AL East Roundup: Surging Red Sox

The AL East has a record as the most talented division in baseball, with four of its five teams over .500. You’d think that would also lend itself to making the division extremely competitive. Instead, the Yankees were by far the best team in baseball, leaving it to the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays to battle it out for second place.

AL East Rankings – 07/06/2022

Yanks

As already implied, the Yankees are a wagon. It already looks like their division is going to lose and the calendar has only just flipped to July. But with a 13-game lead over the second-placed Red Sox, it does.

New York seems to be a team with no weaknesses. They have the most runs in the league and also boast the lowest team ERA. Perhaps the only hole in their entire lineup was Joey Gallo, who has yet to pick up steam after a slow start and has a 70 OPS+ and just nine home runs. Still, the Yankees have three batsmen with 140+ OPS+ (Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton), two others with 120+ OPS+ (Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu), and three others with 100+ OPS+ (Jose Trevino, Josh Donaldson and Marvin González). That doesn’t even mention Matt Carpenter, who’s been a revelation since New York added him and has hit eight homers in just 52 Plate appearances.

The Yankees’ pitching team was similarly outstanding. All five members of the starting rotation have ERAs under 3.36, while Clay Holmes has given up just two earned runs this year to lead an equally strong bullpen. One of the more impressive qualities of the New York pitching team is the ability of its starters to get deeply involved in games. Yankees starters average over 5.2 IP per start. Nestor Cortes has slowed down the blistering pace he set earlier in the year but still has a 2.44 ERA ahead of him, with a WHIP under 1.00.

Red Sox

Boston has managed to turn its season around and re-emerge as a contender after a slow start.

This year, it looked like the Red Sox would be carried on offense. Up to this point, however, it’s pitching that has made Boston one of the teams to beat in the American League. The Red Sox are tied for the fifth-best ERA in MLB while their offense lags and ranks ninth in runs scored.

Perhaps more surprising than these numbers is where Boston gets its contributions from. Rich Hill, Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock are all on the IL. Chris Sale is still recovering from surgery on Tommy John. Instead, the likes of Nick Pivetta and Michael Wacha paved the way for the Red Sox’s pitching team. Pivetta has a 3.23 ERA in 94.2 IP, while Wacha has an equally impressive 2.69 ERA in 70.1 IP. The bullpen, which caused concern earlier in the year when converting belays at a point with a clip less than .500, appeared to have found a recipe for success. Tanner Houck has taken on the finishing duties and closed the door on six wins. John Schreiber was perhaps the Red Sox’s best bullpen arm with a .66 ERA in 28 appearances. Those two, coupled with solid years from the likes of Jake Diekman, Austin Davis, and Hirokazu Sawamura, have made Boston’s bullpen a less of a concern.

The Red Sox’s offense was solid, but it was the product of a top-heavy lineup. Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and JD Martinez carried the load for the most part and put down all the monster years. Trevor Story has recovered well after a rocky start to his Red Sox career but still has an OPS+ under 100 (98).

blue jay

The Blue Jays are in the middle of a four-game sled. But don’t let that fool you, this ball club could be one of the best teams to find 14.5 games out of a divisional race in early July. Toronto’s roster of young sluggers was as good as advertised with the second best OPS in baseball.

Alejandro Kirk had been one of the top hitting catchers in the league up to that point, chipping .315/.405/.505 to lead the rest of the Jays’ better-known stars. Recovering from an injury-plagued 2021 season, George Springer has amassed 130 OPS+ so far. Eight of the nine players in the team’s starting lineup were above average, according to OPS+. The starting rotation, which Toronto has invested heavily in over the past few offseasons, has been underperforming apart from Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman. José Berríos couldn’t find his form and his ERA is still comfortably north of 5.00. The team owns a 4.10 Team ERA, 22nd in MLB.

Somehow, the third-ranked Jays have the fifth-best record in the American League. They’re still in a great position to secure a playoff spot — their odds are 76.8 percent, according to the Baseball Reference — but they’ll likely need the pitching team to gain a foothold to get in to have a good run in the postseason.

rays

Just as Toronto was one of the best teams, trailing 14.5 games, Tampa Bay is probably the undisputed best fourth-ranked team in MLB this year. Comfortably above .500, the Rays somehow find themselves 15 games behind first place in the division.

As with most years, the Rays’ pitching staff is their forte. Her 3.31 ERA is fourth best in baseball. Shane McClanahan has led the unit as one of the best pitchers in baseball. The young left boasts a 1.74 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 98.1 innings.

However, the Rays’ downfall was their bats. They have the fifth lowest runs in all of MLB and the fourth lowest OPS. That offensive performance puts them in line with teams like the Nationals and Royals — two franchises that lack Tampa Bay’s playoff ambitions. The good news for the Rays is that despite their lackluster offensive performance, there is reason for optimism. Wander Franco, Brandon Lowe and Mike Zunino are struggling to stay on the field and if healthy could give the young unit a legitimate boost. Ji-Man Choi helped boost the offense in her absence, racking up 152 OPS+.

oriole

The story of the Orioles this year is kind of next year. Yes, Baltimore has been surprisingly competitive, just 6.5 games behind the ever-playoff-struggling Rays, but the Orioles are no real threat for a playoff push. However, they have shown flashes of what the league could expect in the pipeline.

Adleyrutschman made his debut this year, but he wasn’t nearly the most intriguing young play on this Orioles list. His 91 OPS+ pales in comparison to the likes of Austin Hayes and Ryan Mountcastle who have 123 and 129 OPS+ respectively. Cedric Mullins wasn’t as dangerous as he was in his 2021 breakout season but has bounced back from a slow start and brought his slash line to .260/.317/.397. Anthony Santander even looks like his monster 2020 season in 2022 might not have been a fluke of his own with 114 OPS+.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Baltimore squad was the performance of Jorge López. The starter-turned-assistant was one of baseball’s best closers and should attract some interest from the contenders as the trade deadline nears. Lopez has a 1.88 ERA and 13 saves so far in 2022. John Means’ injury means (no pun intended) that the Orioles rotation lacks name recognition. However, Baltimore has some notable artists there too. Tyler Wells has put together a solid campaign with a 3.09 ERA over 75.2 innings. The underlying stats don’t expect that success to continue at the same pace, but the 27-year-old has at least earned a place in the Orioles rotation plans going forward.

Graphic by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on twitter)

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