The AL East has been a predictable place for quite some time now. Everyone knew each year that the division would be tough, with the Yankees and Red Sox leading the way, a third team flirting on the fringes of a wild-card slot, and all five teams probably looking pretty good in any other division in baseball. This model got blown up coming into 2013, though, with the Yankees battling injuries and trying to cut payroll, the Red Sox in full-blown rebuilding mode, the Blue Jays coming off a spending/trading spree, the Orioles coming off a surprising 2012 run and the Rays continuing to mature with their insane pitching depth.
In a series of team previews, I individually predicted that each team would finish somewhere between 80 and 90 wins. With everyone having just under 60 games in the books, I thought it would be a good time to check in on how each team was doing, and how it compared to my predictions. All stats and analysis are as of the close of Monday's play.
Boston Red Sox (35-23)
On pace for 98 wins -- punkrawka's prediction: 80-84 wins
The Red Sox have been performing above a lot of people's expectations so far. Admittedly, they spent big in the offseason, though a lot of folks (myself included) thought they were spending big on a mediocre free agent class. So far, the Sox are firing on all cylinders, playing exactly to their Pythagorean record. They're getting solid pitching with enough hitting to match. The Orioles have only met the Sox once this season,
dropping winning two out of a three-game series. The head-to-head matchups between the two teams, stacked in the later part of the schedule, could prove to be massively important to the AL East playoff picture.
Baltimore Orioles (32-25)
On pace for 91 wins -- punkrawka's prediction: 84-88 wins
As a lot of folks called the 2012 Orioles a fluke, predicting bullpen regression, fewer one-run wins, etc., etc., I was willing to believe that the Orioles were a team that was built to get better on its own, taking a core of hitters in their prime and getting just enough pitching to get the job done. Of course, I didn't predict that Chris Davis would go all beast mode, but so far this team seems to be playing up to their potential, even through a fairly tough early schedule, and you won't hear me complaining about it.
New York Yankees (32-25)
On pace for 91 wins -- punkrawka's (insane) prediction: No more than 82 wins
The black magic is in full effect so far. The Yankees' DL exceeds many teams' full 2013 payroll, and yet the scrap-heap pickups of Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay have turned in shining performances, proving that Brian Cashman is some kind of genius (whether it's true or accidental genius, we'll probably never know, because it always seems to work out somehow). I'm starting to think that the Yankees could just take 23 waiver claims, pair them up with Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia, and still be fine.
Tampa Bay Rays (31-25)
On pace for 90 wins -- punkrawka's prediction: 85-89 wins
The Rays and Orioles continue to serve as an interesting pair of case studies. The two teams have both put up some excellent infield defense in 2013, but that's about where the comparison ends. Where the Orioles continue to watch their pitching prospects flounder, the Rays have shown such depth in starters that they could trade James Shields and still be just fine with several prospects knocking down the door in their farm system. And while the Orioles are seeing Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Manny Machado explode at the plate, the Rays seem to be stuck as Evan Longoria and the eight dwarves, with major offensive letdowns from Desmond Jennings and several others (even if James Loney is doing his best impression of a major-league hitter for a few months). All in all, though, the Rays are still hanging right in the thick of things with the big boys.
Toronto Blue Jays (24-33)
On pace for 68 wins -- punkrawka's prediction: 90 wins
I was doing alright until this one came around. You want to see proof that you can't just slap together a playoff contender with a bunch of big trades and free-agent acquisitions? Look no further than the 2013 Blue Jays. Here's a team that finds itself in a 10.5-game deficit early, after adding last year's NL Cy Young winner, as well as a likely MVP candidate (had he not been busted for steroids late in the season). And that's not even mentioning all the ex-Marlins the team tacked on! This team is playing like so much less than the sum of its parts, you have to give a little more credence to all the GMs and managers out there who talk about intangibles and building from within. Wow.
The prevailing wisdom about the AL East was that it would be a dogfight; it could be anyone's game; and it would still be the best division in baseball. With the noteworthy exception of the woefully underperforming Blue Jays, the general prediction about the division has been true. If the rest of the season plays out at the same pace as these first two months, there could easily be two teams in the AL East who miss the playoffs with a better record than a division winner in the Central or the West (balanced schedule, anyone?). The great thing for the Orioles is that they've hung tough through two months with a stellar offensive performance, even in the midst of some shaky starters and a few horrible bullpen performances. If they start firing on all cylinders as their key intra-division matchups come around, look out.