The American League East Is Upside Down: A One-Month Review

Derek PritchettContributor IMay 7, 2012

The American League East Is Upside Down: A One-Month Review

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    If someone had offered you $1,000 at the beginning of the season if the Baltimore Orioles would have the best record in the American League East after the first month, you would've take the bet. Even now, it seems a little weird.

    Not only are the Orioles on top of the divison, but they have the best record in all of baseball.

    After 30 days, they have a 19-9 record and are the only team who has not lost 10 games. The Tampa Bay Rays are next in the East, also with 19 wins at 19-10.

    The Toronto Blue Jays, who currently are holding down the second Wild Card spot in the American League, have a record of 16-13. At four games back are the New York Yankees and with only 11 wins, the Boston Red Sox are last in the division.

    Many refer to the AL East division as the toughest in baseball. So far, that distinction might fall to the NL East, with Washington, Atlanta, New York Mets, Miami and Philadelphia all within 4.5 games of each other.

    The AL East is still not an easy division. Right now both of the AL Wild Card teams are from the East. Neither of the top three teams are the Yankees or the Red Sox.

    After a full month of the season (April 6-May 6), let’s take a look at the AL East. There have been some surprises and some concerns; some teams have had standout pitching and others, not so much.

    Let’s begin at the bottom of the division.

5. Boston Red Sox (11-16, 7.5 GB)

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    Right off the bat, Boston lost their newly-acquired closer Andrew Bailey to a torn ligament in his right thumb, and will be without him until at least the All-Star break.

    They currently have over $78 million in salaries on the DL, including Aaron Cook, Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Bobby Jenks, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kevin Youkilis.

    Surprise: The one bright spot in the Red Sox lineup has been David Ortiz (.368/6/22, 1.076 OPS). Both Cody Ross (.258/5/20, .793 OPS) and Mike Aviles (.265/5/19, .772 OPS) are also off to great starts.

    Offense: David Ortiz, Aviles and Ross all have at least 19 RBI. Even though Adrian Gonzalez is not off to the greatest start, his last two Aprils have been similar: .271/2/15, 12 runs, .400 SLG in 2012 vs. .314/1/15, 12 runs, .457 SLG in 2011, when he finished with 27 HR and 117 RBI.

    Pitching: Boston's starting pitching has an ERA of 5.64 and a 9-10 record. Jon Lester, Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront have shown signs that they should be good, but Clay Buchholz looks awful despite his three wins and Josh Beckett is up-and-down as well. Aceves has an ERA of 6.17, but somehow has five saves.

    Mark Melancon has been dominant in Triple-A and could help to solidify their messy bullpen if he can parlay that into Major League success. He was lit up in four games earlier this year before getting sent down.

    Concern: Buchholz has three wins despite giving up 33 ER in 32.2 IP (at least five in all six starts). Seven pitchers have ERA’s ranging from 5.19 to 49.50 with at least four games played. They already look like they have stopped playing for manager Bobby Valentine, who analysts say could be canned by the All-Star break.

4. New York Yankees (15-13, 4 GB)

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    After dealing prized prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda, the Yankees lost Pineda for the year with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The Yankees also lost their best weapon, Mariano Rivera, to an ACL tear.

    It’s hard to think of any positional player who could be harder to replace. Rivera was the greatest closer baseball has ever seen and arguably one of the greatest baseball players in the past 15 years.

    The Yankees also have David Aardsma, Joba Chamberlain, Eric Chavez and Brett Gardner on the DL. 

    Surprise: Derek Jeter has been flirting with .400 all season and has nearly 50 hits in the first month. Curtis Granderson is on pace for 52 home runs. CC Sabathia has four wins and 8.9 K/9. 

    Offense: Derek Jeter is batting .397 with a 1.034 OPS and 5 HR. Granderson is right where he left off last season, batting .284/9/18 with 20 runs scored and an OPS of .973. Nick Swisher has 7 HR and 24 RBI’s. Mark Teixeira is off to another slow start (4 HR, .222 AVG, .380 SLG) but for his career is a .239 hitter in April with a .423 SLG, so he’s right on track. 

    Pitching: Their five starters have a combined ERA of 5.47, with only Hiroki Kuroda below 4.00. Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia have not looked good, and Ivan Nova has been inconsistent. They have yet to name a closer, but David Robertson looks to get the first crack at the job.

    Concern: Robinson Cano is batting .261 with eight RBI though 28 games. Even though Davide Robertson has given up 1 ER since July 2011, no one knows how he will do as the closer. How long can guys like Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones play every day? The Yankees don’t really have starting pitching past Sabathia and Kuroda.

3. Toronto Blue Jays (16-13, 3.5 GB)

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    The Blue Jays currently hold down the second Wild Card spot in the AL. That’s mostly due to the fact that only three other AL teams are above .500 (not including Tampa or other division leaders).

    However, the Blue Jays are coming off a series win over Texas and a split in Los Angeles, and look ready to turn a corner offensively. Their problem so far is that they are 4-8 against their own division.

    Surprise: There is no bigger surprise on the team than Edwin Encarnacion, who is off to a great start (.279/9/25, .931 OPS, 4 SB). Ricky Romero & Brandon Morrow are a combined 7-1.

    Offense: The Blue Jays are being led by Encarnacion, but have seven guys with at least 11 RBI. Kelly Johnson has 20 runs and looks good at the top of the order. Brett Lawrie, aka Captain Canada, has 31 hits.

    Jose Bautista has five home runs, but is batting .183. He did the same in 2010, though, and ended up with 54 HR.

    Pitching: Four of the five starting pitchers have an ERA under 3.64, the exception being fifth starter Drew Hutchison. Henderson Alvarez and Morrow both have a complete game shutout already.

    Concern: Five of their starting nine hitters are batting .254 or lower. They have four saves, but six blown saves. With Sergio Santos missing games on the DL already, the nightmares of blown saves from seasons past are recurring for Jays fans. They are in need of a better fifth starter.

2. Tampa Bay Rays (19-10, 0.5 GB)

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    The Rays are 13-3 at home and 6-7 on the road. They are a young team with great potential that should win the AL East. The Rays also boast one of the strongest starting pitching staffs in baseball.

    Surprise: Luke Scott has six home runs and has driven in 21. Carlos Pena must enjoy the Tampa sun, as he has found his stoke again, with five home runs and a .447 slugging percentage. Fernando Rodney has nine saves and an ERA of 0.66.

    Offense: Besides Scott and Pena, Evan Longoria was also off to a great start (.329/4/19), though he is now on the DL. Matt Joyce has six home runs. Desmond Jennings has eight stolen bases and B.J. Upton has 11 RBI in just 14 games.

    Pitching: Their five starters are 16-6, with James Shields and David Price each with five wins. Rodney has his nine saves and a K/9 rate of 8.2.

    Concern: Can Rodney keep up this torrid pace? Scott (or "Wolverine") is on pace for 40 HR but has hit over 25 only once in his career. Ben Zobrist is batting .191 and Sean Rodriguez is batting .210. Longoria tore his hamstring on April 30 and will be out six to eight weeks.

1. Baltimore Orioles (19-9, 0 GB)

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    The Orioles hold the AL East lead and have been one of the good baseball stories thus far. They are starting to gain fans' attention with their great start.

    But I think they will be this year’s 2011 Cleveland Indians—18-8 April, 14-12 May.

    Surprise: How about their whole team or the amount of wins they have? Jason Hammel has four wins and an ERA at 2.09; his career ERA is 4.85 (including his 2012 numbers). They already have 11 saves with just three blown saves. Adam Jones has eight home runs.

    Offense: Jones, who has always shown flashes of greatness, is leading the charge (.304/8/17, .941 OPS, 23 R, 5 SB). Nolan Reimold was on pace for a 100 RBI season before he hit the DL. Matt Wieters might also be having a breakout season with 7 HR, 18 RBI and a .983 OPS. Six of their hitters are batting .299 or higher.

    Pitching: No pitcher, starter or reliever, has an ERA over 5.19. Jim Johnson has eight saves and 11 strikeouts while giving up 0 ER in 12 innings. Their starters have only three more wins than their relievers and are averaging five innings per game. This means that their starters are not going deep enough into games.

    Concern: I doubt Hammel can maintain his 0.98 WHIP, with his career average of 1.45. With their relievers saving a lot of games and pitching over an inning per game, they are going to tire out eventually, when they do they might start losing some games that they are winning now. Are they for real?