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Around the AL East, Week 4: The Orioles lose their hold on first place

Hey, wasn't it fun when the Orioles were in first place? They've lost their grip for now after a week where the Red Sox got to play two of the worst offenses in MLB.

It was a fun ride for the Orioles to start the season, but their chances of going wire-to-wire in first place have been extinguished. Although a week ago in this space, the O's were the only team above .500 in the division, the Boston Red Sox surged ahead to pass the Orioles by half a game as of this moment.

Seriously, the freaking Red Sox? Weren't these guys supposed to maybe be horrible? If I have to spend all year hearing about how great David Ortiz is doing on his retirement tour (don't look now but he's batting .317/.417/.634 at age 40) I may actually vomit at some point.

Boston Red Sox

Record: 15-10
Last week: 6-1 (3-1 at/vs. Braves, 3-0 vs. Yankees)
Games Ahead: +0.5 games (gained three games)
Upcoming: 3 games at White Sox, 3 games at Yankees

Where did these jokers come from? One answer to that question may lie in the fact that they spent the entirety of the last week playing one of the worst teams/offenses in the NL and one of the worst offenses in the AL. You have to grudgingly give them some credit for beating the teams they should be beating - not something that the O's always do. The Braves have hit five home runs total.

Another three games against the Yankees awaits them this week too, so they may get even more cakewalk games. By the way, the Yankees and Red Sox will be ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball game for the second consecutive week here - once in Fenway last night and once in Yankee Stadium this upcoming Sunday. Good thing we'll all be watching Game of Thrones anyway.

Boston has now scored 134 runs in 25 games - that's over five runs per game. Seven of their nine regular batters have an OPS+ of 100 or better. That'll do it.

An Argument Against Benevolent Baseball Gods: On Over The Monster, Ben Buchanan writes today about how things should only get better for the Red Sox from this point forward. I hope you weren't just eating. Sorry if you were.

They Still Think They're Less Evil: Also on OTM, Bryan Joiner cautions that, while the Yankees may be down at the moment, the Evil Empire may rise again. It's been several years now and Red Sox fans still don't know they're also the Evil Empire.

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 14-10
Last week: 3-4 (1-2 at Rays, 2-2 vs. White Sox)
Games Behind: 0.5 (lost three games)
Upcoming: 3 games vs. Yankees, 3 games vs. Athletics

The offense slumbering at the Trop wasn't so great, but that is the kind of thing that will happen. Going 2-2 against the White Sox is probably not a bad outcome, as they are one of the surprising teams so far this season, and it may turn out that they're actually good.

Although the Orioles have the second-best offense by OPS in the American League - batting .271/.334/.454 so far this year - they don't have the same kind of balanced attack as does Boston, or at least not so far. The Orioles currently only have three regulars at league average output or better. If Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, and Manny Machado don't have a good game, their chances of winning aren't good.

The O's are 13th in the AL in rotation ERA, sitting at an unsightly 4.81. Zach Britton may be hurt. J.J. Hardy is definitely hurt. It's not going to be an easy ride, but they may be up for handling it. Maybe.

Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 12-14
Last week: 2-4 (0-3 vs. White Sox, 2-1 at Rays)
Games Behind: 3.5 (lost a game)
Upcoming: 4 games vs. Rangers, 3 games vs. Dodgers

If we trust that rapscallion Pythagoras, the Blue Jays should actually be 13-13 with their +2 run differential. You know what Pythagoras can do.

By ERA, the Jays have the fifth best starting staff in the AL, but their relief corps ranks 12th. The Blue Jays bullpen collectively has eight losses and they've yet to be given a win. Some of that is how the relievers have been pitching, of course, but some of it is that the offense hasn't been rallying late in games to give the relievers a chance to win games where they might be behind. By contrast, the O's bullpen combines for a 7-2 record.

The balance problem with the O's offense is even more magnified for the Jays. Their really good hitters are all lighting the world on fire. That's Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Michael Saunders. Their bad hitters are really, really bad. Russell Martin (.373 OPS), Ryan Goins (.457 OPS), Justin Smoak (.591 OPS). I won't be shedding any tears for these dudes.

All Of This Has Happened Before...: On Bluebird Banter, Matt W. takes a look at that struggling Toronto bullpen to find the causes of the problems. It's not the first time the Jays have had a bad bullpen recently. Too bad, so sad.

Money Talks: Also on BB, Tom Dakers looks at the latest Jays offers to, and demands made by, Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. If the Jays want to tie up a ton of money in guys who will be 36 and 34 next year, respectively, I'm all for it.

Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 11-13
Last week: 3-3 (2-1 vs. Orioles, 1-2 vs. Blue Jays)
Games Behind: 3.5 (same)
Upcoming: 2 games at Dodgers, 3 games at Angels

The Rays have mostly used a four man rotation so far. Four pitchers have started at least five games, while two pitchers have started one game apiece. This is interesting even if it's a fluke if only because not many teams would think to pull that off for even a month. It's worked out for them. Their starters have a 3.37 ERA, and that's despite Chris Archer's uncharacteristic struggles (5.01 ERA.)

Three Rays relievers are doing fairly well. The rest of the Rays bullpen is not doing well. How long will they be able to keep trucking with that being the case? Rays starting pitchers are averaging about 6 IP/GS - that's good, but it's not good enough to hide four struggling relievers from every late game lead. Then again, with the Rays offense (.672 OPS as a team) they might not get so many leads.

I Know This Story: On DRaysBay, Bradley Neveu makes a simple argument: The Rays are better than their record shows right now. He thinks the Rays should be on pace for 88 wins. I know a guy on this very website who would offer the counter. You are what your record says you are.

New York Yankees

Record: 8-15
Last week: 1-5 (1-2 at Texas, 0-3 at Boston)
Games Behind: 6 (lost two games)
Upcoming: 3 games at Orioles, 3 games vs. Red Sox

The last place New York Yankees - yup, STILL awesome - aren't really getting it done on either side of the ball. MASN's Jim Palmer noted in yesterday's Orioles game that the Yankees were near the bottom on offense and for pitching. That's true. They're 14th in the AL by OPS (.670 as a team) and in ERA (4.79 as a team). That's a full run of ERA worse than the Orioles.

What if the Yankees are actually bad? My inner 13 year old who will never get over the 1996 ALCS is gleeful at the possibility, but my adult self knows better. Like Bryan Joiner on OTM, I know the Yankees will rise again, some way, some how. Maybe they will even do it this season. They can't possibly have four starting pitchers with ERAs over 5 forever, can they?

Because we're all mature adults here, I am certain that you will all enjoy this Vine of Alex Rodriguez drying off his bat between pitches in a wet and miserable Fenway Park last night:

Tuesday's Yankees Starter Has a Problem: On Pinstripe Alley, Jason Cohen looks at Luis Severino's big problem this season. It's simple. Severino isn't walking many people, but he has bad command within the strike zone, providing plenty of opportunities for hitters to punish his mistakes.

It Is High, It Is Far ... It Is Caught: Also on PSA, Jake Devin dove into batted ball data to see which of the Yankees struggling hitters might be due to turn things around. He's most optimistic about Aaron Hicks based on an unfortunate average on hard hit balls.


So there's your AL East for this week. The Orioles are just a bit behind, but that could change again with one good week. And by the way, if the Orioles stay on their current pace (a .583 winning percentage) they'll win 94 games this season. That's a big if - but I'd much rather the O's be where they are right now than where the Yankees are.