AL East Roundup: Battle at the Top

Yankees and Jays vie for supremacy out East

It’s still early in the 2022 MLB season but with just about a month of games under our belts, it’s as good of a time as any to start looking at how divisions are starting to shake out. In this article, we’ll look into the AL East so far.

Though it’s early, a hierarchy is starting to develop. Let’s check out what’s gone right — and in some cases what’s gone wrong — for teams in the AL East so far.

AL East Standings — 5/4/2022
Yankees
The Yankees figured to be one of the better teams in baseball heading into 2022, and they’ve done nothing to sway that belief. Not only is New York sitting two and a half games up on the Blue Jays for first place in the AL East, but they also feature the best record in the entire MLB. Otherworldly months from Anthony Rizzo and Aaron Judge paired with stellar pitching headlined by Nestor Cortes have made the Yankees the team to beat in the division so far.
New York isn’t leaning too heavily on one side of the ball over the other. The Bronx Bombers sit third in MLB in runs per game with 4.82 and rank second-best in runs allowed with 2.95. Anthony Rizzo and his MLB-leading nine home runs have paced the offense, showing the former Cubs star still has plenty left in the tank. The bullpen has surrendered just 26 earned runs led by Aroldis Chapman, Clay Holmes, and Michael King.
Question marks were heading into 2022, but so far, the Yankees have passed with flying colors.
Biggest Surprise: Nestor Cortes broke out in 2021 to the tune of a 2.90 ERA across 93 innings of work. Somehow in 2022, he’s blowing that season out of the water. Yes, it’s early and yes he’s only made four starts but his 1.31 ERA is good enough for an astounding 284 ERA+. He’s striking out 12.2 batters per nine to boot.
Biggest Disappointment: Joey Gallo does one thing better than anything else; hit home runs. He hasn’t done much of that in 2022 and it’s reflected in the rest of his numbers. His .295 slugging percentage is miles below his career .483 mark. He did manage his only two home runs of the year in back-to-back games this past week, so maybe Gallo just needs some time until he finds his power stroke again. But for now, the Yankees outfielder is posting an alarming 70 OPS+.
Injuries
  • Gallo left Saturday’s game with groin tightness and is considered day-to-day.
  • Domingo Herman, who began experiencing shoulder discomfort in January, is progressing well on his way back to the mound. He threw a 30-pitch bullpen session the week of April 25th. He’s expected back in late May or early June.
  • Reliever Zack Britton remains out after getting Tommy John surgery last fall. He would return late this season at the earliest.

 

Blue Jays

 

Toronto is stuck behind the team with the best record in baseball in the Yankees, yet they’ve done an admirable job of being able to keep up. The Jays sit just two and a half games back of New York and play the Yankees four more times in the next eight days.

The one-two punch of Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah has dominated in 2022 and headlines the top performers for Toronto so far. Vladimir Guerroro Jr. hasn’t missed a beat from his 2021 campaign, slashing .275/ .341/ .525 with six home runs. George Springer has mashed, putting up an OPS+ of 167. Injuries have hindered the Jays’ season, knocking out Teoscar Hernandez, Cavan Biggio, and Danny Jansen, among others.

Biggest Surprise: In a pitching staff that features Gausman, Manoah, Jose Berrios, and Yusei Kikuchi, it’s easy to forget about Ross Stripling. The longtime Dodger’s 3.79 ERA doesn’t jump off the page but a 2.82 FIP does. He’s limiting walks and sports a maybe-not-so-sustainable 6.3 percent home run to fly ball rate. It remains to be seen if Stripling can keep up this performance, but for now, the Blue Jays won’t complain.

Biggest Disappointment: Hyun Jin Ryu is two years removed from a third-place finish in Cy Young Award voting. He finished second the year before that. He struggled to an extent last year, but this year Ryu hasn’t looked like the same pitcher. A 13.50 ERA in two starts followed by a trip to the IL can’t be classified as anything but disappointing for the former Cy Young finalist.

Injuries

  • Hyun Jin Ryu continues to work back from forearm inflammation with a rehab start on Saturday for Triple-A Buffalo.
  • Teoscar Hernadez will begin his rehab assignment on Tuesday after landing on the IL with an oblique strain on April 14. Toronto hopes Hernadez is ready for next week’s series opener with the Guardians.
  • Cavan Biggio has cleared COVID protocols and returned to baseball activity. It’s unclear when the infielder will region the lineup.
  • Nate Pearson will be expected to start his 2022 season out of the bullpen before being stretched back out to a starter. The young pitcher contracted mono this spring, delaying the start of his season.
  • Danny Jansen has begun baseball activities again after an oblique strain sidelined him in April.

 

Rays

 

Last year’s AL East champion Rays have been a little off the pace in 2022. Tampa Bay has graded out right around league average both offensively and defensively. They still sit with a 13-10 record that puts them in a good spot to make a run at the postseason once again.

Ji-Man Choi had been the Rays’ best bat before landing on the IL, posting an OPS over 1.000. Wander Franco has continued his development and looks nothing like a 21-year-old, batting .322/.341/.575. The likes of Brandon Lowe and Randy Arozarena have fallen short of expectations so far, both OPSing under .580.

Biggest Surprise: Yandy Díaz has been an above-average hitter for much of his career, but in 2022 he’s looked like a star. He’s been one of Tampa Bay’s best hitters and is posting a career-low strikeout rate. He still struggles to hit the ball in the air, as evident by his 3.3-degree launch angle. But despite his shortcomings, no one on the Rays is going to complain about their third baseman’s 176 wRC+.

Biggest Disappointment: 2021 was a career year for Mike Zunino. The Rays catcher made his first All-Star team and posted a 137 OPS+. While it might’ve been fair to expect some regression, no one expected the Tampa backstop to fall off this steeply. Through 15 games, Zunino’s OPS+ sits at 1. That’s not a typo. Zunino has mustered just five hits and one home run a season after blasting 33 of them. We’ll see if Zunino can get back on track, but for now, he’s been the Rays’ biggest flub.

 

Red Sox

 

If there was an award for biggest disappointment in the division, it would have to be Boston. Competing with the Orioles to stay out of the AL East cellar is not what the Red Sox had in mind coming into 2022.

Boston has featured MLB’s seventh-worst offense, scoring just 3.52 runs per game. The Pirates have scored runs at a higher clip this year. The Red Sox offensive woes haven’t been the fault of stars Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez. The problem has been that no one outside the trio has stepped up. A pitching staff that came into the year as the most glaring concern has been a bright spot for Boston, sitting comfortably in the top half of baseball in runs allowed per game.

Biggest Surprise: There have been a lot of welcome surprises on the Red Sox pitching staff in 2022, but maybe none more so than Michael Wacha. The 30-year-old starter has been nothing short of dominant. In just over 20 innings Wacha boasts a 1.77 ERA and a 0.934 WHIP. His strikeout numbers aren’t anything to write home about but even if some regression hits, it’s safe to say the Red Sox have to be happy with Wacha.

Biggest Disappointment: Boston’s offense as a whole has been the team’s biggest disappointment in 2022, but the one player who has fallen the furthest from their expectations has to be Trevor Story. The Red Sox gave Story $140 million this offseason to be a potent bat in the middle of their lineup. Early returns have not been positive as Story’s OPS sits at .606 and he’s yet to hit a home run. He’s also yet to look completely comfortable at his new home at second base. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of baseball left for Story to turn it around.

Injuries

  • Chris Sale threw off a mound for the first time, signaling progress towards returning from a stress fracture in his ribs. However, the lefty still stands a ways away from making his 2022 debut.
  • Another Sox lefty, James Paxton appears on track in his Tommy John recovery. He’s thrown simulated bullpens and figures to make his debut sometime midseason.
  • The Red Sox bullpen has at times looked like it needed the help of Josh Taylor. The lefty looked close to returning in late April but a COVID scare put him back sometime. Taylor has been making rehab appearances in Triple-A.

 

Orioles

 

It’s tough to say 2022 has been a disappointment for Baltimore, as they figured to finish at or towards the bottom of the division heading into the season and find themselves there after about a month of play.

There have been bright spots for the rebuilding O’s. Their outfield all has OPS+ north of 100 and their pitching staff has a 3.68 ERA. Cedric Mullins hasn’t quite replicated his breakout 2021 with an OPS of .674 so far. Tommy John surgery for John Means also took away one of the lone exciting players to tune into Baltimore games for the remainder of the season.

Biggest Surprise: In 2020, Anthony Santander looked like he’d be a fixture in the Baltimore outfield for years to come. Then, in 2021, Santander fell back to earth, slashing .242/.286/.433. This year, the O’s outfielder looks more like the 2020 version of himself, on-basing at a .400 clip in 23 games played. On a not-so-fun Orioles team, Santander has been worth keeping an eye on.

Biggest Disappointment: Ryan Mountcastle burst onto the scene in 2021, finishing sixth in Rookie of the Year voting. 2022 has been nothing to write home about for the young first baseman. In a year with not much to watch except development, Mountcastle’s struggles have been nothing but disappointing. A .321 slugging percentage and two home runs can’t be what Orioles fans had in mind. Still, with league-wide offense down, his OPS+ is a not-so-bad 77, and there’s plenty of baseball left for his stats to rebound.

Injuries

  • John Means underwent Tommy John surgery on April 27. O’s fans won’t see the left-hander on the diamond until sometime in 2023.
  • Alex Wells landed himself on the IL with a UCL strain in late April. The Baltimore pitcher will be sidelined for eight to 12 weeks according to the team.

 

Artwork by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)

Noah Bortle

Noah Bortle is a freelance writer from Massachusetts. When he isn't arguing the merits of Shelby Miller or discussing the yips, he can be found traveling, hiking, or playing video games. His writing can also be found at College Hockey News.

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