We are more than one full month into the 2019 regular season. March wrapped up, April came and went, and now the month of May is here to bring warm weather and exciting baseball.
Despite it being the beginning of May, it is still too early to judge many teams’ performances through the first month of the season. But what has been going down lately in the American League East is just impossible to ignore.
At the time of this writing, more than 30 games into the season, the Tampa Bay Rays (20-11) hold a 2.5 game lead over the Yankees who, despite being plagued by injuries, are hanging close with a 17-13 record. Six games back in the division are the Toronto Blue Jays, who are 14-17 this campaign and have gone just 3-3 since promoting top prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., from Triple-A. Fourth place may be the most surprising team in all of baseball, let alone the East; the Red Sox sit nearly seven games behind Tampa Bay with a 14-18 record. Finally, the AL-worst Baltimore Orioles are in fifth in the division with a dismal 11-21 record.
Team by team, here’s a deep dive into how the AL East could look a while from now.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have been a really interesting team for a while now. Last season, they burst onto the scene with their use of an opener rather than a traditional starter and found themselves so close to the playoffs — they were the final American League club eliminated as the regular season wrapped up. From the dominance on the mound courtesy of AL Cy Young winner, Blake Snell, to the wheels of speedster, Mallex Smith, to the terrific bat and glove of Joey Wendle, the Rays were an all-around impressive club last season. The 2019 season is shaping up to be the same way, except this time, the Rays have a bold lead.
Dominant flame-thrower, Tyler Glasnow, was dubbed April’s best AL pitcher and is cruising along after assisting in the delay before Snell could return from an injury. Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe are both batting above .300 as the Tampa squad kicks off the month of May; in particular, Meadows’ eye-popping slash line of .351/.422/.676 leads the team in all three of those categories.
José Alvarado, Adam Kolarek, and Diego Castillo have all impressed out of the bullpen, while Glasnow, Charlie Morton, and Ryne Stanek headline the youthful rotation of starting arms.
Barring any unexpected bumps in the road, the Rays look poised to continue on their way to AL East dominance. So what do they need to do going forward?
Tommy Pham, Kevin Kiermaier, and Avisail Garcia are the main pieces in the outfield, so perhaps adding depth at the big-league level could be a considerable move. In the infield, starters Yandy Díaz, Willy Adames, Daniel Robertson, and Nate Lowe are backed up by Brandon Lowe and Ji-Man Choi. Behind the dish, Mike Zunino has things covered with Michael Perez behind him if needed in a pinch. The bullpen is solid and the starting rotation seems set, so assuming things stay the way they are, there aren’t any major moves on the Tampa Bay horizon.
New York Yankees
Yankees fans have been in a bad mood for most of the season, as the players they have been eager to watch have formed their own All-Star roster on the injured list, with Luis Severino, Troy Tulowitzki, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Dellin Betances, Greg Bird, Clint Frazier, and Didi Gregorius all being banged up for the time being.
While watching guys like Cameron Maybin, D.J. LeMahieu, and Gio Urshela roam the field rather than Judge, Stanton, and Gregorius is less than ideal for Yankees fans watching games, the team has still been producing and holds the second place spot in the AL East by several games, so there is nothing to complain about from the winning side of things.
Urshela leads the club with a season batting average of .339 (minimum 50 at bats), with knocked-up fielders Frazier and LeMahieu also in the three hundreds with .324 and .310 averages, respectively.
On the mound, appearance leaders Tommy Kahnle and Adam Ottavino also hold the honors for best Yankees earned run averages with 1.54 and 2.35, respectively, while starter Domingo German boasts a nice 5-1 record with a 2.56 earned run average in just south of 32 innings.
It would seem as if the two biggest concerns when the long list of injured Yankees are healthy again are, first of all, what should be done with the nine players that need to be kicked off the 25-man roster, and second, can something be done about the average bullpen to make it, well, above-average?
If all goes well, the Yankees seem like the most likely candidate to surpass the Rays and knock off the Red Sox for the top spot in the AL East.
Toronto Blue Jays
As mentioned, the Blue Jays called up baseball’s most promising youngster last week, adding Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to the big-league squad. While he seems locked in to be a major-leaguer for the remainder of what should be a long career, the younger of the Guerrero legends has started his MLB career off somewhat quiet, hiding no home runs or runs knocked in behind a sub-optimal .167/.286/.508 slash line following a 3-for-18 start.
Elsewhere in the infield, Freddy Galvis, Eric Sogard, and Justin Smoak are performing well enough, while Brandon Drury is struggling. Danny Jansen continues to play an important role behind the dish north of the border.
The pitching staff may be Toronto’s strongest asset, with Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez retiring batters left and right and a strong bullpen to follow.
But the Blue Jays still are not a playoff club. They already traded away outfielder Kevin Pillar, and a larger dump of guys like Stroman or Smoak could certainly be on the way. Ryan Tepera and Ken Giles are also early candidates to be traded once the trade market heats up in June and July.
Besides sending away big-leaguers, could they swing a deal to bring anyone to Canada? With the bullpen staff, starting rotation, and catcher role being all set — not to mention the absence of a need for a third baseman — that leaves a trio of infield spots and a trio of outfield spots up for consideration.
The infield seems to be all set. Perhaps Toronto could swing a deal to acquire a Triple-A middle infielder in his mid- or upper-twenties to send to Buffalo before seeing if they are worthy of a trip north, but there does not appear to be a need for anything imminently.
As for the outfield, there could be benefits to adding depth by shipping away a minor-league. Someone in his upper-twenties still looking to crack the majors could be a solid grab for Toronto — perhaps someone of the Curtis Granderson or Rusney Castillo type.
But long story short, if the Blue Jays pull of a blockbuster deal, it’ll be one that dumps talent.
Boston Red Sox
Where to begin?
The reigning World Series champions were off to a super slow start and have now found themselves off to just a slow start. Chris Sale is 0-5, Steve Pearce came back down to earth (and then some), and the club is being plagued by the injury bug — less severe than the virus in New York, but still severe nonetheless.
Not much changed since last year, with the only addition being Colten Brewer (and then top prospect, Michael Chavis, in the middle of April). But Dustin Pedroia, Brock Holt, and Eduardo Nunez all made their way to the injured list, leaving Rafael Devers’ struggling glove to complement Xander Bogaerts, Chavis, and Pearce to round out the infield (with a touch of Mitch Moreland sometimes).
In the outfield, Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. continue to make up the Sox’s trio of Killer B’s, with J.D. Martinez and his impressive bat to add to the subpar offensive operation this season.
Behind the dish, Christian Vázquez and Blake Swihart (roughly) split time doing the catching before the latter was designated for assignment and traded to the Diamondbacks as veteran defensive backstop, Sandy León, found his way to the show.
On the mound, Sale has been pitching ahead of Rick Porcello, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Hector Velázquez to start games, while Marcus Walden has been the key to the Boston ‘pen with Matt Barnes serving as the de facto closer.
Work needs to be done all over the place. Should Jackie Bradley, Jr. be the first to be traded? Could the services of Mookie Betts or J.D. Martinez come up in trade talks — is that even allowed by the Boston brass? Does Steve Pearce get traded again with Sam Travis seemingly ready for more big-league time?
And in the minors, what about Rusney Castillo, the Cuban prospect the Sox spent big money on only to have him appear in a double digit amount of games since 2014? Could he be ... traded?
A lot needs to be straightened out in Beantown for the Duck Boats to be summoned in the fall. It’s only fitting the piece on the Red Sox’s question-filled start concludes with a question, so ponder this: Could second-year manager, Alex Cora, continue his sophomore slump, or will he be able to turn things around with the help of general manager, Dave Dombrowski?
Ahhh, BirdLand! The Orioles are bad again. Need I say more?
Somehow, Chris Davis is still starting at first base. At second, Jonathan Villar has the Orioles’ fourth-best batting average (minimum 50 at bats). Hanser Alberto and Richie Martin split time at shortstop, while the platoon at the hot corner consists of guys like Rio Ruiz and Renato Núñez.
In the outfield, Trey Mancini has a team-best .342/.397/.596 slash line with fellow outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. not far behind him. Joey Rickard and Stevie Wilkerson round out the rest of the squad roaming the outfield.
Behind the dish, Pedro Severino spends the most time catching but Austin Wynns gets some reps, too.
On the mound, Andrew Cashner, Dylan Bundy, Dan Straily, John Means, and David Hess make up the starting rotation while Gabriel Ynoa, Mychal Givens, and Miguel Castro highlight the best of the best in a rocky bullpen.
Dear Orioles, just trade away some of your older big-league guys to teams who want them and cross your fingers that at least one of the young minor-leaguers you get in return ends up being a part of the future of your major-league club some day.
And to wrap things up, after ending the Red Sox piece with a question to represent Boston’s questionable start, I leave you with this: to get both a ticket and a tote bag for an Orioles game, you will only be down six dollars.
Early AL East end-of-season predictions, as of May 3:
Tampa Bay Rays 101-61
Boston Red Sox 96-66
New York Yankees 94-68
Toronto Blue Jays 76-86
Baltimore Orioles 69-93
In a tiebreaker, the Yankees lose the final AL Wild Card spot to the Seattle Mariners, who later fall to the Red Sox in the Wild Card round. Boston is eliminated in the ALDS by the Astros, while Tampa Bay advances to the ALCS following a DS win against the Cleveland Indians. The Rays fall to the Astros, who lose in the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays finish a bit below .500. And in typical Baltimore fashion, the Orioles finish with the worst record in the American League, and second-worst record in all of the majors.