For a little peek behind the curtain here at OTM, and something that I’ve mentioned before but is worth bringing up again, for these roundtables I send out the questions on Monday so staff has all week to answer the question. Typically, that’s not a question, but when the trade deadline is rude enough to fall on a Friday, it throws a wrench in things. The deadline is the obvious topic, but for this format there was just too much chance of the answers being moot by publish time that I pivoted to another important topic.
That would be the American League East race. By the time the deadline dust settles, the Red Sox will be preparing for the first of three massive games down in Tampa to take on the Rays, who trail the Sox by just three games heading into the series. So the question this week was simple. As things stand now, who is the favorite in the division, and how big is the gap?
I don’t think it’s a big gap, but I think the Red Sox should be the favorite. They both have top-five offenses and top-five bullpens, but the gap in starting pitching is significant to me. Typically, this is a strength of the Rays, but due to some injuries and other factors their starting pitching has been what’s held them back. On the other hand, the starting pitching for the Red Sox has been the surprise success of the season and they have yet to add Chris Sale back into the mix. I think overall the final months of the season will be a rough path for the Red Sox because they have so many games against the Rays left, but that also means they control their own destiny and I feel confident about it.
The Red Sox have been immensely successful and exceeded all expectations for the entire season up to this season, that we know. In a strange twist, I expect the industry to view the Rays as the favorite to win the division by a wide margin, but that prediction not coming to fruition. That being said, the Red Sox can continue to grind out wins night by night and inevitably prove those same experts wrong as the core of this 2021 team has all done season to date. With complementary pieces to further equip Cora and his coaches, the Boston manager will continue to shake things up when the offense goes cold, whether that be in the form of completely realigning the lineup as fans have seen on several occasions, or outright benching a player to get him right. In terms of a reasonable prediction for the American League East gap in the standings at the end, it is reasonable to expect a very slim margin with Tampa Bay no less than 3.5 games out of first place.
I have to give the Rays the slight edge as AL East favorites, but only by a slim margin. The Rays have the more consistent rotation, a shiny new DH in Nelson Cruz, and a deep farm system that gives them an advantage in trade talks (I’m writing this before the deadline). The Red Sox’ lineup can win them any game, but I’m hesitant to label them as AL East favorites with the current state of their pitching staff. My opinion can be heavily swayed depending on how the deadline plays out and when Chris Sale returns, but until then, the Rays are the slight favorites in my eyes.
Unless the Rays make some big splashes during this final week and the Sox do little, I think the AL East is up for grabs but I think the Red Sox ultimately can hold on. (I might lose my job here at OTM if I say otherwise ;) Even with the addition of Nelson Cruz, the Sox have a much better offense and they also have better starters, especially with Chris Sale looming. I think the division will come down to the final week or so with the Sox taking the division with a couple game lead.
With everything we know, right now on July 29th as I write this I think the Red Sox have a very slight edge on the Rays in terms of winning the AL East. Factoring in what should be a minor injury to Rafael Devers, the addition of Nelson Cruz, the return of Chris Sale, the promotion of Tanner Houck, a return for Tyler Glasnow, and the Hermes-esque speed of Jarren Duran, it’s likely going to be a photo finish. But if the Red Sox trade two rotation spots for Sale and Houck and they both pitch well, in concert with Nathan Eovaldi, a rejuvenated E-Rod, and Nick Pivetta, this is suddenly a deep rotation. The Sox and Rays are both good teams and the final margin of victory will probably be only a game or two regardless of who finishes first but standing here before the deadline, and counting rehab on both sides as going well, I think the Sox edge it out this year.
The time for waiting for the other shoe to drop is over. As I’m writing this on Thursday afternoon, the Red Sox have a 95 percent chance of just making the playoffs and have easily the best odds of winning the AL East at this point, according to FanGraphs. I still think all four non-Baltimore teams in the division will contend through the rest of the season, but with the Red Sox likely to get stronger in the coming weeks (Chris Sale returning, any trade additions), I don’t think just adding Nelson Cruz pushes the Rays past them and I’m not sure the Blue Jays and Yankees can make up all the ground they’ve lost while battling three other teams for the same goal. My guess is the Red Sox will win the division by a slim margin over the Rays, so I don’t see a huge gap, but the Red Sox are the favorites.
I don’t know? If you believe PECOTA it’s a slight edge to the Sox. If you look at BaseRuns, Tampa is better by 4.5 games. I really want to say Tampa because I’m so skeptical of the success the Sox team have had and Tampa has so much depth to lean on while Boston doesn’t, but the Sox also have several hitters they can lean on for support while Tampa doesn’t. The two teams are so evenly matched it’s infuriating to think about. I’m going to go against my better judgement and say the Sox.
I think the Sox and Rays are basically dead even heading into today, which obviously means they won’t be coming out of today if there’s another deal for either or both sides. Right now the Sox have the slight edge in the standings, whereas the Rays have the slight edge in trade additions, Nelson Cruz being better than Kyle Schwarber. But. BUT! It all depends on Chris Sale. It’s his team to lead over the finish line. Always has been.
My first instinct was to go with the Rays. I’ve never really quite bought into their offense, but the addition of Nelson Cruz is certainly significant. There is still time for both teams to make additions and change this, but right now the obvious thing to say, and others have, is that it all comes down to what Chris Sale looks like. I’m not trying to bet against Chris Sale. Give me the Red Sox by two games.