by Christian S. Kohl
With roughly a third of the MLB season already complete, the profile of the American League East looks almost entirely different than one might expect. The biggest surprise at first blush would certainly be the Red Sox sitting dead last in the division. Yet, the East is the only division in the AL who features all teams with a winning record.
The Red Sox still sit above .500 with 26 wins, despite initial clubhouse tensions with manager Bobby Valentine, and a litany of injuries to key players including Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youklis, and Dustin Pedroia. Despite major injuries to pivotal offensive players, Boston sports the second highest batting average of any AL team. In order to make a run, they will require more consistency from their starting rotation, and less volatility from their bullpen.
Also an early season surprise, the Yankees sit just third in the division. Much like their main rivals, New York has suffered devastating injuries to both Pineda and future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, along with other key losses of Robertson and Gardner. Thanks to the red-hot Derek Jeter and his league-leading 71 hits, they sit just 1.5 games out of first place. With lukewarm beginnings for Nova and Hughes, the Yankees will need more than just Sabathia in the starting rotation, along with more consistent efforts from Cano and Teixeira to really make any noise down the stretch.
Despite a run total tenth best in the league, the Tampa Bay Rays surprisingly sit tied for first in the division. Their abundance of defensive shifting and stellar pitching from James Shields and David Price makes them as fearsome as any team in the league. More impressive still, they continue to pile on wins as Evan Longoria continues his extended stretch on the DL. The name of the game with Tampa is consistency. Should they be able to continually take starters deep into games, minimize offensive totals registered against them, and lock down the 9th with continually airtight outings for a resurgent Fernando Rodney, the Rays may be all but unstoppable this year.
Lastly, the biggest surprise so far is the other team tied for 1st at 29-22, the Baltimore Orioles. Buck Showalter has been a godsend to this team in the early going, preaching fundamentals, discipline, and limiting mistakes. Perhaps their greatest and most dominant contributor so far has been closer Jim Johnson. With 16 saves and a staggering 0.84 ERA, Johnson effectively limits Oriole games to 8 inning contests. Pile on 16 homers from Adam Jones and 10 from JJ Hardy, leading all AL shortstops, Baltimore has found themselves off to an electric start. They have lost their last 5, however, and will need rotation stability to continue their winning ways. Their dropoff after Hammel and Chen is significant, and the Orioles front office possibly may need to look to make an addition or two before the trade deadline to truly contend all season long.
With their youth, health, and revised strategies currently baffling opposing offenses, the Rays are the current favorite to represent the American league East in the playoffs. For the Payroll Powerhouses to seriously contend down the stretch, they must get healthy fast and possibly trade some minor league talent for veteran stability. While additions like Raul Ibanez have been pleasant surprises, it will require more aggressive maneuvering than that from these clubs to avoid an end to their reign of supremacy atop the division, and to avoid a changing of the guard. Still, with just 2.5 games separating all teams in the East, anything can happen. This may be the one division in the American League right now where no team is truly dead.
Christian S. Kohl is a writer and filmmaker based in New York City. Find out more about him at DailySpew.com.