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A review of the Yankees’ rivals through the season’s first month

Checking in on the Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The first week of May is behind us, and while 30 or so games does not make a season, there’s plenty to look at, and it’s as good a time as any to check in on the New York Yankees’ divisional rivals in the AL East. One of if not the toughest division in the sport, has predictably shown no signs of slowing down, and there’s plenty to discuss with each individual team, both positively and negatively.

The Yankees lead the way with 18 wins and seven losses, however, there’s little to no cushion between them and the second place:

Second — Tampa Bay Rays (17-10)

It’s become common knowledge that the Rays will be at the top of the list when it comes to outperforming their projections. This is one of the savviest organizations in the sport, and if someone is able to find quality pitching where it isn’t clear, it’s the Rays. However, even with that knowledge, there was a level of concern regarding their pitching depth heading into 2022.

The Rays interestingly enough are running with what by all accounts can be described as a three-man rotation with Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, and Corey Kluber. There are two questions that come with that statement: why and how?

For starters, Shane Baz, who figured to be in the rotation this year, had to have surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow and missed the start of the season. Baz should be out for a significant time, and at the same time Luis Patiño is out with an oblique strain. The former Padre prospect was another pitcher slotted to have a rotation spot, but is now out indefinitely.

With only three built-up starters, there are still two slots to fill for a proper rotation, and for the time being, the Rays are using bullpen games in those spots. Ryan Yarbrough is capable of being a regular starter, but he started the year on the shelf with a groin injury, and the Rays still have to plan for a significant bullpen night during his starts. Josh Fleming has been the primary bulk guy in these starts with 18.1 IP in six appearances.

Offense carrying the load

While the pitching staff has been solid, it’s the offense that’s carrying the load through these first 28 games. Remember that Austin Meadows trade? His replacement Harold Ramirez is one of those complementary bats picking up the slack while stars like Randy Arozarena and Brandon Lowe remain cold. Alongside Ramirez, players like Taylor Walls, Francisco Mejia, Manuel Margot, and Yandy Diaz are posting well-above-average production combined.

Third — Toronto Blue Jays (16-11)

The Blue Jays were a playoff team a year ago. With an imposing offense, the AL Cy Young winner and company bolstered one of the best Pythagorean win-loss records in the sport, but a subpar performance in close games kept Toronto away from the postseason and opened up room for the Yankees-Red Sox Wild Card Game.

It is definitely too early to pick up a trend, but so far, Toronto has been absolutely money in one-run games. The Jays have been outscored by their opponents (102 runs scored and 110 runs allowed), but still have a very good 16-11 record. The offense is getting by on the backs of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and George Springer, but should get bolstered with Teoscar Hernandéz’s return this weekend and Bo Bichette finding his groove.

Lose Robbie Ray, no problem?

Many feared what a return to the AL East would do for Kevin Gausman, but after a few starts, he’s proven that the pitcher last seen around these parts with the Orioles is no more. Gausman’s new form has carried over and the Jays ace has arguably been the most dominant pitcher in the sport over his first six starts. Meanwhile, Jordan Romano already has 12 saves on the young season and looks poised for a masterful season closing out games for Toronto.

Fourth — Baltimore Orioles (10-16)

Are you a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person? This question poses an interesting dilemma for Orioles fans.

On one hand, you can look at the John Means injury that will keep the Orioles ace out into next season, alongside the struggles of Ryan Mountcastle and Trey Mancini, and be somewhat concerned about this long rebuild. However, last year’s breakout star Cedric Mullins looks like he didn’t skip a beat, and his outfield mates are catching up with him. Both Austin Hays and Anthony Santander are bolstering significant improvement in their offensive production, posting 141 and 138 wRC+ respectively.

Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez, the two gems of this farm system, should be up sooner rather than later. The pair are both top 10 prospects across baseball, and Rodriguez is arguably the top pitching prospect in the league.

Who saw this bullpen coming?

Evolution

Orioles 'pen 2021 2022
Orioles 'pen 2021 2022
ERA 5.7 3.63
AVG 0.257 0.225
WHIP 1.46 1.2

The likes of Jorge Lopez, Dillon Tate, Félix Bautista, and Keegan Akin have all produced well above what was expected heading into 2022. How sustainable that is, it’s hard to tell, but it looks like the days of the Orioles bullpen being the punching bag of the sport are over.

Fifth — Boston Red Sox (10-17)

The Red Sox always had an uphill battle to face — they have a talented roster, but play in a tough division with three other legitimate contenders. Another trip deep into October wouldn’t come naturally.

The biggest question mark surrounding this Red Sox team was the pitching staff, more precisely their bullpen. Between Chris Sale’s injuries and Tanner Houck not being able to pitch in Toronto, the Sox have moved Garrett Whitlock to the rotation. That’s not to say they wouldn’t have done this regardless of the status with Sale and Houck, but it certainly didn’t help the rotation’s depth. It also places further stress on a bullpen that has the second-worst ERA in the American League at 4.42, and that’s with Whitlock in the equation.

A total power outage

The big money acquisition in Trevor Story has struggled through his first month in Boston, and although there’s always a certain level of concern, the former Rockie has enough of a track record where it isn’t time to push the panic button yet. However, the lineup as a whole has seemingly forgotten how to hit home runs. The Sox rank 27th in the league with 16 long balls entering play on Saturday, a disastrous level of production for a lineup littered with sluggers. They’ll need to turn the offense around quickly if they want to avoid competing with Baltimore for last place in the division.