Through About 40 Games, the AL East Is Clearly There for Taking for Yankees

Brandon Mauk@@B_MaukContributor IIIMay 13, 2013

Dandy Andy is still Ol' Reliable for the Yankees
Dandy Andy is still Ol' Reliable for the YankeesEd Zurga/Getty Images

Going into the 2011 season, 45 of 45 so-called experts on ESPN predicted the Boston Red Sox would win the American League East crown.

None picked the real champions of the division that year—the New York Yankees—and nobody could have predicted Boston to fall to pieces like it did that September.

Those "experts" apparently didn't learn their lesson. Most of them picked the Toronto Blue Jays, this year's version of the 2011 Red Sox, to win the AL East crown. Meanwhile barely any of them picked the Yankees to make the playoffs once more. 

Of course, given all the moves that the Jays made and the injuries the Yankees have sustained for the last several months, you couldn't blame them.

Boy, do those 'experts" look foolish yet again.

Here the Yankees are in first place in the AL East and only a half-game out from the best record in baseball. Love it or hate it, it's one of the biggest storylines of the season. The idea was to tread water for the first couple of months until key players came back, but right now, you can just laugh at that idea. 

No Derek Jeter, no Alex Rodriguez, no Mark Teixeira, no Curtis Granderson and many more injuries have occurred, but the Bronx Bombers have not slowed down whatsoever.

A bunch of has-beens and replacement-level players have scored enough runs for a Yankees' pitching staff made up of an ace losing his velocity, a couple of old geezers still getting it done and the greatest reliever in baseball history still doing his thing after missing last year due to an ACL injury. 

That is the reason why the division is actually there for the taking again this season in New York. Nobody gave them a chance on Opening Day, but they could be the favorites right now.

Of course, the AL East is wide open. Going into the season ,it was the consensus that just about any of the five teams had at least a decent shot at winning it. While each contender has specific weaknesses, each club also boasts some big-time strengths.

Let's start with the Boston Red Sox.

They lost 93 games last year and have seemed to been rebuilt overnight, literally and figuratively. The new regime in Beantown has put together a decent team that can mash the ball, led by newly acquired Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli. Their two big aces, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, have rebounded and leading the charge.

Boston's potentially fatal weakness is its pitching depth. Their top two relivers Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan are both on the DL. After Lester and and Buchholz, their rotation is awful and thin.

The Red Sox have lost eight of their last 10 and could be in trouble because of their current quagmire. 

The Toronto Blue Jays, everyone's favorite to win the division and possibly a World Series title, have been a major disappointment.

Nine games under .500, the Jays are last in the division with the third-worst record in the AL at 15-24 going into Monday. They've had their usual injuries, but the facts remain that the Blue Jays also have the second-worst team ERA in baseball (4.74) and the guys they brought in, 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle have to pitch to their baseball cards.

They're way too talented to be this bad. 

The Baltimore Orioles, the darlings of 2012, are proving they are no fluke so far.

They've scored the most runs in baseball and have gotten great performances from the young Manny Machado, franchise star Adam Jones, slugger Chris Davis and others. Their pitching has improved a bit, and could get even better if top prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman find their way to the big leagues this year. 

Next we have the Tampa Bay Rays, always a threat and a force to be reckoned with in the Amercian League. The Rays are only 19-18, leaving one to wonder when they'll get hot.

Their usual suspects, 2012 AL Cy Young Award-winner David Price, along with closer Fernando Rodney, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year and 2012 AL Comeback Player of the Year, haven't been themselves.

Given their success in Tampa, however, you can be sure that they'll come around and will make the Rays a serious problem for the rest of the East. Evan Longoria is carrying the offense and will continue to do so as long as he is healthy.

Finally, we have the first-place New York Yankees. How did they do it and is it sustainable?

Let's be honest, they haven't been fantastic or overwhelming. They've just been winning games.

They are 7-1 in one-run ballgames and 15-4 in games decided by two runs or less—both marks the best in MLB. You can owe that to a shutdown bullpen, led by David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, who is 15-for-15 in save opportunities in the young season.

The Bronx Bombers haven't put up eye-popping numbers. They are only scoring 4.36 runs per game, which is their worst mark in 22 years. However, they've also been getting the usual numbers from Robinson Cano. He's played like an MVP candidate this year in his walk year.

Supporting Cano have been the unusual suspects—veterans Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner. One has to wonder if they can continue their hot-hitting ways and stay healthy.

You could have expected an early-season decline given all those who are out, but the Yankees have found enough to win games because of the bullpen and "Mo" along with the starting pitching. 

The Yankees' pitching staff is in the top third of the AL in earned run average. New York's rotation has an ERA that ranks sixth is only .05 points away from from fourth.

Hiroki Kuroda has been absolutely spectacular at 5-2 with a 2.31 ERA, 179 ERA-plus and a sparkling 1.05 WHIP. Andy Pettitte has been all you can ask for in consistently grinding through innings. Phil Hughes has had a couple rough starts, but has pitched better lately except for Friday's start in Kansas City.

The major concern is CC Sabathia, who has been pitching good enough, but with his velocity down. If he's still can't touch over 90-91 mph on his fastball in June or July, it's a problem.

If you're a Yankee fan, you have to be very pleased with the results so far. Many pundits expected them to "tread water" until regular players like Jeter and Teixeira came back.

They've exceeded that and there's help on the way. Granderson is close to returning after going 7-for-17 with a homer in four rehab games in Triple-A. While Teixeira isn't close to returning, he could be back in a month-and-a-half.

You have to wonder what will this Yankee team look like in July?

Will the replacements still be playing well? Will their current problems of offense vs.left-handed pitching and infield depth still be rearing their ugly heads? How will the team transit with likes of Granderson, Jeter, A-Rod, and Teixeira returning to the lineup?

Who knows?

All you can do is enjoy the ride they're on right now and hope that when it all comes together, the Yankees will be on their way and have a chance to be there in the end.

Right now, things are looking mighty good in "Yankee Land." 


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