As we head into tonight's games there is an astonishingly small gap of 2.5 games separating the first place teams in the AL East (Baltimore and Tampa Bay) with the last place team (Boston). Should the Red Sox win their game against the Detroit Tigers this evening (they are the only AL East team on tonight's docket) then the gap will shrink to an even more incredible two games. With all of the talent in the division there appears to be a very real chance that three teams represent the AL East in the playoffs this year, and it's looking very much like those three teams will not be determined until the final days of the regular season.
Tampa Bay Rays, Current Record: 29-22, Projected Finish: 94-68; Are the Tampa Bay Rays the best team in the AL East…? Maybe, and this projected finish certainly seems to indicate so, but more than just the 'best' they can probably be more adequately described as the most balanced. They've already suffered through the brunt of probably the worst series of events thus far this season – playing without Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings – and have done nothing but remain on top of the division in their absence. In the rotation, despite the fact that they're already missing starter Jeff Niemann, the Rays still have the necessary depth to weather another injury. Alex Cobb and Wade Davis give them two back-ups who are more than capable of doing the job. With Jennings and Longoria returning soon, this team figures to only get better.
New York Yankees, Current Record: 27-23, Projected Finish: 93-69; The Yankees have sustained their own injuries this season, but have not handled them quite as capably as the Rays. Losing Michael Pineda for the season really hurt, and Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes have done little to inspire faith in them as a solid back-end tandem in the rotation. Mariano Rivera is gone for the season as well, and it's unclear when Brett Gardner and David Robertson will be returning. That's a lot of lost talent for the Yankees, and half of it is definitely gone for the season. The biggest problem for New York, though, is age. Will Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter end up needing a 15 day DL stint because of some age-induced injury? Can Andy Pettitte be depended upon to be the Yankees' number two starter all year? This will be a good team no matter what, but there are enough questions to prevent us from slotting them above Tampa Bay.
Toronto Blue Jays, Current Record: 27-24, Projected Finish: 88-74; It's a shame that Toronto has underachieved to the extent it has while a better position in the AL East has been ripe for the taking. In the rotation, only Brandon Morrow has really met and/or exceeded expectations (though Drew Hutchison could probably fit that designation as well) and in the lineup, only Edwin Encarnacion and perhaps Kelly Johnson have done the same. The question of course is whether or not we can expect more players on the team to meet their preseason expectations. In the rotation the answer is 'probably not' as this unit is really just not looking to be a very good one. Let's cross our fingers for a Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke pursuit this summer or winter. As for the lineup though? Count us among the convinced that better days are ahead, at the very least for Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista.
Boston Red Sox, Current Record: 26-24, Projected Finish: 86-72; To be at this point without Jacoby Ellsbury or Carl Crawford, and with all the troubles in their starting rotation, is no small accomplishment. Still, with Ellsbury and Crawford still far from returning, and Dustin Pedroia perhaps DL bound as well, it's hard to project anything better than this for Boston. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett should be solid for the remainder of the season, but there's little reason to think either can be great, meanwhile Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, and Felix Doubront are a completely unreliable trio at the end of the rotation, and if one of them goes down it will only get worse. Sans their two star outfielders it's just hard to say this team has enough talent to challenge for anything better than this finish in 2012.
Baltimore Orioles, Current Record: 29-22, Projected Finish: 79-83; The wins they have are already in the bag – no one can just take them away – and that's the good news for Baltimore. The bad news is that they are 2-8 in their last 10 and riding a five game losing streak which has really started to expose what kind of team this is; and that's one that's just not that good. Despite being arguably the healthiest team in the division the Orioles have amassed the fourth most offensive WAR amongst all AL East teams, just clipping a Rays team that is without its two most talented hitters. On the pitching side, if you can find anyone who's buying Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen as top of the rotation starters let us know, but we're not exactly of the opinion that anything those two are doing is sustainable. It was a nice ride for the Orioles, but it would be no surprise if today was the last day of the season that they spent in first in the division.
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