By: Adam Pasternak
All stats used in this article are as of Thursday, September 15, 2016
As I wrote in an article way back in June, the AL East is baseball’s best division. The 2016 season has been yet another piece of evidence to prove this, and the race for a spot in this fall’s postseason will be one for the ages.
As of this morning, the Red Sox lead with the Orioles (1 GB) and Blue Jays (2 GB) sitting in the two AL wild card spots respectively. Even the youth-led Yankees (4 GB) have put themselves right back into contention. I’ve attached a picture of the standings below. It’s truly amazing to see how close these teams are:
I can’t tell you who will win, but what I will do is break down each team in the race and what I think their odds of getting into the Fall Classic are.
Boston Red Sox:
The “Bo-Sox” are back to playing the World Series caliber baseball they were displaying at the start of the season. After a June and early July dip in the standings, they are back on top and are my pick to win the AL East (sorry, Jays fans). Everything is clicking right now. David Ortiz is having one of the best years of his career, while forcing fans forget that he is indeed 40 years old and retiring at seasons end. Mookie Betts has broken out as a dark-horse MVP candidate this year, already amassing over 30 home-runs on the season. David Price has been near perfect through his last five games, showing up his early season doubters. To me, this lineup is the best in the division. They even have ex-Ray incumbent catcher, Sandy Leon, hitting over .300!
It’s the Red Sox division title to lose, and I don’t think they will. They are arguably one of the hottest teams in baseball right now and a little momentum carrying you into September is all you really need to pull away in these postseason races.
The O’s have been pretty solid all year somehow, with one of the worst rotations among teams in the Postseason race. They traded for Wade Miley, who was having a terrible season in Seattle, and he has continued to give up run after run upon his arrival in Baltimore. Miley has been so bad in fact, that he has given up 33 runs in 35.1 innings since being traded to Baltimore. They also have Ubaldo Jimenez who gives up his fair share of runs. Thank god for their position players, both at the dish and in the field. Manny Machado is easily a top ten player in the game right now and depending on how the rest of September goes for him and the O’s, he could win both the MVP and Gold Glove awards. They also have the MLB home run leader in Mark Trumbo, who’s already amassed over 40 home runs this year. If they can continue to hit and defend like they have, the Orioles have a chance of dethroning the Red Sox for the AL Division Title this year. If they want to increase their chances even more though, then they will need their back end starters such as Miley and Jimenez to pick it up as well as their middle relief men. Everyone in baseball knows their closer, Zach Britton, has the 9th inning taken care of. The guy has a 0.61 ERA with 43 saves and has been mentioned as a top candidate for this year’s Al Cy Young Award…as a reliever!
The Orioles are obviously a lock for the postseason, but only time will tell what spot they will enter it in.
Toronto Blue Jays:
While the Red Sox are hot, the Blue Jays are not. With a 3-9 record since the beginning of September, the Blue Jays have been the polar opposite of the team they were last season. Jose Bautista has been disappointing in his contract year, putting up some of the worst numbers of his Blue Jays career, and definitely playing himself out of his reportedly demanded 5 year, $150M contract. Josh Donaldson has been MVP calibre once again, but is amid a 7 game hitless streak, and has a hurt hip. Edwin Encarnacion looks every part of the baseball goliath he is, and Russell Martin has stepped it up recently, but without both Bautista and Donaldson producing their usual numbers, this Jays team doesn’t have the offence to compete with the rest of the AL East. Who would have thought that the offence would be the Jays’ biggest problem way back when the season started in April.
On the other hand, up until now, the pitching has been extraordinary. The rotation has stayed relatively healthy all season, just now showing the wear and tear of a 162 game season. J.A. Happ has 18 wins and is making Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro look like geniuses for his offseason signing. Marco Estrada has also been wonderful all year, up until recently when he has been reportedly playing with a herniated disc in his back. Marcus Stroman has been a disappointment to Toronto fans, with the expectations sky high coming into the season, but the results have not lived up to those lofty expectations. R.A. Dickey is almost a lock to have a losing record and a 4.00+ ERA, but he has eaten innings and pitched his fair share of gems this season. The best pitcher for the Jays has been their 5th pitcher, Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez barely beat out Gavin Floyd for the last starting job, and he ran with it. Sanchez has a 13-2 record and a 3.17 ERA, doing so while posting 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings. The ‘pen has struggled in relief in the early innings, but the lockdown pairing of Grilli in the 8th and Osuna in the 9th has been more than formidable.
The Jays have the star-power and the depth to make a late season comeback for the division title, but have been struggling to beat bad teams as of late. The Jays should now turn their focus to the Wild-Card race, where things are getting tighter and tighter, and the Jays are getting closer and closer to dropping out of the playoffs completely.
New York Yankees:
The Yankees are the least likely to make the playoffs, currently 4.0 games back of the Jays for the second Wild-Card spot. The Yankees decided to sell at the deadline, and that decision seems to be a double-edged sword right now. While the trades allowed for the infusion of exciting young talent, the Yankees are definitely missing a few of the players they traded. On one hand, the emergence of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez has brought them within reach of the Wild-Card. On the other hand however, the Yankees have missed Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller when closing out games – as seen in their recent series against the hated Red Sox.
The Yankees have only a 1.7 chance of making the playoffs according to Fangraphs.com, so any hopes the Bronx Bombers have are slim. Nonetheless, Joe Girardi has plenty to be proud of late this season, and even more to look forward to come next April.
And so with many questions still unanswered as of now, the AL East is going to be must watch TV for the rest of September. Who will live on and make it to the Postseason? Only time will tell.
Who do you think will come out on top of the AL East? Who will win the Wild Card? Will other teams such as the Mariners and Tigers catch the Jays and Orioles? Comment your thoughts below!
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