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AL East Roundup: Yanks Out in Front

Can Boston get back in the race?

The Yankees have been the best record in MLB thus far. However, despite that, they’ve failed to open up a large lead atop the division. With a race for the division taking shape and some teams just starting round into form, the AL East has plenty to talk about. Let’s get into what’s gone on in the division to this point.

AL East Standings – 5/24/2022
Yankees
Not much has gone wrong for New York in 2022. It owns baseball’s best win percentage and the second-best run differential. The Yankees’ starting pitching has been stellar. All five members of the starting rotation sports an ERA below 4.00. Nestor Cortes has kept up his hot start and owns a 1.80 ERA, good enough for a 204 ERA+. Michael King has continued to buoy a bullpen that that’s allowed just 26 percent of inherited runners to score, sixth-best in MLB.
The offense has been no slouches either. Anthony Rizzo has cooled off from his scorching April, but still owns a 147 OPS+. As a team they’ve scored the fifth-most runs in MLB. Joey Gallo’s numbers had slowly started to rebound after an atrocious start, but now finds himself on the Injured List. Aaron Judge has been the star of the show for New York. His .318/.389/.676 could be making himself an indispensable part of the Yankee lineup in a contract year.
Josh Donaldson’s racist ‘Jackie’ remark towards Tim Anderson has soured what has otherwise been a tremendous season for New York. Donaldson will face a one-game suspension and a fine, but its created a dark blemish that fans must now grapple with.
Rays
Its a feat in and of itself that the Rays play in the same division as the MLB-best Yankees, and yet, only find themselves 4.5 games back at this stage in the season. Tampa Bay hasn’t excelled in any facet of the game, instead posting a +12 run differential that’s just a hair above league average. The Rays stand at an 88.9 percent chance to make the playoffs, but if they want to be serious contenders, they’ll need to find a gear that puts them among the upper echelon of MLB.
Injuries have hindered Tampa Bay in 2022. On the offensive side alone, Manuel Margot and his 178 OPS+ is on the 10-day IL, as well as slugger Brandon Lowe being on the 10-day IL. Mike Zunino has been the only true disappointment for the Rays offensively. The catcher has followed up his All-Star 2021 season with a dreadful 2022 that sees him on-basing below .200 and sporting a .318 slugging percentage. An xwOBA of .262 doesn’t make it seem like its been a matter of bad luck either.
The bullpen has once again been a strength for Tampa Bay. The Rays arm barn has unsurprisingly been called upon to pitch the most innings in baseball this season, and they’ve performed admirably, posting a 3.39 ERA and a .216 batting average against. J.P. Feyereisen has been close to unhittable as he’s yet to surrender in earned run in his 17 games and 20 innings.
It remains to be seen if a healthy Tampa Bay can make a run at the Yankees, or if New York is destined to run away with the division.
Blue Jays
Last time we checked in on the AL East it was Toronto, not the Rays, who was nipping at the Yankees’ heels. Now, a mundane stretch has left them in third place in the division with a -14 run differential that might suggest they have farther to fall.
Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah are doing their part to try and drag this team higher in the standings. Gausman owns the most WAR of any pitcher in baseball. His 2.52 ERA is backed by a 1.27 FIP and a 2.31 xFIP. Manoah’s 1.62 ERA is good enough for a ridiculous 235 ERA+. The rest of the rotation has been pedestrian with José Berríos and and Hyun Jin Ryu continuing to struggle.
Concerns about George Springer following an injury-riddled 2021 campaign have dissipated as the 32-year-old center fielder has clubbed eight home runs and owns a 142 OPS+. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has followed his breakout season with another solid year at the plate. His power numbers are slightly down but its tough to find fault in a 123 wRC+.
Red Sox
Boston entered 2022 with high expectations. Its fair to say early on, it fell flat on its face. Just a few weeks ago, the Red Sox were in last place in the division, behind the Orioles. Now, something appears to have clicked for the team from Beantown. They’re 8-2 in the last 10 games and are starting to see breakouts from players that had been dormant.
Prized offseason free-agent signing Trevor Story was nothing short of a disappointment for at least his first month in Boston, but the second basemen has made a quick turnaround is now one of the hottest hitters in baseball. His wRC+ of 114 is now right in line with his 112 career number. Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez have kept afloat what had been an otherwise dismal year for Boston’s offense.
If the Red Sox want to continues its climb up the standings, they’ll have to figure out the bullpen. Saves might not be the most telling stat on a bullpen’s abilities, but in Boston’s case it highlights an alarming problem. As a team, the Red Sox have a 42 percent save percentage. That means late in close games, its more likely that the Boston will give the lead away than shut the door and pick up a win. For a team on the outside looking in and already struggling in other areas, consistently losing those close games is a major problem.
Five-straight wins have brought the Red Sox run differential to a +1 on the year. Its not pretty, but if Boston can keep up these winning ways and prove its true talent lies closer to that of the team that’s played over the last couple of weeks rather than the team that we saw in the first month-plus of the season, it could quickly play itself into contention.
Orioles
It would be easy to look at the Orioles, a team that sits comfortably in last place in the AL East, and point out their myriad of flaws—like their -34 run differential or that they own the fourth-worst offense in baseball. Instead, let’s look at what’s gone right and what’s on the horizon. After all, is it that interesting or disappointing that a team that had no plans of winning baseball games in 2022 has a .419 win percentage. If anything, they’ve exceeded expectations.
First, the debut of top prospect Adley Rutschman is at the least a nice symbol of the bright future getting closer for a team that’s been stuck in a rebuild for years. Its also a legitimately interesting reason to turn on Baltimore games and see how the 24-year-old backstop fares in his rookie campaign.
A bounce back year from Anthony Santander has him looking much more like the 2020 version that had O’s fans excited heading into 2021. He’s walking at a 12.6 percent clip and delivering power with seven home runs already. If he can keep this up, he figures to be a key piece of Baltimore’s future.
Things seemed bleak for the Orioles when John Means announced he’d need Tommy John surgery early this year. And while it is tough that the O’s ace won’t be on the field until sometime in 2023, Baltimore fans were greeted with some good news when it was announced that Means and the Orioles had reached a two-year contract extension.
While this year might not be pretty in Baltimore, it finally seems that the end is near and the picture of what the Orioles are building is coming into focus.
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.

  • Justin says:

    Expectations for the Redsox weren’t high coming into the year. Most places I saw projected them for 4th place in the division. The pitching was always going to be a problem.

  • Will Chen says:

    Oh please. Donaldson wasn’t being racist and the fans don’t have to grapple with a dark blemish. Stop the ultra dramatic virtue signaling.

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