A Look at the American League East
- Updated: June 29, 2015
By the start of this month, the race for the American League East title was moving along at a snail’s pace.
At one point, the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees shared the division lead with each treading water at 26-25. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the worst record by an AL East leader at the start of June in the divisional era (dating back to 1969).
But over the past four weeks, this group of five has shown signs of life – which may mean the pennant race could be lively, after all.
With no team taking a firm hold on first place and all clubs within nine games of each other, let’s examine each participant from all angles.
Good: Not many, if any, expected first-year manager Kevin Cash to be fielding a club that would be eight games over .500 near the end of June. Equally as surprising is the rise of Steven Souza, Jr. The former Washington Nationals prospect is making the most of his playing time in Tampa, leading the team with 14 home runs. The Rays have the best overall ERA in the AL, due mostly to Chris Archer and his mark of 2.01.
Bad: Outside of Souza, no one in the lineup is hitting with tremendous authority. Even stalwart Evan Longoria (.274 BA, 7 HR, 33 RBI) hasn’t played up to his standards. Tampa ranks 25th in the league in runs scored. There’s also the unknown factor regarding Cash’s ability to manage in important games.
Good: Eventually, the Yankees will be in some sort of rebuilding mode. It’s not happening yet. Mark Teixeira is New York’s best in both home runs (18) and runs batted in (51), while Alex Rodriguez has miraculously become the darling of the Bronx. The most recent member of the 3000-hit club has slugged 14 homers to go along with 44 RBI. On the mound, Michael Pineda has eight wins and 87 strikeouts. Most of those victories have been preserved by the relief duo of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller.
Bad: Didi Gregorious isn’t going to make the pinstripe faithful forget Derek Jeter any less, as his miscues in the field and on the basepaths aren’t becoming of a Yankee great. Stephen Drew has woefully underachieved at the plate (.187 BA, .255 OBP) and Chase Headley is a severe liability with the glove (a career-high 16 errors).
Good: Their hitting is not just good during the month of June, it was historically good. During a franchise-record-tying 11-game winning streak, the Jays scored 88 runs and had a run differential of 44. A formidable lineup consists of Jose Reyes at the top, Jose Bautista and offseason pick-up Josh Donaldson in the middle, and Kevin Pillar holding his own at the bottom. Mark Buehrle remains the ace of the staff – even at age 36 – with his seven victories.
Bad: It’s hard to consistently pile up wins if the pitchers have trouble holding all the run support provided by the bats. A mediocre bullpen has led to 12 blown saves (tied for worst in the AL). The starters can’t pass off the blame, however. Buehrle’s 3.90 ERA (as of Friday) is the lowest among all pitchers. The two glaring disappointments are R.A. Dickey (at 4.88) and Drew Hutchinson. The latter has a 5.33 ERA, despite being 7-1.
Good: After a shaky start to 2015, Buck Showalter has righted the ship by the Inner Harbor. Adam Jones continues to be consistent at the plate and in center field. Manny Machado, after an injury-riddled 2014, is rebounding nicely in all phases. Same goes for Chris Davis, who missed the end of last year after getting nabbed for PEDs. The bullpen is on par with New York’s, due mainly to set-up man Darren O’Day and closer Zach Britton (21 saves).
Bad: What could ultimately do in the Birds, especially in September, is the lack of starting pitching depth. Ubaldo Jimenez has been a pleasant surprise (six victories) and Wei-Yin Chen’s ERA (2.89) is more than respectable. Beyond those two, who knows what to expect. The back end of the rotation is bad – especially Chris Tillman, currently tagged with a 5-7 record and an ERA north of 6.00. The team’s 220 walks are the second-most in the AL.
Good: John Farrell should thank his lucky stars that the other four divisional clubs started out so poorly. Otherwise, his team’s shortcomings would be exposed even further. Hanley Ramirez’ sore hand shouldn’t force him out for long, and that’s important for the sake of the Sox offense. He’s cooled off a bit since his hot April, but 15 homers and 35 RBI have been valuable to this teetering club.
Bad: Recently, it’s been the injury bug that has bit Boston. Dustin Pedroia’s pulled hamstring put him on the 15-day disabled list. Then there are those who have hurt the team: David Ortiz, with a .229 batting average, along with Joe Kelly, who is 2-5 with a 5.67 ERA (and now in AAA). But a glaring disappointment has been Pablo Sandoval. Six home runs, 24 RBI and a .275 average doesn’t cut it for the contract he signed this winter. His underachieving play gives good reason to believe he’s spending more time on Instagram than in the batting cage.