The Unexpected East

After the Seattle series, the Sox play 7 games against the Orioles and Rays, so with the Sox roughly a third of the way through the season, I thought now would be a good time to evaluate how the division stands. [Note: the following stats and records are current as of Tuesday afternoon.]

New York Yankees

"So the last shall be first, and the first shall be last."

Record: 25-26
Pythagorean Record: 25-26

1st in payroll, 9th in runs scored, 8th in runs allowed, and last in the American League East. In the offseason, the Yankees passed on Santana in favor of the youth movement. New York fans boasted the triumvirate of Joba, Hughes and Kennedy would be dominant. However, this new Pax Cashmanica has been anything but peaceful. Hughes is on the DL, Kennedy was demoted, and the team struggled after injuries to Posada and A-Rod at the beginning of the year.

What is going right?
Well, the pen has some good arms, led by Rivera, Edwar Ramirez (11 scoreless IP), and Joba. Darrel Rasner has provided better than replacement level pitching, with a 1.80 ERA in 4 starts. The Yanks hit plenty of HRs - their 49 makes them 5th in the league.

Where does the team falter?
Much of the starting pitching has been mediocre (Mussina) or terrible (Hughes, Kennedy). The offense has been mediocre.

Outlook: The Yankees have more talent than a mere .500 team. The offense is likely to heat up, particularly Cano, and perhaps Damon or Cabrera. If Joba produces in the starting rotation they could be a pretty good team. The Yankees typically heat up over the summer, and could come roaring back into contention. That said, I'm hoping for a Perfect Storm of injury and suck, a la the 2006 Red Sox.

Baltimore Orioles

"Tonight, we dine with Traschel." - Phrase atop Camdenchat.com

Record: 25-25
Pythagorean Record: 24-26

For a rebuilding team, they started surprisingly strong: 14-9 and in first place on April 26th. Thereafter, they have gone 11-16. Look for Brian Roberts and parts of the bullpen (Bradford) to move by the trade deadline.

What is going right?

In short, the pitching. The Orioles are 6th best in the league in runs allowed. All but one of their regular starters are pitching well: Cabrera (3.70 ERA), Guthrie (3.62), Burres (3.16), and Olson (4.09) have all been surprisingly productive. However, Steve Traschel has been absolutely terrible, giving up 33 ER in 33.7 innings (8.82 ERA). If you throw out Traschel's innings, the team ERA falls to 3.66.

Where does the team falter?

Offense. The Orioles are 12th in runs, 11th in OBP, 13th in BA  (.245). The only bright spot offensively is power: they are 7th in HRs with 47, and 8th in slugging percentage.

Outlook: Fifth place. They have no hope of finding offense, and the pitching will likely regress, because of poor fundamentals. While the team hasn't given up many hits (5th best), they are 11th in BBs and Ks, and 9th in HRs allowed. Their pitchers' batting average on balls in play is abnormally low at .275 (BABIP is normally around .290). When those balls start dropping in for hits, the team's ERA will rise.

Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 28-25
Pythag: 28-25

The Jays swept the Sox in Toronto. Not long thereafter they released Frank Thomas to keep his $10 million option from vesting. With the loss of Thomas and poor performance from regulars, it's not surprising that the Toronto offense is bad: 11th in Runs, 12 in HRs, although the team OBP is good, ranked at 5th. Their pitching is really strong, 3rd in the league in ERA and 4th in runs allowed. When the worst starter is A J Burnett (4.69 ERA), you know the team's rotation is good. Unless the offense magically improves or the teams ahead collapse, Toronto doesn't have enough to win. Last year they had the second best staff ERA, behind the Red Sox, and were 10th in runs scored, and they won only 83 games, finishing third in the division.

Outlook: Even with superb pitching, they'll be lucky to get third in this division without Thomas' .289/.368/.549 line and 26 HRs.

Boston Red Sox

Record: 32-22
Pythag: 30-24

The Sox have been riding high, carried by the best offense in the league (tops in runs, AVG, OBP, and SLG). The pitching's been less impressive, 8th in the league, 2nd in strikeouts but 12th in BBs. They've outperformed their Pythagorean record by two games, which is to say that if the world were fair and W-L records were assigned by runs scored and runs allowed alone, their record would be 30-24. Last year, the Sox underperformed their Pythag record, losing five more games than expected; they were supposed to win 101! Getting back to the present team, we can probably expect some drop-off from the offense, but I think the pitching will get better.

 

Tampa Bay Rays

"Abashed the Devil stood, / And felt how awful goodness is..." - Milton, Paradise Lost

Record: 31-20
Pythag: 29-22

In 2006, former Northeastern player and Haverhill resident Carlos Pena finished his season with the Red Sox, memorably hitting a walk-off homer in September. He joined the Rays for the following season, made the team despite a poor spring training, and proceeded to hit .282/.411/.627 with 46 HRs. Predictably enough, the Rays doubled up on Sox 1B castoffs, and took Eric Hinske, who has followed in Pena's steps by clubbing 10 HRs this season. The Rays worry me far more than the Jays or Yankees, as they have great starting pitching, good offense, and a deep farm system.

What is going right?

The Rays have a strong pitching staff, 5th in ERA at 3.71, led by starters Shields and Jackson as well as an excellent pen. They were pitching very well even before Scott Kazmir returned from the DL. The team is particularly good at suppressing HRs, giving up the 4th least in the league. Moreover, the offense is strong: 4th in runs scored and OBP, 3rd in BA. Significantly, the Rays have crushed their division rivals, going 21-11 against the AL East (the Sox are 8-11).

Where does the team falter?

The Rays may look a little better than they are. The team BABIP is .271, which suggests their pitching should regress somewhat. When the Red Sox ended last year with a 3.87 ERA, best in the league, their BABIP was .286. As the Rays'  BABIP rises, so too will the team ERA. Provided that the Sox offense remains superior, and our pitching improves, Boston should be able to hold off the Rays.

 

So, how much weight do you put on the first 50 odd games? Are the Rays for real? Will the Yankees fight back into playoff contention? And who will win the division? Speak your mind in the comments, and let me know if you found this interesting.

[All stats courtesy of Baseball-reference.com.]

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