Looks like a year-long battle in A.L. East
A team-by-team analysis
BOSTON -- There are three-and-a-half months remaining in the season, almost 100 games still be played. That makes it too late for predictions, and too early to know how things will actually play out.
But this much seems relatively certain: No one is going to run away with the American League East.
Through 63 games, the Orioles lead the Red Sox by a game and the Blue Jays by three. Neither the Yankees nor the Rays, at 6 1/2 games back, can be completely discounted, especially since the Yankees are in the midst of a scheduling quirk that has them playing only the Rokcies and Twins for a stretch of 11 games and the Rays are the division's hottest team of late, with an 8-2 mark in their last 10 games.
The sheer parity of the division is displayed in the intra-division records: no team is more than five games above .500 against its rivals and only the Yankees (at 10-17) are more than five games below. The rest sit somewhere between two games under .500 (the Red Sox at 14-16) and five games over (the Blue Jays at 17-12).
Each team has its strengths, offset by some significant flaws. It's quite likely that the East will be won by the team that either makes the best in-season additions, and/or the one that stays healthiest.
Here's a look at the five teams and where they sit relative to the competition:
Strengths: An explosive lineup that, even allowing for a slight downturn in the last week or so, continues to lead the league in runs scored, total bases, slugging percentage, batting average and OPS . . . A strong 1-2 combination in the starting rotation with David Price and Steven Wright . . . Strong defense around the diamond.
Weaknesses: Starting pitching depth, reflected in the fact that the Sox went 2 1/2 weeks without a fifth starter -- because they lacked a trustworthy candidate . . . Bullpen options beyond the back three of Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel . . . The bench has been depleted by the loss of Brock Holt, as was made evident in the late innings Tuesday night.
Strengths: Like the Red Sox, the Orioles possess a strong, powerful lineup. They have the most home-run power in the division, but can be a little dependent on that as their weapon of choice . . . Chris Tillman has regained his form from a a few years ago and is pitching like a legitimate ace . . . The bullpen, though not as overpowering as the Yankees', has been every bit as effective and dependable.
Weaknesses: Also like the Red Sox, there are legtimate concerns about the rest of the rotation. Kevin Gausman has showed signs of life, but the rest of the starters are a mess . . . Though strong up the middle, there are some defensive holes that could prove costly.
Strengths: The lineup remains a challenge, with three right-handed power hitters -- Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson -- capable of changing a game in a hurry . . . The rotation has been a pleasant surprise, with strong work from Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ. If Marcus Stroman gets it together, the Jays could emerge with the best starting pitching in the division . . . Center fielder Kevin Pillar's defense has been typically excellent.
Weaknesses: The bullpen remains a concern, with an ERA ranked 12th and 10 blown saves already . . . The lineup, which tilts right-handed, lacks balance, though the emergency of Michael Saunders has helped some . . . The Blue Jays cleaned out their farm system last year to land David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, leaving little in the way of inventory to make similar upgrades this season.
Strengths: The bullpen trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman is overpowering and intimidating. You have to get to the Yankees in the first six innings to have a chance against them . . . There's firepower in the lineup, though that's been limited somewhat by injury and age.
Weaknesses: The rotation has been just okay, with inconsistency (Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova) mixed with pleasant surprise (CC Sabathia) . . . The aging roster has been reduced by injuries to veterans such as Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez . . . The Yanks have gotten virtually nothing offensively out of first base and third base.
Strengths: As always, pitching is a strength, though this year, it's been something of a disappointment. Still, there are talented arms -- many of them young -- who could rebound in the final 3 1/2 months . . . Evan Longoria, their best hitter, has come alive in June after scuffling in April and May . . . The roster is versatile, enabling manager Kevin Cash to mix-and-match with his lineup . . . Outfield defense is superb, though tempered for the time being with the injury (hand) to Kevin Kiermaier.
Weaknesses: Though they've shown surprising pop (third in A.L. in homers), the Rays remain a below-average offensive team . . . The loss of closer Brad Boxberger (strained oblique) depletes the bullpen in a big way . . . The Rays' lack of payroll resources makes it difficult for them to make any deadline acquisitions to address roster needs.