Seizing Up the A.L. East

 

 

Heading into the All-Star break, the American League East appears to be a three team race but every team has a serious flaw. The winner of the division will have to make moves before the deadline in 3 weeks.

Let’s start with the division leading Baltimore Orioles. Heading into the break, the Orioles are 51-36 and have a 2 game lead ahead of the Red Sox and the Blue Jays. The top three teams in the A.L. East rank number 1, 2, and 3 in the American League in Runs scored. The Orioles are third with 438 Runs. What the Orioles do best is hit Home Runs and they lead the majors with 135. Five players in the Baltimore lineup have double digit Home Runs and two have 9. Buck Showalter is a genius with controlling a bullpen and he has a good one. The Orioles have the 3rd best bullpen in baseball when looking at ERA with a 3.14 ERA and are anchored by one of the most underrated pitchers in all of baseball in Zach Britton. The flaw of the Baltimore Orioles is their starting rotation. Their starting rotation has the 3rd worst ERA in all of baseball (5.21) and have thrown the fewest innings in all of baseball (463). The inability of the starters to pitch deep into games means that the bullpen is being overused and a tired bullpen is not something that Showalter will want to have come September. Besides Tillman, no other pitcher has a sub 4.00 ERA. If the Orioles want to finish the season on top, they will have to add at least 1 starting pitcher.

The Toronto Blue Jays are tied for second in the division with Boston and have played well in their last 30 games going 19-11. The Blue Jays offense struggled for the first 6 weeks of the season but woke up and now have scored the 2nd most runs in the American League (441). The most surprising part about this team has been their starting rotation, which has been the best in the American League (3.66 ERA). They have thrown the most innings in all of baseball (572), and that is without last year’s ace David Price. The only part about this team that I do not like is the bullpen. Roberto Osuna has been very good this season converting 18 of 20 saves but the guys leading up to Osuna are the problem. As a whole, the Toronto Blue Jays have blown 12 saves this season. Drew Storen, Jessie Chavez, Gaven Floyd, and Brett Cecil have all struggled this season. Only Joe Biagini (2.91 ERA) has pitched well this season. The Blue Jays need to go out and get a set-up guy before the deadline.

The Boston Red Sox are tied for 2nd in the division and Dave Dombrowski has already been aggressive to improve this ball club. They acquired Aaron Hill and Michael Martinez to sure up baseball’s best offense in baseball (486 runs). They also acquired Brad Ziegler from the Arizona Diamondbacks to help the bullpen survive the next couple of weeks without their All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. The starting rotation is a real problem for this organization has they only have 3 legitimate starters. Steven Wright may be the most surprising pitcher in all of baseball as he has the lowest ERA in the American League (2.68). Rick Porcello is 11-2 and David Price has had good and bad stretches but is heading into the All-Star break with 8 innings of shutout ball today against the Rays. After that, who knows who will be in the rotation? Eduardo Rodriguez, Sean O’Sullivan, Clay Buchholz, and Henry Owens are possible options but have all struggled this year. The Red Sox have a deep farm system and Dombrowski will have to deal a solid prospect if they want to compete for a division title.

The most interesting team in the American League East is the New York Yankees. They enter the break at .500 with a 44-44 record. Every time the Yankees look to be ready to take off, they have a 4 or 5 game losing streak that eventually takes them 2 weeks to get back to .500. Yankee fans must be frustrated. The Yankees could become sellers this trade deadline and deal Chapman, Miller, and Beltran. But this is the Yankees we are talking about and they never wave the white flag. Besides their bullpen, the Yankees are a weak team. Their rotation (4.81 ERA) and their offense (24th in runs) have been inconsistent all season. Baseball Prospectus ranks the Yankees farm system as the 16th farm system in baseball. In order to compete for the division, they will have to sell the few prospects that they do have to stabilize their rotation and lineup. The Yankees have not had a complete rebuild in 25+ years and I think this would be the ideal time to rebuild and regroup.

The Tampa Bay Rays are in the cellar of the American League East and they can look to their last 30 games as to why they will be sellers at the deadline. Over the past month, the Rays are 8-22 and head into the break with a 6 game losing streak. In the Month of July, the Rays are 1-8 and are averaging 2.5 runs per game. The Rays are always known for their starting pitching but this year it has not dominated like it normally has in the past. I really thought that Chris Archer was turning into one of the game’s best pitchers but he has really struggled this season as he already has 12 losses. The Rays could be able to deal potential trade chips like Alex Colome and Logan Forsythe. The 2017 rebuild of the Tampa Bay Rays should start to begin now.

If I had to predict who would win the division right now, I would go with the Toronto Blue Jays. Good starting pitching and a good offense can hide the lack of bullpen depth that they currently have right now. The Red Sox and Orioles both have major starting pitching problems and unless those problems are fixed, it is difficult to imagine either of them being able to maintain consistency when the games become more important. Expect all 3 of these teams to be active during the trade deadline. It should be a fun race that goes deep into September.

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A Nice Addition

 

Today the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Jason Grilli from the Atlanta Braves for pitching prospect Sean Ratcliffe. Grilli will be provide a veteran arm in a bullpen that has some young arms.

Grilli will be a four month rental for the Blue Jays but he does have a team option if the Blue Jays like what they see from the 39 year-old right-hander. If you look at Grilli’s numbers this season, they are less than stellar but pitching for the Atlanta Braves is not the most exciting thing to do. He will arrive in Toronto with a 5.29 ERA, 1.706 WHIP and an impressive 12.2 K/9. Grilli will get a fresh start in Toronto and will not be expected to be the guy as Toronto has an excellent young closer in Roberto Osuna. Drew Storen and Jessie Chavez have had subpar starts to the 2016 season and Grilli has an opportunity to provide more depth for the Toronto pen.

Sean Ratcliffe was drafted in the 18th round in the 2013 MLB draft and is still only 21 years-old. He has pitched in low A this season for the Toronto organization as a reliever.