Race for the pennant: AL East

The All-Star break is a great time for evaluating where a team stands. Last week, Joe looked at the long-term prospects of some cellar-dwelling teams. Over the next week, we will be previewing the race for the postseason within each division. Up first is the American League East. We’ll organize this discussion by current standing:

Baltimore Orioles
53-44 | division lead

What’s scary about this Baltimore Orioles team is not how good they are doing right now, but how much better they can be. Chris Davis, after his 53 home run performance last year, has only hit 15 home runs and is batting under the Mendoza line at a horrid .199. His last long stretch this bad was in 45 games for Texas in 2010, though he had almost no power numbers then. Manny Machado is batting .270 and has hit only 10 doubles so far this season, far off the pace of the 51 doubles he ended with last year. Ubaldo Jimenez has an ERA of 4.52 this season, 55 points above his career average. J.J. Hardy has hit only three home runs all year. The list goes on.

But don’t expect those numbers to continue. Look for Machado to regain his form and Hardy to start hitting home runs again. There’s almost no way Davis can do worse than he has, so any improvement from him would help the club as well. The Orioles are currently 4 games up on the second place Toronto Blue Jays, and expect to watch that lead grow as the season progresses.

Predicted finish: First in AL East, 90-95 wins

Toronto Blue Jays
51-48 | 3 games back

On June 6 the Toronto Blue Jays were in first in the AL East and six games ahead of the closest division opponents. Since then they have gone 13-24 while falling to fthree games behind the Orioles. During that stretch, the Toronto offense disappeared, going from being the best in baseball in April and May to 17th in June. It’s still in a complete free-fall.

The lack of offense can be partially attributed to the Blue Jays losing Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista in the same game against Cincinnati in June. However, it hasn’t been just the loss of those two players. The whole team just hasn’t been hitting. Also, the pitching, which had been dominant for the first two months, became increasingly hittable during June and early July. Toronto still has a window of opportunity to take the division, but it’s closing quickly as Baltimore continues to build steam. The return of the offense will help, as will the pitching returning to dominance, but the gap will be too much to close in the end.

Predicted finish: Second in AL East, 86-90 wins

New York Yankees
50-47 | 3 games back

This is not the season the Yankees expected to have when they entered training camp. Derek Jeter was entering his final year; the lineup boasted Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran; and the rotation was a tall order for any offense: C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda. They expected to compete for the division and make a run at World Series to end Jeter’s career. Fast forward to July. The Yankees are stuck in third place, barely holding onto .500.

They have lost four-fifths of the starting rotation to injury. C.C. Sabathia just announced he will be having season ending surgery on his right knee, joining Ivan Nova, who had season-ending elbow surgery. Masahiro Tanaka may soon join them. Unless his elbow can heal on its own, he will have to have season-ending Tommy John surgery. Beltran and McCann are both sputtering offensively as they hit in the neighborhood of .240 while the Yankees rank 13th in the AL in scoring. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Derek Jeter’s final season will not end in storybook fashion, as the club flounders with little hope. Especially because most of the starting rotation is gone, expect the Yankees to fall in the standings fast and hard.

Projected finish: 4th in the AL East, 70-74 wins

Tampa Bay Rays
47-53 | 7.5 games back

The Rays’ season has been one they would like to forget. The team batting average sits at a paltry .251, and they have a team ERA of 3.79, ranked 17th in the MLB. This has added up to them not having a winning record since April 22nd, and “achieving” a 10-game losing streak from May 26th to June 5th. The biggest question facing the Tampa Bay right now is whether or not to trade pitching ace David Price. On the one hand, it could bring them more talent in the pipeline to help them rebuild, but it would certainly make them worse this year, and add to the financial troubles they already face as a small-market team. The Rays’ season is over, it’s merely a question of how far below .500 they finish. Look for them to use this year to try to stockpile talent to set themselves up for future runs.

Projected finish: 5th in AL East, 64-68 wins

Boston Red Sox
46-52 | 7.5 games back

The Boston Red Sox have immediately followed a World Series title by struggling greatly in 2014. After sitting at 20-19 on May 14th, the Sox rattled off 10 straight losses, a blow from which they have yet to recover. While they have been decimated by injuries like the Yankees, the loss of Shane Victorino to the DL for two months was probably the loss that hurt the most. However, not all is lost for Boston. The players believe they still have a shot to win, and they went 4-1 in the last five games prior to the All-Star Break. Also, Victorino was just activated from the DL and will likely provide a much-needed shot in the arm to an anemic Red Sox offense, as Boston’s 374 runs this year place the team at 24th in the league. While it would take a miracle for the Red Sox to achieve a postseason birth, they still look to have a better second half than first. Expect them to climb out of the cellar of the AL East to finish with a respectable record.

Predicted finish: 3rd in AL East, 80-84 wins

Tim Hanna is a contributing writer of Three for Ten Sports.

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