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Around the AL East, Week 14: A rollercoaster week ends with the Orioles in first

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The Orioles slipped against the Yankees, but then the Red Sox slipped against the Twins to bring the O’s back up to first place.

The week and a half since the end of the All-Star break has been a wild stretch of time for the Orioles. They seemingly reached the lowest of lows in losing the first three games in New York, yet now they’ve gone on to sweep three games from the first place Indians.

Thanks to the Red Sox having a stumble of their own, only splitting a home series with the Twins, the O’s have only lost a half game on their rivals. Their 1.5 game lead is shorter than they had at the beginning of July, but right now the Orioles have the best record in the American League and they’re doing just fine.

The 57-40 record is impressive any way you look at it. Last year’s team didn’t hit 57 wins until they were 57-54. Even the 2014 division winners reached 57 wins at 57-45 - though they were up at that time on their two closest competitors by three games apiece. Seems like tougher competition in the AL East this season, or at least so far.

Will the trade deadline change the picture in any meaningful way? The non-waiver deadline is now a week away. The Orioles might trade for Melvin Upton, unless the Blue Jays do instead. The Red Sox will probably trade some prospects for a starting pitcher, hopefully one who sucks. The last week and a half has been a wild ride. The rest of the season doesn’t look any different.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Record: 57-40
  • Since Last Time: 6-4 (2-1 at Rays, 1-3 at Yankees, 3-0 vs. Indians)
  • Games Ahead: +1.5 (lost half a game on Red Sox)
  • Upcoming: 3 games vs. Rockies, 1 game at Twins, 3 games at Blue Jays

Darren O’Day is back. That means the Brad Brach/O’Day/Zach Britton trio can be re-activated in whatever order manager Buck Showalter prefers to use it. If those guys are going to do what they seem to be capable of doing, all Orioles starting pitchers have to do is get through six innings with a lead.

Easier said than done, of course. The last couple of games notwithstanding, the Orioles starting rotation remains a big question mark. Chris Tillman is a very dark horse for Cy Young consideration. Every other spot in the rotation, who knows? If they can figure this thing out... no, I won’t go down that road. Only madness awaits there.

The Orioles road woes remain something of a concern. Is the offense going to slump and cause some kind of panic during every lengthy road trip? Looming about a week and a half from now is another ten game road trip, one that will take the O’s out west for seven games. Their 21-26 road record is a definite problem. It seems like something that must get better. Maybe they’re just bad on the road, though.

Boston Red Sox

  • Record: 55-41
  • Since Last Time: 6-3 (2-1 at Yankees, 2-0 vs. Giants, 2-2 vs. Twins)
  • Games Behind: 1.5 (gained half a game)
  • Upcoming: 3 games vs. Tigers, 4 games at Angels

On balance, the Red Sox rotation really hasn’t been a whole lot better than the Orioles’ this year. What they do have is a great starter in Steven Wright, a good one in Rick Porcello, and a disappointing at $30 million but still OK David Price. They also traded one of baseball’s best prospects to get Drew Pomeranz without even blinking. The unit could be due to improve.

Here is a contrast for you. Orioles backup catcher Caleb Joseph has struggled mightily this year and is still seeking his first RBI. Red Sox backup catcher, or maybe now starting catcher, Sandy Leon, now has a 1.097 OPS in 82 plate appearances this year. Leon has driven in 15 runs. It’s BABIP-fueled, of course - a .482, which is ridiculous. But until his luck turns, that good luck helps the Red Sox.

Two of the players who figured to be key in the Sox bullpen before the season are now on the disabled list. Koji Uehara joined Craig Kimbrel there in the past week. Maybe it doesn’t even matter. They already traded for Brad Ziegler, who seems to now be their closer. Could he be enough?

No Pun Benintended: The Red Sox stunk in the 2014 season, which allowed them to draft Andrew Benintendi high in the 2015 draft. On Over the Monster, Ben Buchanan writes about Benintendi’s shifting to left field and how this is possibly a signal they’re looking to call him up this year.

The Multi-Inning Reliever Squad: Also on OTM, Matt Collins writes about the importance of the Red Sox having a “plethora” of multi-inning relievers, although I don’t know if two or three guys counts as a plethora.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Record: 55-44
  • Since Last Time: 4-4 (1-2 at Athletics, 2-0 at Diamondbacks, 1-2 vs. Mariners)
  • Games Behind: 3 (lost a game)
  • Upcoming: 3 games vs. Padres, 3 games vs. Orioles

The Jays are the only one of the AL East competitors with an off day this week, which either matters or doesn’t matter. Though they’re in third place, Toronto will have an opportunity to get back since they face the O’s this weekend.

One problem all season long for the Jays has been their bullpen. They jettisoned one of their struggling relievers just yesterday. Drew Storen is headed to the great DFA in the sky. Another struggling reliever, Brett Cecil, still remains, perhaps because he’s left handed.

You can make up for a bad bullpen when there’s a good chance you have the best starting rotation in the American League. Heading into Sunday’s games, the Jays starters had thrown 30 innings more than the next-closest team and had the second-lowest ERA.

If managed properly, those bad relievers really shouldn’t have influenced so many games. And yet, Cecil has six losses and Storen has three. Handling this stuff does not seem to be a strength for Jays manager John Gibbons.

Les Babipes Unsustainables: In 2015, Marco Estrada posted a .216 BABIP. That’s crazy. It’s even lower in 2016, at .203. That’s crazier. On Bluebird Banter, Matt W looks at how Estrada is doing it.

The Starter Market: Given what I said above, why would the Jays be in the market for a starting pitcher? Maybe they think they can improve on Marcus Stroman (4.90 ERA). On BBB, Tom Dakers covers a rumor about two pitchers the Jays are scouting: CC Sabathia and Andrew Cashner.

New York Yankees

  • Record: 50-48
  • Since Last Time: 6-4 (1-2 vs. Red Sox, 3-1 vs. Orioles, 2-1 vs. Giants)
  • Games Behind: 7.5 (no change)
  • Upcoming: 3 games at Astros, 3 games at Rays

At two games above .500, the Yankees have matched their best record of the season. Before this past week, the last time the Yankees were two games over .500 was when they were 4-2 on April 12.

The 7.5 game deficit in the AL East looks like a lot to overcome. They also find themselves 4.5 games out of the second wild card spot, with four teams to pass in order to claim the spot for themselves.

That could well be why the Yankees are trading closer Aroldis Chapman - or rumored to be trading him soon, if Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner consents to a sell-off. They’re only believed to be getting back 19-year-old shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres, ranked the #24 prospect in baseball by MLB.com. Stop making the Yankees better, Cubs, you idiots.

Will they sell off others? I admit I would revel in the Yankees openly conceding at the trade deadline. Carlos Beltran sure seems like a must-trade guy on a failing team. The Yankees might unload one of their starting pitchers on someone as well. Burn it all down and give me two more months to revel in their being terrible.

Slow Bat, Take It Easy: On Pinstripe Alley, Jason Hecht covers a big problem for Mark Teixeira this season: His bat has slowed down. That sounds like how you end up with a first baseman with a .594 OPS.

Second Base Is First Loser: Also on PSA, Andrew Mearns discusses a problem position for the Yankees: second base. Or at least, it’s been a problem ever since they let Robinson Cano sign elsewhere.

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Record: 38-60
  • Since Last Time: 4-6 (1-2 vs. Orioles, 2-1 at Rockies, 1-3 at Athletics)
  • Games Behind: 19.5 (lost two games)
  • Upcoming: 2 games at Dodgers, 3 games vs. Yankees

I don’t miss the days when we could say to ourselves, “Well, the Orioles just need to go on a 22 game winning streak to get back to .500.” These guys are toast, done, finito, cooked. Their only impact on the pennant race will be in who they beat or lose to and who they trade to where.

**

The Orioles are now 10-9 in July. Their worst month up until now was a 14-13 May. Is this another May coming along, or are they going to be hot over the last week to make it more like April or June?

Even bigger will be if they trade for anyone who actually makes a difference - and what they have to give up to get that person, whether or not they make a difference. The Orioles farm system is bad and trading from what little they have in that bare cupboard will be poor for their chances of future success.

For now, no worrying about that. There’s no bad sports day that ends with the Orioles in first place.