Why the AL East isn’t as bad as you think

Sunday in the AL East: the Yankees were shut out by the worst team in the American League; the Red Sox lost in the ninth inning, the tying run reaching on an error and the winning run by an intentional walk; the Blue Jays outhit the Twins 13-9, built a 4-1 lead, lost it, regained it, and lost it for good with the help of an error by their $22 million a year shortstop and a misplay by their minimum wage outfielder; the Orioles gave up nine runs to the offense ranked 25th in MLB; and the Rays won, if only because they played the Orioles.

In other words, it was an ordinary day. One team won and gained on the other four.

If you hate the Red Sox and Yankees, this is your year, because the AL East is the Sun Belt Conference of MLB. It’s fortunate it gets an automatic bid to the postseason, because it wouldn’t otherwise be invited.

The AL East hasn’t had a division champion win fewer than 95 games since the Yankees won 87 in 2000 (and won the World Series in five games over the 94-win, wild-card Mets), but it will this year. The AL East will be lucky if its champion finishes above .500; you can’t spell weakest without e-a-s-t.

The Rays and Yankees are tied for first entering play Monday, a game over .500 — their .510 winning percentages are tied with Texas, which is third in the AL West. (The Rangers were six games under .500 until they played the Red Sox and Yankees in three of their last four series. They went 8-1 against them and surpassed .500 for the first time this season).

By any measure, the Red Sox are one of the worst teams in MLB — 21st in runs scored, 27th in ERA, 27th in run differential, 26th in winning percentage, last in the division — and yet they’re closer to first place than the Cubs, who have a better record by five and a half games. Two games closer. It’s a good thing Cubs fans already know baseball isn’t always impartial.

The AL East is going to spend the summer like the comedian who’s the subject of a roast. Long used to telling the jokes, it’s going to be the punch line.

And yet, as bad as the AL East has been, it’s not as bad as it seems. It’s not even the worst division in baseball, only the second worst, thanks to the NL East.

Don’t believe it? The AL East has a better out-of-division record (47-61), if barely, than the NL East (45-59) and a better run differential (-1) to the NL East’s -85, thanks in large part to the Phillies’ -73. It has three teams with positive run differentials (the NL East has two), it has offenses that are first (Toronto) and fifth (the Yankees) in MLB in runs scored to the NL East’s 19th, 23rd, 25th and 30th, offenses that are third (Yankees), fifth (Jays) and seventh (Orioles) in home runs to the NL East’s 27th, 29th and 30th (and the 27th has Giancarlo Stanton), and it has a pitching staff ranked fourth (Tampa Bay) in ERA (the NL East holds down 20-22).

The AL East may be mediocre, but it has balance. The NL East has one great team (the Nationals), one up-and-coming (the Mets) and three in various states of disrepair or mismanagement.

Which is worse? Depends. Ugliness is in the eyes and ears of the beholder.

This year’s AL East looks a lot like the 1973 NL East, which the Mets won at 82-79, with a .509 percentage one point worse than the AL East leaders today. The Mets were the only team to finish above .500 and won the divison by a game-and-half.

The Cincinnati Reds, who won 99 games and the NL West, were 16-and-a-half games better and 102 percentage points better.

When you stop laughing at the current AL East, remember that the 82-79 Mets beat the 99-63 Reds in the NLCS. And came within one game of winning the Series.

Some things to know about the AL East’s five teams:

  • N.Y. Yankees: The Yankees are fifth in offense, 14th in ERA and plus 10 in run differential. So why are they 26-25? Don’t blame the back of the bullpen. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have combined to pitch 49.2 innings, allowing 15 hits, two earned runs and striking out 79; they’ve held the lead 11 times, saved 16 games and won four. That doesn’t help much when CC Sabathia starts. He has a 5.67 ERA and 10 home runs allowed in 60.1 innings.
  • Tampa Bay: The Rays are first in the AL in ERA, despite losing starters Alex Cobb (2.87 in 2014) and Drew Smyly (3.24) for the year. They’re likely to get Matt Moore back in a month, and they can use him. Their lineup is a good place to hide out, because apart from Evan Longoria, David DeJesus and James Loney, it’s anonymous. Rookie Joey Butler, 29, is batting .342 and slugging .548, despite fanning nearly every third plate appearance, and walking every 38th.
  • Baltimore: Despite the riots, Orioles have played 30 games at home and just 19 on the road, where they’re 6-13. Opening-day starter Chris Tillman threw a four-hitter over 6.2 innings; since then he’s allowed 34 runs over 46.1 innings for a 6.60 ERA. Jimmy Paredes has been the Orioles’ Butler. After getting just 63 big-league at-bats last year, he’s hitting .314 and slugging .513 this year as DH.
  • Toronto: Blue Jays are +25 run differential, which is first in the AL East, second in the AL, and fifth in MLB. Yet, they’re in fourth place, six games under .500. If that doesn’t make John Gibbons the frontrunner for next manager to be fired, what could? Blue Jays are 3-12 in one-run games, which is why they’re playing six games worse than their expected record. Jays have hit 61 home runs (fifth in MLB) and and they’ve thrown 61 home runs (28th), and have one of the indivual leaders, but it’s not Marco Estrada, who led MLB with 29 allowed last year. It’s R.A. Dickey, who’s thrown 12 and has a 5.77 ERA in 64 innings. He’s the guy the Jays traded Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud for.
  • Boston: David Ortiz’s average dropped 46 points last year, 39 more this year to .224. That’s not all the shift. Ortiz is 39, and his slugging percentage has gone from .611 (2012) to .564 (2013) to .517 (2014) to .382 (2015). He’s being outslugged by Brock Holt. And Mike Napoli, who’s 33, is hitting .208 and has just eight home runs — half of those against the Angels, his first team. That’s a lot of offensive dropoff for bad pitching to overcome. 
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    3 Responses to Why the AL East isn’t as bad as you think

    1. Mort says:

      How about them Sox?
      We don’t have to wait till August for the swoon. I smell Division Title for the potentially surging Sox.

    2. Mort says:

      gaining by attrition

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