It’s hard to believe, but the Yankees are a quarter of the way through the season already. It seems like just yesterday that Masahiro Tanaka dueled the Orioles on Opening Day, but that was six weeks ago at this point.
Pinstripe Alley readers probably have a pretty good idea of what’s been going on with the Yankees, a season defined by equal parts injury updates and winning recaps. What about the rest of the AL East, however? We’ve gotten brief glimpses of all of them, but a short series or two does not tell us a whole lot about the season at this point. With that in mind, it makes sense to take a quick walk through the rest of the division and see what their stories have been in the first leg of the season.
Baltimore Orioles (14-26)
Somehow the hapless Orioles are slightly exceeding expectations, as this year’s bad-on-purpose squad is actually outplaying last year’s bad-by-accident version. Last year, they did not win their 10th game until May 10, while this year, they got that out of the way on April 24.
Nonetheless, that’s about all the good things to say about a lineup with only three above-average hitters — Trey Mancini, Dwight Smith Jr., and Pedro Severino — and the same amount of quality pitchers — John Means, Mychal Givens, and Paul Fry. The odds that all six of these players will be donning orange by the end of the summer is slim to none.
But hey, at least Chris Davis has started hitting, right?
Toronto Blue Jays (16-24)
Much like the Orioles, the Blue Jays were expected to be bad this year, and they began their teardown early, trading Kevin Pillar to the San Francisco Giants on April 2, less than a week into the season. They likely will continue that in future months, with Justin Smoak, Marcus Stroman, and Aaron Sanchez possible trade candidates. Freddy Galvis had a strong April but has floundered a bit at the beginning of May, while Eric Sogard has provided a Gio Urshela-like performance in limited playing time.
The real story of the Blue Jays’ season rides on the success of its top prospects. So far, that hasn’t gone according to plan. Vladimir Guerrero Jr has struggled out of the gate — although that is no reason for Toronto fans to panic — while Bo Bichette has been sidelined with a broken hand since the last week of April.
Boston Red Sox (22-19)
After being swept by the Yankees on April 17, the Red Sox were a floundering mess with a 6-13 record. Since then, they have turned things around drastically, and have clawed their way back into relevance. Reigning MVP Mookie Betts has turned it around following a horrid start to the season, and he has been joined by the veteran J.D. Martinez and rookie phenom Michael Chavis. This trio anchors a starting lineup that has no real weak spots except for Jackie Bradley Jr.
After a horrid start to the season, Chris Sale has rebounded into form and reminded everybody why he has been one of the league’s premier aces. Behind him, however, Boston trots a foursome of question marks: David Price and Nathan Eovaldi have dealt with injury concerns this year, while Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez have posted ERAs upwards of 5.00. The bullpen has been better than anticipated, led by Brandon Workman and Matt Barnes, but it remains untested over a long stretch.
The defending champions still have work to do to completely erase their putrid start to the season, but they remain solidly in contention a quarter of the way through. Expect them to make some noise going forward.
Tampa Bay Rays (24-15)
The Tampa Bay Rays have opened as one of the league’s hottest teams and are currently on a 103-win pace. Although their lineup is not quite as deep as that of the Red Sox or a healthy Yankees, they have numerous strong contributors, including Brandon Lowe, Tommy Pham, Yandy Diaz, and the recently-returned Austin Meadows. On the defensive side of the ball, they are filled with elite defenders, particularly in the outfield with Kevin Kiermaier and Avisail Garcia.
It is on the mound, however, that the Rays dominate. Tyler Glasnow leads the team with a 1.86 ERA (2.19 FIP and 230 ERA+), although he just hit the injured list with a forearm injury. The staff has been so good that the reigning Cy Young award winner Blake Snell has been the team’s fourth-best pitcher to date this season. The bullpen, similarly, has been elite, led by Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo. In truth, there is not a single bad pitcher on this squad.
The Rays have shown that their late-season run at the end of last season — they were 54-53 at the trade deadline before finishing the year on a 36-19 run (a 106-win pace) — was no fluke, and they are veritable World Series contenders.
If the first quarter of the season is anything to go by, we can expect an intense three-team race at the top of the American League East this summer, while the Blue Jays and Orioles will continue building for future contention.