought he would have the lowest ERA among starters at this point. Josh Beckett has rebounded nicely, but still has only four wins. Jon Lester has an ERA just shy of 5.00 and Clay Buchholz almost 7.00 . Moving Daniel Bard from the bullpen to the rotation has earned him a ticket back to AAA. The Red Sox pitching has not been their strong suit to this point and they continue to look for answers. Daisuke Matsuzaka is expected to start Saturday

The Orioles got off to a great start this spring, but the pitching is starting to find its proper level. With a team ERA 9th in the American League, a team WHIP 11th in the league and playing in a ballpark that gets only more hitter friendly during the summer months, it could be a long summer for the Orioles pitching staff.

Jason Hammel leads the Orioles with six wins and a 2.97 ERA since coming over from the Colorado Rockies, although, 3 of his last 5 starts have been shaky. Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson finish up games for the Orioles and both have been strong. The key for the Orioles will be getting to them with a lead.

Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero have been very good for the Blue Jays. Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek a little more inconsistent. The bullpen has been an issue. Casey Janssen has settled into the closer’s role and leads the team with five saves.

Hitting

The Red Sox and the Yankees are number 2 and 3  respectively in hitting in the American League. Baltimore and Toronto are numbers 9 and 10 . Tampa Bay is only better than Oakland at number 13 in the American League. The question is which teams get better and which teams fall back. It’s hard to imagine the Red Sox and Yankees falling back much at all, and it’s hard to believe that the Rays will get better.

The Yankees are second in the major leagues in slugging percentage, fourth in on-base percentage, sixth in batting average and eighth overall in runs. Derek Jeter has 75 hits and we are in the middle of June. The bottom line is, the Yankees are going to hit and barring any major injuries will continue to hit.

The Red Sox are missing Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, but David Ortiz is having a great season thus far. Kevin Youkilis has returned from the disabled list, but created a logjam in the lineup, forcing Gold Glove first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to right field in some games. Dustin Pedoria may become a concern with an injured thumb, and losing  Pedoria for an extended period would hurt the Sox.

The Rays will improve with the return of Evan Longoria and Jeff Keppinger. Since Longoria went on the disabled list , Carlos Pena is hitting .145. Ben Zobrist is flirting with the Mendoza line. The addition of Hideki Matsui could help, but thus far has 3 hits. Matt Joyce leads the team in hitting. But don’t expect the Rays to be sitting atop any team hitting categories this summer. Their team batting average of .233 ranks them currently 27th in major league baseball

Offensively both the Blue Jays and the Orioles are going to hit a lot of home runs, but the Blue Jays and the Orioles are in the lower tier in all of Major League baseball in on-base percentage, 20th and 23rd respectfully.

Adam Jones seems to have arrived offensively for the Orioles, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis ( 15 Day DL) , Matt Weiters, Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy, and Chris Davis will supply more offense. José Bautista is warming up for the Blue Jays after a slow start and Edwin Encarnacion has 17 home runs to surprisingly lead the team.

Defense

The bottom three teams in American League East in fielding are the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles. Teams that don’t catch the baseball will have a hard time in this division. Extra outs generally turn into extra runs.  Both the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox are in the top five.

The Rays claim pitching and defense as their DNA. The problem is half of their DNA has been absent all season.

One could argue that the defense of the Rays will get better when Evan Longoria returns and it should, but is it going to be  good enough? Longoria  has played 23 games this year and in those games made 6 errors. He made 14 errors in all of 2011.

Meanwhile the Yankees have assumed the role of best defensive team in the American League and coupled with pitching and hitting make them a favorite.

Overall the battle for who wins the American League East should go deep into September. The Yankees look the strongest at this point, and I would expect the Red Sox to be much improved.

The problem for the rest of the division is both the Yankees and Red Sox have essentially unlimited budgets to buy new parts ( players)  when something is broken or doesn’t work. I expect both teams to be very active shoppers up to the trade deadline.

Baltimore and Toronto will be competitive all summer, but consistency will eventually catch up with them.

The Rays pitching is going to keep them in games, but with an offense that is struggling, and the defense missing in action it could be a disappointing summer for the Rays.

 


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