MLB: AL East Quarterly Report

Yankees Have Been Unbeatable

With every team in the American League East having played at least 41 games of their respective 2022 regular seasons out of the customary 162, now is a great time to assess how MLB’s most competitive division from last season is currently looking. The New York Yankees are acing our AL East Quarterly Report Card because they’re 29-12 with a five-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays, while the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox have been disappointments. Even the lowly Baltimore Orioles are hanging around.

Let’s run through all five teams with a look at the MLB team stats that explain how each of them have started the season:

New York Yankees: 29-12 (-250 to win the division)

Before the season, betting markets equally favored the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays to win the AL East. Since then, they’ve gone in very different directions, as the Yankees have raced out to a big division lead. Thanks to ridiculous starts from Aaron Judge (MLB-leading 15 home runs), Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton (21 combined home runs) as well as one of baseball’s most productive top-to-bottom pitching staffs, the Yankees have been dominant against good and bad teams.

So, it makes sense that New York’s division odds have gone from +225 in early April to -250 now and seem like a shoo-in to eclipse their win over/under — set at 91½ prior to the season. Their pennant odds have been cut in half from +550 to +275 as well.

There is some cause for concern because New York’s bullpen has been shaky in recent games — and just lost Chad Green to Tommy John surgery — and that so much of the Yankees’ offensive production comes from the three players mentioned above. But, they still look pretty good in the AL East Quarterly Report due to the consistency of their starting rotation, which bodes well going forward after being a preseason question mark. This team is legit, possessing the best run differential in the AL for a reason.

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Tampa Bay Rays: 24-17 (+600 to win the division)

The defending division champ Tampa Bay Rays have had a very Rays-like first quarter of the season. Without  much flash surrounding them — and they’re missing a ton of pitching talent currently on the IL — they’ve  still managed to hang around the Yankees and firmly position themselves as a contender. Their division odds have climbed from +250 to +600 with the Yankees’ quick start, while their pennant odds have grown to +1000 (up from a low of +700).

Still, Tampa Bay is a lurking monster and is a great value pick in both the AL East and the American League at large. As usual, the Rays haven’t had any one particular standout player who has carried them to a 24-17 record. Even Wander Franco’s statline so far is nothing remarkable. The big drivers of Tampa Bay’s success have been the bullpen and the top starters, Shane McClanahan and Drew Rasmussen. The Rays just get great pitching, clutch hitting and stellar defense and are not an especially showy team.

They’re in a good position to hit their season win total over (88½ at the start) even though their run differential suggests the Rays might not be as good as their record, however, Tampa Bay’s style of play isn’t conducive to blowout wins and a few lopsided defeats — even though the ones in which Brett Phillips ends up pitching skew that statistic a bit. They’ve been a profitable betting team too, as they’ve paid out $228 so far this season based on $100 moneyline bets on all their games.

Toronto Blue Jays: 22-19 (+300 to win the division)

While the Toronto Blue Jays haven’t been the biggest AL East disappointment as of this AL East Quarterly Report, they’re pretty close. Certainly, no other team in the division saw the same kind of support from the betting markets as did the Blue Jays.

The Jays are just three games above .500 in large part due to underwhelming offensive production from Bo Bichette, Matt Chapman, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and even Cavan Biggio who was sent down to AAA. Teoscar Hernández has struggled and is just coming back from injury and while Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been good, he hasn’t performed at the MVP level he did last season.

Overall, the pitching has been solid despite a few big bullpen hiccups. Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah have been particular bright spots at the top of the rotation. Still, though, Toronto’s division odds have climbed to +300 because they’re already in a sizable hole with the Yankees so far in front. It’s still early, and the Blue Jays should be able to hit their win total of 92½ victories, but they need to figure things out quickly, particularly within their own division.

Toronto was arguably the second-best team in the division in 2021, but only the Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles missed the postseason. So, the urgency is on for Toronto, currently sitting at +450 to win the AL pennant. The lineup regulars, other than Vlad, George Springer and Santiago Espinal, have to pick it up. Hernández bouncing back is especially vital because he drove in 116 runs a year ago and has just seven RBIs so far. He’s a key middle-of-the-order bat.

Boston Red Sox: 19-22 (+3300 to win the division)

The Boston Red Sox are definitely the most underwhelming AL East team — certainly to preseason bettors who backed the Red Sox with roughly the same support given to the Blue Jays.

They did just sweep a four-game home series from the Seattle Mariners which featured a few thrilling late-game wins and the resurgence of big free-agent pickup Trevor Story, who was dreadful to begin his Red Sox tenure. Even with the recent wins, Boston has still been awful this year and, like the Yankees, has overly relied on its three top hitters – Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez.

Boston needs other guys like Alex Verdugo and Story to pick up the slack. The starting pitching is also a concern as Chris Sale is still out and presumed ace Nathan Eovaldi has allowed a ridiculous 14 home runs in 41⅔ innings. The bullpen has been fine for the most part, but the rotation issues don’t have any easy fixes. That’s a big reason why if you were to make nothing but weighted $100 moneyline bets on the Red Sox this season, you would be down $452. It’s tough to stay competitive when you routinely get subpar starting pitching.

Alex Cora’s team’s over/under was 85½ wins which is still definitely in play thanks to Boston’s successful weekend. But, the Red Sox are clearly the fourth-best team in this division, so a climb over .500 won’t be easy. Vegas doesn’t like them very much either as Boston is +3300 to win the division (up from a low of +500 preseason). Another thing to remember with the Red Sox is that they’re 19-22 even with Bogaerts, Devers and Martinez tearing the cover off the ball. It would be naïve to expect that to keep up all season.

Baltimore Orioles: 17-25 (+100000 to win the division)

Forget about the Baltimore Orioles winning the division or the AL (+50000). On the bright side, though, Baltimore is looking like a much-improved team and the Orioles have won three of four against the Yankees and Rays. They also called up top prospect Adley Rutschman over the weekend which added some much-needed life to the clubhouse. Still, it’s going to be a long season for Baltimore because the Orioles only have a few above-average offensive players and have a very thin starting rotation with No. 1 starter John Means out for the season.

The Orioles probably won’t be the worst team in baseball based on their play through 42 games. Bettors came in support of the Orioles’ low regular-season win total, pushing the total up a game to 62½ wins — a number which they’re on pace to beat. They actually opened at +175 odds to end the season with the fewest wins in MLB, but now teams like the Cincinnati Reds or Washington Nationals look much more likely to finish the season in the basement.

A big reason for the Orioles’ surprising level of success so far has been their bullpen. Jorge Lopez has become a lights-out closer while guys like Dillon Tate and Keegan Akin have established themselves as reliable relievers. With just a little more offense and maybe some more reliable starting pitching, the Orioles should be able to win 65 games or more. However, the really strong AL East competition won’t make that such an easy feat.

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