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BSBL – Abbreviated Analysis: The American League East

Nearly 40 games have been played in this baseball season, and this year, that means 2/3 of the season is almost over. Where do things stand in the AL East?

BSBL – Abbreviated Analysis: The American League East

Estimated Reading Time: 8 Minutes

It’s been about two weeks since we checked in on the Major League Baseball season, and most teams will be approaching 40 games played by the end of this weekend. Playoff races are starting to shape up, the trade deadline just passed, and everyone in the league now plays for the San Diego Padres. This is a good time to continue our look at each of the divisions as the teams navigate this 60 game race to the postseason. While there’s plenty to talk about off the field, this series will focus primarily on the games and how the season is shaking out. So, let’s dive in, shall we?

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays have been hot of late, particularly against the Yankees, who they have beaten in eight of ten meetings this year. Practically a lock to snag one of the top two spots in the American League East and thereby a ticket to the expanded playoffs this year, Tampa Bay will now look to do something they haven’t done since winning the World Series in 2008 – win a playoff series.

In the last 12 years, Tampa has made the playoffs four times and has failed to advance out of the opening round, losing to the Rangers in 2010 and 2011, the Red Sox in 2013, and the Astros in five games last year. Luckily for the Rays, they seem unlikely to face Texas or Boston in this year’s postseason. It will be whether they can beat the Bronx Bombers when it counts that decides this team’s fate.

The middle infielders have been the key to Tampa’s league-leading 196 runs scored this season. Second baseman Brandon Lowe has 27 RBI, 26 runs, and 10 homers with a .953 OPS, while shortstop Willy Adames is hitting .322 with 14 doubles and 22 runs. The rest of the infield hasn’t been too shabby either, with third baseman Yandy Diaz hitting .307 and first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who despite only hitting .228, has gone 7-11 with 3 home runs against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.

New York Yankees

The Yankees opened the year with an 8-1 record, and it looked like they would be running away with the division, but lately the injury bug has struck the Bronx. Since then, New York has been streaky.

In the middle of August, New York swept the Red Sox in four games (no longer much of an accomplishment), but then lost three straight to Tampa and seven in a row overall, sandwiched around a series cancelled against the Mets due to a Covid outbreak.

In news that should surprise nobody, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are each on the Injured List, with Judge heading back to the shelf for a second stint. Gleyber Torres has also been out with a hamstring injury.

The pitching staff has lost Luis Severino, Tommy Kahnle and James Paxton. Aroldis Chapman missed the first few weeks with Covid, and then seemed to take another month to be able to feature in a game, blowing his first save of the year before clearing the benches this week by throwing at Tampa’s Michael Brosseau and getting himself suspended for three games.

Will the Yankees make the playoffs? Yeah. FanGraphs has them over 98% chance to be playing for a title. Could they be healthier in October? Somewhat. Do they need to get their crap together? You betcha.

Toronto Wanderers

The Toronto Blue Jays might have one of the most boring histories of the past twenty years. They are never great, and never awful. Toronto has only made the playoffs twice since 1993, they have posted a win percentage just above or just below .500 nearly every year, and they have finished third or fourth in the division 15 times in the last 20 campaigns.

This year’s Toronto team is right on track. At 18-16, they are primed for another season played out basically to be a representative opponent for other teams.

(Writer’s note: I realize Toronto is technically in the mix for the second wild card right now, but come on, that’s a fraud playoff team if they get in.)

The good news for the Blue Jays is that their father’s weekend is going to be a fun reunion of All-Stars from the 1990’s. So just for fun, let’s look at how three Blue Jays infielders early in their careers compare to their famous fathers.

Vlad Guerrero: 8,155 AB, 449 HR, .318 BA, 1496 RBI, Hall of Famer, 9x All-Star, 59.5 WAR
Vlad Guerrero Jr.: 594 AB, 20 HR, .271 BA, 86 RBI, 1.7 WAR

Craig Biggio: 10,876 AB, 291 HR, 1175 RBI, .281 BA, 414 SB, Hall of Famer, 65.5 WAR
Cavan Biggio: 485 AB, 22 HR, .241 BA, 67 RBI, 18 SB, 4.0 WAR

Dante Bichette: 6,381 AB, 274 HR, .299 BA, 1141 RBI, 4X All-Star, 5.7 WAR
Bo Bichette: 257 AB, 16 HR, .323 BA, 34 RBI, 3.4 WAR

These guys have a long way to go.

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles were 11-7 at one point this season, ripping off a six-game win streak including sweeps of the Nationals and the Phillies. They were an exciting young team and looked like they were ready to push Tampa and New York and at least compete for one of the 327 playoff spots up for grabs this year.

And then they lost eleven of their next thirteen games, and that was pretty much that.

So it looks like it will be a 20th season of missed playoffs out of the last 23 years for Baltimore, who have not won 90 games in a year or had a better than .550 win percentage since 2014.

As usual, Baltimore does have some intriguing young position players who will likely develop with the Orioles then move on and get paid by teams in bigger markets.

Last year’s breakout player was Trey Mancini, who unfortunately is taking this year off as he undergoes treatment for testicular cancer.

Anthony Santander (25 years old), Hanser Alberto (27 years old), and Renato Nunez (26 years old) have stepped up to lead the Oriole’s hitting attack, pacing the team with 20+ runs scored apiece. Santander has broken out with 11 home runs and 13 doubles, and leads the American League with 32 RBIs.

Pitching breakout John Means, who last year posted a 3.60 ERA and won 12 games, has taken a big step back this year. Means is 0-3 in five appearances with an 8.10 ERA this season.

Boston Red Sox

There was a possibility coming into this season that the Red Sox could be bad. I mean REALLY BAD.

But in true Red Sox fashion, they have exceeded those expectations. This is quite possibly the worst Red Sox team I have ever seen.

Despite a decimated pitching staff, a solid lineup (even without Mookie) might have hit their way at least to mediocrity for the Sox this year. Instead, a slow start to the season and an inability to avoid giving up runs in the early innings have caused the Red Sox hitters to pack it in, and understandably so.

Even if Devers, Bogaerts, Martinez, Benintendi and Vazquez were all pounding the ball (they aren’t), at some point being down by four runs in the third inning every night starts to get disheartening. Not surprisingly, the Sox have already waved the white flag and started to sell off parts, albeit not enough and not for any significant return to help them rebuild a depleted farm system.

How bad is the Red Sox pitching staff? They have a league-worst 6.16 earned run average, more than half a run worse than the next closest team (Colorado). Their starters are even worse with a 6.91 earned run average, and have been knocked out in the first three innings more than 20 times in 36 games.

The Sox have given up 232 runs this year, and have a run differential of -60. Nobody who has pitched more than 25 innings have an ERA better than 4.5, led by stud free agent acquisition Martin Perez, who is 2-4 with a 4.58 ERA.

Boston’s woes got me wondering about the worst pitching staff in MLB history, which, at least in the last 50 years, belongs to the 1996 Detroit Tigers. The Tigers that year had a staff ERA of 6.38 and went 53-109. Their bullpen had a 24-29 record and blew half of their save chances.

I believe if the Red Sox put their mind to it, they can get to a worse ERA than 6.38, and stake their claim as the worst staff in MLB history.

If I need to pick a bright spot for the team (and I’m not sure why I do), it would be relief pitcher Phillips Valdez, who I’m only vaguely aware of because I stopped watching the Red Sox like three weeks ago. Valdez has appeared in 14 games this year, tossed 21 innings and has an ERA of 0.86 with 23 strikeouts and a 3.29 K/BB.

Stop pitching so well, Valdez! Don’t you know your team is chasing history?

So it looks like Rays and Yankees will cake-walk into the playoffs, with one of them winning the division, if that sort of thing matters to you. Thankfully, there are only a few weeks left in this race, because there’s not much drama left in the 2020 AL East until the postseason begins.

Craig has spent the last ten years as a sports information professional, working for several schools across New England at the Division 3 level. A native of Peabody, Mass., Craig is a life-long Boston sports fan. He is also an avid player of fantasy football and baseball, and commissioner of the AKA Family Fantasy Football League. Like most other Turf team members, Craig has a penchant for theater, spending his high school and college years as a set designer, sound designer and theater shop worker. He became a father shortly before the coronavirus pandemic, and as such, hasn't really left his home since last December.

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