At the beginning of the season, it looked like the Toronto Blue Jays wanted to make it a 4 team race, but they have since faded and are now looking to trade their best player and the best pitcher in baseball (Doc Halladay).
Now that we are about 2 1/2 weeks into the 2nd half of the season, let's see how the teams stack up.
We'll start with the pre-season favorite Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox strength is in their top 2 starting pitchers, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, Beckett like always had a brilliant June and a great July, he is Boston's stopper and a CY Young candidate. Lester gives the Sox a solid 1-2 Lefty-Righty punch, and he is off to a solid start in the 2nd half as well.
The Problems with the Sox are the pitchers not named Lester and Beckett.
Brad Penny has been good at times, but most Sox fans will tell you he is inconsistent, Daisuke Matsuzaka, the 100 million dollar man, is in the DL along with Tim Wakefield. Clay Bucholz seems to be unable to command his pitches in the majors, and John Smoltz has been nothing short of a disaster since he came back.
The Sox need Penny to be more consistent, and either Bucholz, Wakefield (healthy), or Smoltz to step up and give them a solid rotation. The Sox bullpen might be the best of this division with Daniel Bard, Ramon Ramirez, Hideki Okijima, Manny Delcarmen, Justin Masterson, and Jonathon Papelbon.
All have been throwing the ball well. They have power arms, and can be absolutely nasty at times. The rock of the Boston Red Sox is their bullpen.
The Red Sox lineup has been a cause for concern recently, and has struggled scoring runs since the All Star break. David Ortiz is no longer a major power threat, and Jason Bay started the season red hot but has hit a cold spell.
Youkilis and Pedroia have been solid, but they've had to carry the entire offense at times. The Sox may need to go out and get a bat before the July 31st trade deadline.
Now onto the current 1st place team, the New York Yankees
The season started out rough for the Bronx Bombers, as the injury to Alex Rodriguez proved to be more costly than originally thought. The early season struggles of Chien-Ming Wang also did not help their cause.
The Bullpen was in shambles, and also a little overworked due to the slow start of Wang. The lineup, which was supposed to be even better with the addition of Mark Teixiera, has also struggling.
Then came May 8th, Alex Rodriguez returned to the lineup against the Baltimore Orioles and hit a 3-run homerun on the first pitch that he saw from Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie.
That moment seemed to turn the entire season around. The Lineup (namely Mark Teixiera) started hitting bette
r, the bullpen has been better with the losses of Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez, and the emergence of Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves, and Phil Hughes in the bullpen has turned a weakness into a strength.
If Brian Bruney gets back on track, it could be even better, and there is always Mariano Rivera closing out games in the 9th for the Yankees. The starting rotation has 4 solid pitchers in CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, and Andy Pettitte. All of whom have been 2nd half pitchers in their either long (Pettitte) or short (Joba) careers.
The 5th starter is currently Sergio Mitre, and he has not been awful, but the Yankees may make a deal at the deadline for a starting pitcher to displace him from the rotation. The Yankees are red hot right now and look like a force to be reckoned with down the stretch of the season.
Now for the final team in this stretch, the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays are the media darling, the team that everyone is rooting for to displace the Boston Red Sox and the "Evil Empire" New York Yankees. Many have had them picked all season long to do just that.
It all hasn't gone to plan as the Rays have shown their young and inconsistency for pretty much the whole season. The rotation has had James Shields and Matt Garza as the only consistent performers, as the rest of the rotation, namely Scott Kazmir have struggled. Most would argue the Rays traded the wrong pitcher at the wrong time in Edwin Jackson. The Rays rotation has not been its biggest weakness though.
The Offense for the Rays has been dynamic, leading the league in runs scored even without Aki Iwamura, and BJ Upton struggling most of the season.
Pena, Longoria, Zobrist, Bartlett, and Crawford have all been nothing short of spectacular through the course of this season so scoring runs have not been a problem, and starting pitching hasn't been that bad either.
Then why are the Rays so inconsistent?
The Problem lies within their bullpen. I am not a big believer in a bullpen by committee, and the Rays do have that going as 8 different pitchers have recorded a save for the Rays this year. Roles are undefined in the pen because since a man could be a set-up guy for a week and the next week be a closer. the bullpen has been inconsistent.
If they want to make the playoffs and defend their American League Championship, the Rays need to get this fixed.
Now onto my prediction for the remaining portion of the season. I believe that the first place team in the American League East will be........... The New York Yankees.
They are red hot right now, and I believe they have the best starting pitching of the 3 teams listed. I believe the Red Sox will finish 2nd and be the wild card team, and unfortunately the Rays will win 88-91 games, but be the odd team out because of the division that they are in.