March 5, 2024

by Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

The Middle East is a big deal – it always has been and always will be.

The Yankees and Red Sox are always in the news, and if Rays, Jays, and O are any good, it turns the duel into a brawl.

This year, the Yankees are the juggernaut, Toronto, Boston and Tampa Bay are leading in the middle, and Baltimore—though not as awful as in the recent past—is still a doormat.

So, with the MLB season winding down halfway (time passes when you’re grumbling about the ball), let’s take stock of baseball’s deepest and most competitive divisions.

New York Yankees (58-22)

There is not much to see here; Just a fast paced team for one of the best seasons ever.

The Yanks entered play on Tuesday with a 58-22 record from 80 games. Assuming they win on Tuesday and then double that record, the 2022 Yankees will finish 118 to 44, surpassing the 116 wins the 2001 Mariners and the 1906 Twins had for the best record in MLB history.

Will they do that? Mostly not. Alas, it is always wise to gamble against history, as balance rears its ugly head at one point or another. Most likely, one or two critical players will be injured and time lost, someone will fall back, and the summer rush will burden the unstoppable freight train. After all, Aaron Judge can only do so much.

But with disaster enduring, these Yankees will forever be known as one of the most dominant regular season ball clubs of the century.

MLB Power Rankings: Astros, Dodgers and Yankees top this week’s list

MLB Power Rankings: Astros, Dodgers and Yankees top this week's list

Ben Verlander gives us the MLB Power Rankings after Week 13 of the season.

The judge was great (you sure know). He deserves an AL MVP halfway, with 29 bombs and 981 OPS to his name. But the rest of the line-up shined too: Anthony Rizzo has 22 headers and 141 OPS+, Gleyber Torres bounced from nearly ’21 with 13 bombs, and Jose Trevino, an emergency takeover a week before the opening, was a revelation and the second-best hitter in the MLS.

And don’t forget Giancarlo Stanton, though it seems like many have. It’s hard for a 6-foot-7 giant, statue-like to fly under the radar, but the judge and 29 people overshadowed it. The 32-year-old, who is often booed by loyalists for his mountain of hits, hasn’t exactly filled that big gap in his game this season, but he’s captured 20 of his buddies anyway. No one on planet Earth or beyond can hit a baseball harder than Stanton, and no amount of hitting can change that.

But while bats thrive, guns have been the real divider of New York so far. Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Jameson Taillon, Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery have made at least 14 starts, all with ERAs below 3.35. Cole and Curtis are probably All-Stars. And despite a string of injuries to stars like Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Loaisiga and Chad Green, the game has held steady thanks to a fantastic season from Clay Holmes’ new closer (only two had runs in 37 innings).

The rest of this division is talented, hungry, and whatever other cliché you can look for, but the Yankees should move on to the division’s crown. However, the hordes of raucous fans who crowd Yankee Stadium every night don’t care about AL East titles. This team will be defined and should be defined by what it accomplishes by simply changing the color of the cards. For now, enjoy the show.

Boston Red Sox (45-35, return 13 games)

On May 8, when the Red Sox were 10-19 and the Celtics were tearing up the Eastern Conference semifinals, no one in Massachusetts was too concerned about the Sox, although things certainly weren’t quite right. Since then, Boston has climbed 35-16 to move up the AL East standings and back into the competition for a spot. The Sox’s 20-6 record in June was the third-best in baseball, behind only the Braves and Yankees.

Why the boom? It was a combination of a massive starting pitch and Raphael Devers being an elite. FanGraphs actually leads the Boston businessman 3rd ahead of Judge in WAR, albeit by a narrow 0.1 margin. Still somehow only 25, Devers took another step forward on the board by eliminating 4% of his batting average to go from the 49th percentile to the 73rd percentile in baseball in this metric.

Perhaps most importantly, his defense wasn’t all that bad anymore. It’s still not amazing, and it won’t win any prizes for it, but now it’s just bad, rather than unplayable. That’s a huge difference in a season of 162 games. If Judge slows down and Devers continues, there might be a conversation about AL MVP after all.

The Boston Red Sox’s comeback tour continues with a winning streak

The Boston Red Sox's comeback tour continues with a winning streak

Ben Verlander talks about the Boston Red Sox’s rise after seven consecutive wins led by offensive attack and solid production from the show’s team.

On the bump, the Boston starters hit 2.91 pm in June — the lowest in a baseball game — and that’s without anything from rehabilitating world lord Chris Seal. It’s been a lot of good Nick Bivita (which I call from now on The Canadian Conundrum), a bunch of solid Rich Hill and Michael Wacha getting started, and of course three great outings from someone named Josh Winckowski (2.12 at 17 IP). The three-headed monster of October 2018 hero Ryan Brazier, languidly beard Tanner Hook, and inexplicably good John Schreiber jotted things down in later roles.

Declarative statements tend to age badly, but we all do; This Red Sox isn’t good enough to catch the Yankees. They’re going to have some great, fun encounters before October, but Boston can’t make up for that 13-game deficit in the next 81 games. Fenway’s wild card history remains the most likely outcome, which, given the unpredictability of baseball’s fall, could mean Fenway’s ALCS history as well.

Toronto Blue Jays (44-37, 14.5 games back)

Last season, the Jays toured North America, playing games in Florida and Buffalo before returning to Canada once border restrictions were relaxed. They fought heroically inside the New York game in a wild card hunt but failed. As such, expectations have been high as this season approaches.

So far, things haven’t been disastrous for Toronto, and there have been moments of inspiration, but all in all, she has been…asleep. Good story but not great.

Bo Bechet? Good, not great. Tuscar Hernandez? Good, not great. Matt Chapman? Well, not good. Vlad son? Great, but not an alien lifeform that hunts MVP. George Springer? Well, or as expected. Alejandro Kirk? Best hit season we’ve seen by a hunter in decades. huh?

Jose Perios and Yossi Kikuchi disappointed. The 28-year-old Piraeus, who got the last trading deadline for a huge probability package and then extended Toronto until 2029, was especially terrible. His stuff hasn’t changed in any meaningful way, the speed hasn’t dropped, but he doesn’t hit people. amazing.

Alec Manouh, on the other hand, is the real deal. The 6-foot-6, SUV-sized Right has already thrown 100 1/3 runs, allowing only 26 runs (2.33 ERA). It doesn’t miss as many off the bat as you’d expect, but the naysayers are the ones willing to get it.

Honestly, I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with this team at the moment. Robbie Ray and Marcus Simin’s loss at free agency was probably more than we all gave him credit for at the time, even if Kevin Gossman and Santiago Espinal were worthy replacements. This club needs another cup of coffee, a midday espresso to wake itself up.

On paper, Jays has the talent to compete with the Yankees. Baseball is played very badly on the diamond.

Tampa Bay Rays (43-37, 15 game comeback)

The menu has been extended deeper than the other end of the local pool to its limits already this campaign. Tampa Bay has nine bulls currently on the 60-day injured list, including major bull cuts like Andrew Kittridge, JB Verizin (he’s from 0.00 ERA), Pete Fairbanks, JT Chargwa and Nick Anderson. Tyler Glasnow is still recovering from Tommy John, while young and talented Luis Patiño, acquired in a Blake Snell deal, has been in IL since April due to a slash strain.

That opened the door to an unknown cadre of Tampa Bay relaxers more than we usually see. Jason Adam, Ryan Thompson, Jalen Beeks, and Brooks Raley have all been effective (both on the hill and in embarrassing themselves by refusing to wear the Pride Month patch).

The real story here, though, is Shane McClanahan, AL Cy Young’s early adopter. Sugar Shane has been untouchable thus far, hitting 1.74 ERA in 98 1/3 innings with a whopping 133 hits. It’s not rocket science, but it’s kind of; McClanahan threw the 100 from the left side, and now that he knows where he’s heading, the hitters simply arrive.

Injuries hampered the squad as well. Only four Rays – Randy Arrosarina, Yandy Diaz, Taylor Walls, and Harold Ramirez – have made more than 60 appearances. The Yankees have nine such players. Wonder Franco has been more solid than brilliant on his sophomore campaign, defender Josh Lowe hasn’t hit a game in his debut season, and Brett Phillips, despite being a beautiful human and joyful force, is currently hitting .148/.218/.252.

The players who keep the attack afloat and this team in the mix are *checking notes* Ji-Man Choi, Harold Ramirez and Isaac Paredes? I think rays are still rays. If they can survive these injuries, they will remain in the mix. If they could actually recover, they would make some noise.

Baltimore Orioles (37-44, 21.5 games back)

This team doesn’t suck. I’m serious. Whatever picture you have of the humble Baltimore Orioles bobbing and fumbling their way to bumper losses, I promise you, this team is pretty bad on a regular basis. They even have some good players. Watch them – you will see.

Last year, the Rays won 18-1 against the Orioles, which played a huge role in Tampa’s escape from the division. But birds are no longer easy. So far this season, they’ve scored a respectable 15-20 against their fellow AL East, including an 11-10 record against the non-Yankees.

The main reason for Baltimore’s efficiency was promotion. Do you know who Tyler Wells is? Did you know that at 75 2/3 rounds, he has a better ERA+ than Gerrit Cole? Go and find Pulp numbers in Baltimore; It’s upsetting stuff, especially after the last few seasons, when it felt like palliatives O was donating chores to charity.

Offensively, there is efficiency, too. Austin Hayes, Ryan Mountcastle and Trey Mancini have all been definitively good at batting. Cedric Mullins backed off from his 2021 campaign, but he still has the most wartime in the team. Adley Rutschman picked it up after a rough initial few weeks. This isn’t a good lineup or anything, but the Orioles scored more runs than Reese.

“Who can take care of the Orioles?” It will play a huge role in determining whether Boston, Toronto or Tampa Bay can get the best wild card in MLS.

Just another wild year in the East.

Jake Mintz is the top half of Tweet embed and baseball writer for FOX Sports. He is a fan of Orioles and lives in New York City, and as such leads a secluded life in most October residents. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter Tweet embed.

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