Predicting the AL East standings after six games have been played

Brett Gardner running during a game.

Brett Gardner running during a game.

After losing two of their three games in Houston against the Astros, the Yankees rebounded with improved offense and solid pitching to win two out of the three games against the Toronto Blue Jays to finish the road trip.

Yangervis Solarte, who was the last player to make the team, has surprised everyone by being the offensive star so far in his first week in the Major Leagues after eight seasons in the minors with two other organizations. He is playing third base right now as Kelly Johnson is playing first since Mark Teixeira is on the DL with a strained hamstring, and is hitting .471 with five RBIs and three runs scored. Jacoby Ellsbury is also off to a great start to his Yankees career as he has a .333 average, one RBI, three runs scored and three steals.  Brett Gardner has two steals so far and has surprisingly hit the team’s only homer. In Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays, Derek Jeter passed Paul Molitor for eighth place on the all-time hits list.

The Yankees are currently in second place with their 3-3 record heading into their home opener against the Baltimore Orioles. Here is how I think the standings will be in the American League East at the end of the season.

1. Tampa Bay Rays

When you take into consideration their overall team, and that Joe Maddon knows how to get the most out of his roster, their talented pitching, hitting and defense should give them the edge. With David Price, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Jake Adorizzi they have the best starting rotation in the division. Each of their starters had an ERA below 3.33 last season except for Adorizzi, who should be replaced by Jeremy Hellickson when he comes off of the 15-day DL. They have established hitters and ones with potential in Wil Myers, who won the Rookie of the Year last season, Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, James Loney and Ben Zobrist. They have a 36-year-old closer in Grant Balfour who is coming off of a season where he saved 38 games. The Rays also have a reliable setup man in Heath Bell, patience at the plate and one of the best defensive catcher combos in Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina. Joe Maddon’s ability to mix and match and play the right players should help the Rays finish in first.

2. New York Yankees

The Yankees need to make the playoffs this season after missing out on the postseason last year for only the second time since 1995. They should be able to do that based on their offseason acquisitions. Brian McCann will be a major upgrade over Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, who were the starters at catcher last season. Masahiro Tanaka, who allowed two earned runs in seven innings in his first start, will make the rotation much better. He will essentially be replacing the retired Andy Pettitte in the rotation. Their rotation of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda has the potential of being one of the best in baseball, if Kuroda stays consistent the whole season and Sabathia is productive. Jacoby Ellsbury will help the Yankees in their outfield with his ability to steal bases and hit homers at Yankee Stadium, while making the Red Sox less talented. A key for the Yankees to finish in second will be for Shawn Kelley or Dellin Betances to develop into reliable setup men, and Mark Teixeria to return at the end of his 15-day DL stint and be productive and for Brian Roberts to stay healthy and resemble how he played to finish last season with the Baltimore Orioles.

3. Baltimore Orioles

They finished last season in a tie for third place with the Yankees at 85-77. Late in the offseason they added slugger Nelson Cruz to their powerful offense and the 30-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez to their pitching staff. Last season for the Indians, Jimenez won 13 games, had a solid 3.30 ERA, 194 strikeouts and 80 walks. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball during his first three full seasons with the Colorado Rockies earlier in his career. He has the ability to greatly help the rotation for the Orioles, which was their weak spot last season. Chris Tillman is another pitcher that the Orioles will be counting on. Their offense is one of the best in all of baseball. They have five players who hit 20 or more homers last season, in Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters. Nick Markakis has hit more than 20 homers earlier in his career, and Manny Machado, who is on the 15-day DL right now, is a gold glove caliber third baseman who was second in the majors in doubles last season.

4. Boston Red Sox

All of their offseason signings worked last season, and they stayed away from serious injuries, which lead to them winning the World Series. However, they will likely not have as much luck this season. Their rotation is a question mark after Jon Lester and John Lackey. Lester can be counted on, but Lackey, who is in his 12th season, has had ERAs of 3.52 and 6.41 in his last two seasons. Clay Bucholz has a lot of talent, but he is either Cy Young caliber or below average. Last season he had a 1.74 ERA in 16 starts, but in 2012, he had a 4.56 ERA in 29 starts. Mainstays Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz will continue to make their lineup dangerous, but their outfield is definitely a question mark.

5. Toronto Blue Jays

The 1-4 spots in the division could go in different ways, but the Blue Jays are on track for last place, with not much hope for finishing higher. Toronto was counting on Jose Reyes to be the create havoc at the top of the lineup, but the often injured shortstop is on the DL once again after reinjuring his hamstring on Opening Day. Their offense will once again be led by Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but they will likely not receive much offensive production at catcher, second base or left field. Their pitching will be by far their weakness this season. R.A. Dickey had 4.21 ERA in his first season in Toronto, Drew Hutchison has a 4.81 career ERA and missed the 2013 season due to injury, Mark Buerhle is at the end of his career and had a subpar 4.15 ERA last season, Brandon Morrow has a career 4.24 ERA and had a 5.63 ERA in 10 starts last year. Their No. 5 starter, Dustin McGowan, allowed four runs in 2.2 innings in his first start, and in 2008, his last season as a starter, he had a 4.37 ERA. The have the weakest rotation in the division and the bullpen is for the most part unproven.


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