With roughly 40 games to go before the end of the regular season, teams around the majors are jockeying for position as they hope to secure a postseason spot. While most divisions remain competitive, the American League East may be one of the most entertaining down the stretch. Here is a look at how the AL East currently stacks up.
When taking into account the Wild Card, the top four teams in the division are all within five games of a playoff spot. The Tampa Bay Rays lead the AL East by 3½ games over the Boston Red Sox, but the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays are lurking.
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Tampa Bay Rays (72-47)
The Tampa Bay Rays have been remarkably consistent all season long. They have been dominant both at home (36-22) and on the road (36-25) despite not having a team full of household names.
Most interesting is their offensive production. They currently rank fourth in the majors in scoring (5.15 runs per game), but they rank just 22nd in batting average (.236).
“It’s always fun to put up a lot of runs, everybody kind of be part of it,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.
A lot of the team’s success comes from the long ball. The Rays currently rank seventh in home runs per game, averaging 1.35. The Rays currently have four players with 16 or more home runs, including three (Lowe, Mike Zunino and Austin Meadows) with 21 or more.
At the trade deadline, Tampa Bay’s biggest acquisition was slugger Nelson Cruz, who was acquired from the Minnesota Twins. Cruz has struggled a bit since coming to Tampa Bay, though, as he is hitting just .182/.241/.416 with five home runs and 11 RBIs with the Rays.
The Rays lost their best pitcher earlier in the year as Tyler Glasnow had to undergo Tommy John surgery, but the pitching staff has still managed to put together a strong campaign. They currently rank 11th in ERA at 3.82.
In terms of their strength of schedule, the Rays fall right in the middle of the pack. They have the 15th-hardest remaining schedule as their opponents have a combined .495 winning percentage. While they have seven games left with the last-place Baltimore Orioles, they also have 16 left with the rest of the AL East.
After making it to the World Series last season, the belief was that the Rays would be strong again this year, but many still liked the Yankees as the favorites. Like last season, the Rays are once again trying to prove they are the best in the AL East.
Rays Homestretch Grade: A
Boston Red Sox (69-51)
After having the worst record in the division last season at 24-36, the expectation was that Boston would once again find itself as one of the bottom two.
Instead, the Red Sox got off to a roaring start going 17-10 on April, 15-11 in May and 18-10 in June. However, after going 13-12 in July and 6-8 to start August, they saw their lead in the AL East turn into a 3½-game deficit.
Despite the deficit in the division, they currently hold one of the two Wild Card spots with a two-game lead over the Yankees.
Offensively, Boston has been one of the best clubs in the majors, averaging 5.05 runs per game. Boston’s attack has been led by Rafael Devers (.285 avg, 29 HR, 89 RBIs), JD Martinez (.293 avg, 23 HR, 79 RBIs) and Xander Bogaerts (.309 avg., 18 HR, 64 RBIs).
Boston ranks just 15th in the majors with a 4.28 ERA, but its rotation got a big boost with the return of lefty Chris Sale. Coming back from Tommy John surgery, Sale made his season debut last week and picked up the win after throwing five innings, allowing just two earned runs and striking out eight.
The Red Sox do have an advantage in the fact that they have the seventh-easiest remaining schedule, as their opponents have a combined winning percentage of just .487.
Red Sox Homestretch Grade: B+
New York Yankees (66-52)
The Yankees were considered by many to be the favorites coming into this season but currently sit 5½ games back of the Tampa Bay Rays. Despite being third in the division, this is a team that has gotten red hot lately.
After finishing with a sub-.500 record in two of their first three months, the Yankees went 14-9 in July and have started out August 11-4.
Surprisingly, the Yankees rank 20th in the majors in scoring, averaging just 4.26 runs per game, but they made some big additions at the trade deadline to balance their lineup. After acquiring lefty hitters Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, this is an extremely deep lineup that can go yard at any time.
Despite ranking eighth in team ERA (3.68), there are some questions in the rotation. Gerrit Cole (10-6, 3.11 ERA) has been stellar, but Corey Kluber remains sidelined with an injury while Luis Severino was just shut down on his road back from Tommy John.
The bullpen is dominant, but the rotation (aside from Cole) leaves some question marks for a team chasing a postseason spot.
With 44 games left for New York, it should be capable of finishing strong. The Yankees have the 10th-easiest remaining strength of schedule in the majors.
Yankees Homestretch Grade: B-
Toronto Blue Jays (63-54)
If the Blue Jays want to make a run at a postseason position, they certainly have a tough hill to climb. They sit eight games back of the Rays in the division and four games back of the second Wild Card spot.
It certainly is not for lack of talent. They have the third-best scoring offense in the majors, averaging 5.16 runs per game. While their lineup is extremely deep, it has been Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who has been the heart and soul of their offense.
If it were not for Shohei Ohtani, Guerrero would probably be the favorite to win AL MVP honors. He is hitting .314/.409/.611 and leads the team in home runs (35), RBIs (88), and runs scored (90).
Pitching-wise, the Blue Jays acquired a huge piece at the trade deadline when they traded for the Twins’ Jose Berrios. In three games for Toronto, Berrios is 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and has struck out 16 in 16.1 innings.
Another boost for the Blue Jays is that they have the fifth-easiest remaining schedule in baseball. Their future opponents have a combined winning percentage of just .481. Furthermore, if they want to make a run at the division, they also have six games left with the Rays to try to chip away at the division lead.
At 63-54, the Blue Jays would actually be leading the National League East if they were in that division. It is not impossible for the Blue Jays to secure a postseason spot, but with the Wild Card being the most likely route, they will have to knock out some division foes to get there.
Blue Jays Homestretch Grade: C-
Baltimore Orioles (38-79)
For the fifth year in a row, the Baltimore Orioles will finish with a losing record, and for the fourth time in that same time frame, they will finish in dead last in the division. The Orioles sit a whopping 33 games out of first place and are currently in the midst of a double-digit losing streak.
There are a couple of bright spots in Baltimore. John Means (5-4, 3.21 ERA) has shown signs of brilliance when healthy.
On offense, Cedric Mullins (.318 avg., 20 HR, 22 SB), Trey Mancini (.253 avg., 20 HR, 62 RBIs), and Ryan Mountcastle (.264 avg., 19 HR, 63 RBIs) have given Orioles’ fans hope. However, other than that, there has been very little.
Baltimore currently ranks 26th in runs per game (4.08) and dead last in scoring defense (allowing opponents 5.81 runs per game). When you can’t score and you can’t prevent opponents from scoring, it is never a good recipe for success.
If things weren’t bad enough, the Orioles also have the fourth-most demanding remaining schedule as opponents have a combined winning percentage of .524.
The Orioles weren’t expected to do much, but fans are starting to grow weary that general manager Mike Elias hasn’t been able to produce at least a little bit of optimism that things are turning around.
Sadly, the Orioles don’t have the worst record in baseball, but they are fighting for the top pick in next year’s draft instead of a postseason position.