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AL East narrative update

A lot has changed in the American League East since Opening Day. A lot has remained the same.

Minnesota Twins v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

If you were to poll people about the American League East without a standings board and without access to a smartphone, people would likely be able to identify the changes in the AL East since the beginning of the season.

AL East Standings

2017 Record* Current FG Projections* March FG Projections*
2017 Record* Current FG Projections* March FG Projections*
54-42 90-72 92-70
51-45 83-79 81-81
48-45 82-80 82-80
45-49 80-82 86-76
43-51 76-86 81-81

*Updated stats through July 18

Largely, those perceptions are correct. The Red Sox do appear to have the best team in the division with Chris Sale leading the way as the favorite to win the 2017 Cy Young. Boston’s young outfield has been every big as good as advertised, with Andrew Benintendi ascending as one of the top two rookies in the AL (more on his main competition for AL Rookie of the Year in a moment). First baseman Mitch Moreland has been a nice surprise for Boston, though things at the other corner have not gone exactly as planned.

The Red Sox traded third baseman Travis Shaw for Tyler Thornburg, who has yet to throw a pitch for the Red Sox. While Shaw isn’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball in Milwaukee, but he is tracking as a really nice three-to-four win player at a position that has been nothing but a hole in Boston’s lineup. The Red Sox recently designated Pablo Sandoval for assignment, finally cementing his $97 million contract as one of the worst in Red Sox history. The only saving grace is that Rafael Devers has been an absolute monster in the minors this season, though he has only played a handful of games at Triple-A Pawtucket; it’s not highly likely Devers becomes a regular for an autumnal run, particularly with Todd Frazier being traded to the Yankees.

All in all, Boston looks prepared to take the division and certainly have the offensive firepower to make some noise in the playoffs. Unlike last year, when good pitching dominated good hitting in a blowout ALDS versus Cleveland, Boston will be throwing Chris Sale and ideally a version of David Price that is similar to his most recent outings.

The Rays are still tracking for 82 wins (which likely positions them for a wild card run). Tampa is never really a ‘buyer’ though they do take advantages of opportunities to improve at the fringes. When it’s all said and done, it would be pretty surprising if the Rays were to make noise in the playoffs, but a little regular season luck, and one good wildcard game, you never know.

The Yankees’ Aaron Judge has been the major story. The breakout slugger who never ascended to a Baseball America Top 100 list is considered the first half MVP by most people. Powered by Judge’s 30 home runs, the Yankees were in first place for a good portion of the first half of the season, but overall, are tracking only a couple games above .500, fairly in line with the preseason projections.

New York is in position for a playoff run, though most betting persons would take the Red Sox to win the division fairly handily. With a wide open wild card race, you could argue the Yankees are in a position to buy, though with the season-ending injury of Michael Pineda, even a trade for a middle-of-the-rotation starter would keep them even to where they were only a could weeks ago. Throw into the fold a bullpen that has been effective, though wild (second-worst walk rate in the AL) and the Yankees might have to sell-out some of their youth in order to keep pace in a division they’re not likely to win anyway.

The Blue Jays have been the biggest disappointment, although it’s really just a hangover symptom of a really, REALLY bad April in which they went 8-17. They are three games above .500 since that start, though it remains an uphill battle. Even up as recently as this week Paul Swydan over at FanGraphs made the case that this team can either hold or buy and actually make a playoff run. There is certainly something to this optimism, but the Jays will have to jump a lot of teams to position themselves for a wild card slot. They currently sit behind seven teams including three divisional rivals to even position themselves for the second wildcard slot.

We’ve perhaps been waiting longer than we should be for the fall of an Orioles team that seemed to consistently overachieve their projections and their own talent. There are rumors Baltimore is considering tearing the entire team down and starting over; it probably isn’t the worst idea. Saddled with lousy contracts for one-dimensional players like Chris David and Mark Trumbo, and suffering from a lackluster offensive performance from Manny Machado who is posting his worst offensive year by batting average (.238) OBP (.306) and wRC+ (96). It may behoove Baltimore to hit the reset button.

In many respects, the more things change the more they stay the same, but there’s still plenty of time for a shakeup in the East. The Yankees can make some moves, surge ahead of Boston, and leave the Red Sox in a vulnerable wild card position. The Jays can hold pat or add a piece or two, go on a 10-2 run, and be right back in the thick of it. And the Orioles can sell their entire team and move up the draft board.

***

Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano