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Around the AL East, Week 15: The Orioles lose, and take back, first place

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The bad news is that July was not a good month for the Orioles. The good news is, as bad as it was, they’re still in first place! ... for now.

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Another week has come and gone and it’s another week where the Orioles fell out of first place only to pull back into the lead by the end of the weekend. This time, though, the lead is as narrow as it gets, only a half a game, which will be a tie if Toronto wins today while the Orioles are off.

Oh yeah, and the top three AL East teams are only separated by one and a half games at this point in time. The trade deadline is now mere hours away. Will any of the AL East competitors make another big move? If they do, will that move work out for them? The Orioles will be hoping their rivals moves fizzle.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Record: 59-45
  • Last Week: 2-5 (1-2 vs. Rockies, 0-1 at Twins, 1-2 at Blue Jays)
  • Games Ahead: +0.5 (lost 2.5 games to Blue Jays)
  • Upcoming: 3 games vs. Rangers, 3 games at White Sox

July was a hellacious month for this team. The calendar is now turned, and not a day too soon. Whether or not they’ll suddenly be any better now that it’s August and they have Wade Miley in the starting rotation, well... that’s still to be seen.

What was wrong in July? How about the incredible slumps of most of the lineup? Chris Davis hit only three home runs in July and saw his OPS plummet by nearly a hundred points. Matt Wieters batted .117 in the month that was. Manny Machado barely cleared the Mendoza line for the month. Mark Trumbo is below it in the 17 games since the All-Star break.

It’s not going to get much easier to start August. They play three games against the first place Rangers at home and then hit the road for a ten game road trip that includes seven games out in the Pacific time zone, the final three of which are against the first place Giants.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Record: 59-46
  • Last Week: 4-2 (2-1 vs. Padres, 2-1 vs. Orioles)
  • Games Behind: 0.5 (gained 2.5 games)
  • Upcoming: 4 games at Astros, 3 games at Royals

Unlike the Orioles, the Jays are not a bad team on the road, so there’s not necessarily any built-in advantage for the Orioles here. The Astros are 7-8 since the break.

The Jays will be keeping a close eye on Troy Tulowitzki in the near future. He suffered what Jays manager John Gibbons called a “chip fracture” in his right thumb when hit by a Chris Tillman pitch on Sunday, but will be attempting to play through the injury. After a tough April, Tulowitzki has come on a lot in June and July. If he’s diminished, the Jays will miss him.

Aaron Sanchez, who the Orioles saw yesterday, is pitching very well, but there is some uncertainty about whether the Jays should keep him in the rotation the whole season. Before this year, Sanchez has never topped 102 innings as a professional. He has now thrown 139.1 innings before the calendar turns to August.

Sanchez is their best starter by ERA, but it’s not like the Jays are hurting for pitching without him. Five pitchers have combined to start 103 of their 105 games.

The Value of a Closer: On Bluebird Banter, Matt W. wonders whether the Jays ought to trade their 21-year-old closer, Roberto Osuna. With what some of these other closer trades are bringing back, I wonder what they could get for him.

How to Melvin a Trade: Also on BB, Kevin Papetti proclaims the Jays a clear winner of the Melvin Upton-Hansel Rodriguez swap. The Jays don’t have to pay Upton much money at all. That’s a big coup for them.

Boston Red Sox

  • Record: 57-46
  • Last Week: 2-4 (0-3 vs. Tigers, 2-2 at Angels)
  • Games Behind: 1.5 (same)
  • Upcoming: 4 games at Mariners, 3 games at Dodgers

Might be easier to gloat about the Red Sox fortunes this week if the O’s hadn’t also stumbled against a mediocre Rockies team. Oh, and if the Jays weren’t in the picture, too.

Boston’s recently-acquired starter, Drew Pomeranz, for whom they gave up Anderson Espinoza, the #21 prospect in baseball, has now made three starts for the Red Sox. Pomeranz has allowed twelve earned runs in 14.1 innings over those three starts. I think O’s fans would be quite happy to see that continue.

The really crazy thing about the Red Sox is that, even having traded Espinoza, they have four of the top 25 prospects in baseball. Not only are they competing this year, they seem to be well set up for the future. It’s crazy! Before you ask why the Orioles don’t have an easy time with this, keep in mind the Red Sox payroll is $50 million above the Orioles this year.

The Ramirez Rollercoaster: On Over the Monster, Matt Collins writes about the up-and-down season that Hanley Ramirez has had. July was an up month - Ramirez had a .964 OPS for the month before yesterday’s games.

The Untouchables: As you might expect for a team with so many top prospects, the Red Sox have a long list of untouchables. Ben Buchanan runs down who is believed to not be on the table, no matter what.

New York Yankees

  • Record: 52-52
  • Last Week: 2-4 (2-1 at Astros, 0-3 at Rays)
  • Games Behind: 7 (gained half a game)
  • Upcoming: 4 games at/vs. Mets, 3 games vs. Indians

The sweep at the hands of the Rays appears to have finally tilted the Yankees into the “sell” column for good. They’ve now unloaded two-thirds of their “No Runs DMC” trio from their bullpen, and for their trouble they received three of the top 100 prospects in baseball. Anything that’s not nailed down could follow by 4pm today.

How did they get here? Chase Headley isn’t really hitting. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury aren’t really hitting. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez definitely aren’t hitting. All five of those players are age 32 or older. That’s one way you end up with a league-worst .391 slugging percentage.

Oh, and 26-year-olds Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks also aren’t hitting. The Yankees really can’t hit, except for Carlos Beltran, who might be getting traded very soon. The Rays are so bad that the Yankees can’t finish in last but I hope they are heading well below .500 - with their few wins coming against the Red Sox and Blue Jays, of course.

They Actually Said Rebuild: Well, OK, I don’t think that the Yankees themselves will admit to rebuilding, but Pinstripe Alley’s Tyler Norton points out that the Andrew Miller trade signals a rebuild.

He’s No Ryan Flaherty: Also on PSA, Alec Gilfallan writes about how Rob Refsnyder has helped the Yankees with his versatility. Yeah, but is Refsnyder also the emergency catcher? Huh, is he?

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Record: 42-61
  • Last Week: 4-1 (1-1 at Dodgers, 3-0 vs. Yankees)
  • Games Behind: 16.5 (gained three games)
  • Upcoming: 4 games vs. Royals, 3 games vs. Twins

The Rays are coming right back into this thing! Three games in a week! Except they’re probably going to trade a lot of people by 4pm today. Many of their starting pitchers are coveted by other teams. Steve Pearce is probably going to get traded.

And if they ran their current winning streak up to 23 games, only then would they be back to a .500 record.

**

Not only are the Orioles only a half game up in the AL East, they’re just 2.5 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers, who are presently the third place team in the wild card chase. The playoffs are by no means assured for this team if they don’t keep playing at a high level.

The illusion that the trade market might reinforce this team will be gone in a few hours time. They are who they are. So far, that’s been a good thing. They’re in first place even after a terrible July! They just won’t stay there if things don’t improve in August.