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Around the AL East, Week 11: The Orioles are alone in first, for now

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Everybody’s got problems. The Orioles have overcome their problems so far to stay in first. Let’s hope they stay there.

Jonathan Schoop celebrates his 458 foot home run.
Jonathan Schoop celebrates his 458 foot home run.
Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

It’s officially a three team race for the American League East crown, at least the way that things stand for now. The Blue Jays pulled themselves to within a game of the leading Orioles on Friday night, though the O’s picked up two important wins to knock the Jays a bit farther down.

Still, three teams within three games as the calendar moves into late June is a tense race. Actually, the AL East race was even more bunched up on Father’s Day last year, with four teams being within three games of the lead on June 21.

The team that led, the Rays, finished up the year 13 games off the pace. They were 40-31 on Father’s Day and finished the season below .500. A lot of baseball has been played, and that tells us something about teams, but there is a lot more still to be played.

Orioles fans can only hope that the O’s don’t suffer the same fate as last year’s Rays.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Record: 40-28
  • Last Week: 4-2 (2-1 at Red Sox, 2-1 vs. Blue Jays)
  • Games Ahead: +1 (gained a game on Red Sox)
  • Upcoming: 1 game at Rangers, 2 games vs. Padres, 4 games vs. Rays

The following exchange took place in a chat held by ESPN’s Keith Law on Thursday:

Al: How can the Orioles stay in the race? Is it impossible? Is strong hitting, defense and bullpen work enough? Because they arent going to get quality starting all year….does that hurt the bullpen then?

Klaw: They haven’t been getting quality starting so far, other than Tillman, and are still basically a .500 team since the 7-0 start. If that means they’re heading for 86-76, are they still fringe contenders?

It’s a running joke on the Internet that “Keith Law hates (your favorite team).” Of course he doesn’t hate the Orioles or any other team, but his analysis of the successful Orioles teams of the Showalter/Duquette era has never seemed to give them proper credit, and this kind of comment shows that seems to be continuing.

The questioner isn’t wrong to wonder how the O’s can stay in the race. But as frustrating as the O’s starting pitching can be, they have at least three starters with an ERA+ of 100 or better - that is, league average or better.

Furthermore, it’s not giving the Orioles much credit for the results they’ve put together this season. Even if one wanted to dismiss their 7-0 start - itself unfairly creating an arbitrary beginning point - the Orioles weren’t “basically a .500 team” since that 7-0 start.

They were 37-27 at that time, meaning the Orioles had gone 30-27 - three games above .500 if we take out their first week. They’ve since won two out of three and are now five games above .500 after removing the first week. If they played at that pace all season, they’d win 87-88 games, and we still have to add in the 7-0 they already banked.

That’s a whole lot better than fringe contenders. That’s a definite playoff team.

The rotation remains a big question mark, to be sure. They need to find answers better than Mike Wright and Ubaldo Jimenez. But it’s not an accident or a fluke that they’re in first place right now. They have to keep playing well to stay high up in the standings. No one should discount their chances of doing so. And now that I’ve said all of this, the Orioles are going to lose their next five games. Sorry.

Here are some adorable pictures of Orioles with their dads:

No kidding around here, if you had showed me those Flaherty and Hardy pictures and told me that the grown men were Ryan Flaherty and J.J. Hardy rather than their dads, I would have 100% believed you.

Boston Red Sox

  • Record: 39-29
  • Last Week: 3-3 (1-2 vs. Orioles, 2-1 vs. Mariners)
  • Games Behind: 1 (lost a game)
  • Upcoming: 4 games vs. White Sox, 3 games at Rangers

The Orioles need to take care of business against the Rangers and Padres because while that’s going on the Red Sox will be dismantling the disintegrating White Sox. Perhaps old friend Miguel Gonzalez can do us a solid on Monday night.

The Red Sox spent $72.5 million on outfielder Rusney Castillo in 2014 and they put him on waivers on Saturday. If no one claims Castillo, he’ll be off the 40-man roster but still getting paid while playing for Triple-A Pawtucket. What do you think it’s like to be able to shrug off a $72.5 million mistake?

They don’t even care! They can go out there and ask about Jose Fernandez and Gerrit Cole. They already swung a ridiculous trade for Craig Kimbrel and they’ve still got four of the game’s top 40 prospects remaining in their system.

The Grease Man Cometh: Boston keeps getting starters demoted to the minors, including Roenis Elias and one-time Orioles prospect Eduardo Rodriguez. The result, as Over The Monster’s Ben Buchanan observes, is that Clay Buchholz is greasing his way back into the rotation.

Like Ryan Lavarnway Before Him: The substantial Red Sox prospect hype machine was revved up fully for catcher Christian Vazquez. The problem, OTM’s Matt Collins notes, is that he’s not hitting at all - like a .555 OPS level of not hitting. Can he do better?

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Record: 39-33
  • Last Week: 4-3 (3-1 vs./at Phillies, 1-2 at Orioles)
  • Games Behind: 3 (lost half a game)
  • Upcoming: 2 games vs. Diamondbacks, 3 games at White Sox

A light week for the Blue Jays, who have played four more games than both the Orioles and Red Sox have done, so this week will start to catch them up some. Plus they get to play two cakewalk teams.

Jose Bautista is on the disabled list - though he’s got an .815 OPS this year, he’s only batting .230. Troy Tulowitzki is off the disabled list for now. Just how much this is a good thing remains to be seen. At this moment, he has a .688 OPS. That’s OK for a shortstop, if maybe not for a $20 million shortstop.

Marcus Stroman’s Sunday start notwithstanding, the Jays have the best starting rotation by ERA in the division and it’s not particularly close. R.A. Dickey with a 4.08 ERA makes the #4 starter. If the Orioles had a rotation like that, they’d be up in the stratosphere with the Cubs and their .697 winning percentage.

Where There’s Smoak: After a month in which Justin Smoak has batted .224/.305/.376, Bluebird Banter’s Jake Sinclair is ready to move on from Smoak as the everyday first baseman. One of his alternate answers is Jesus Montero - yes, that Jesus Montero.

Let The Non-Buyer Beware: Bluebird Banter’s Eric Elliott believes the Jays will not be buyers at the trade deadline for lack of any prospects left to trade. Hey, Eric, that’s never stopped the Orioles from being buyers. Whether or not they should have done is another story.

New York Yankees

  • Record: 34-35
  • Last Week: 3-3 (0-2 at Rockies, 3-1 at Twins)
  • Games Behind: 6.5 (lost a game)
  • Upcoming: 2 games vs. Rockies, 3 games vs. Twins

The Yankees have still not been above .500 since April 13 despite just concluding a week in which they played six games against two sub-.500 baseball teams, one of which was the very bad Minnesota Twins. They will get another five games against those same two teams this upcoming week.

Much has been made of the so-called three-headed monster in the Yankees bullpen, but outside of those top three names is a bullpen that includes random guys like Nick Goody, Anthony Swarzak, and Richard Bleier.

Oh, and also, about that three-headed monster: Presently, two of the three heads have an ERA over 3. Dellin Betances is sitting at 3.24 while Aroldis Chapman is at 3.18. Those will probably come down. Probably. For now, that’s not much of a monster.

Stuck In The Middle With You: Yankees fans were happy to get Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro, but as Pinstripe Alley’s Alec Gilfillan writes, that SS/2B combo has lagged behind others in the division both at the plate and defensively.

Life As A Yankee Fan: PSA’s Ben Diamond says that Masahiro Tanaka is criminally underappreciated. What is it like to think something like this? I don’t know. I think people are well aware that Tanaka is pretty good.

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Record: 31-36
  • Last Week: 2-4 (2-1 vs. Mariners, 0-3 vs. Giants)
  • Games Behind: 8.5 (lost two games)
  • Upcoming: 3 games at Indians, 4 games at Indians

Weekly Steve Pearce update: Pearce is now batting .329/.401/.553 on the season.

Other former Orioles are not faring as well with this year’s Rays. Ryan Webb is on the disabled list and has been since late May. Just this past week, Dana Eveland was sent to the great DFA in the sky.

What do you think it’s like to have Logan Forsythe fall into your lap? The Rays got Forsythe and Matt Andriese (their best starter by ERA this year) in a trade with the Padres in which they surrendered Jesse Hahn and Alex Torres. Who? Exactly.

Give credit to Forsythe, though. He had a career .659 OPS through age 26 when he was acquired by the Rays. He had one poor year in a Rays uniform and has since broken out. Last year was good: an .804 OPS. This year, so far, is better, with Forsythe batting .302/.377/.503.

**

The Orioles answered some big questions this week by taking series against both of their closest division rivals. But the thing about the baseball season is that there are always more questions, at least until it ends. The competition won’t be letting off the gas. The Orioles can’t do so either.

However, there is no getting around the fact that, through more than 40% of the baseball season, every other team in the AL East wishes they could be where the Orioles are right now. They have been good because they are good. Let’s hope they keep being a good team.