The AL East is the most complete division in baseball. They feature four teams that have above 60 wins at this point. The Red Sox, Rays, Yankees, and Blue Jays have all hit the milestone, making the only division with four teams at the mark. The NL West is the only other division with three, while the NL East has zero. At the time of writing, the standings are as follows: 1. Rays 2. Red Sox (4 GB) 3. Yankees (6 GB) 4. Blue Jays (7 GB). Those standings show that it is anyone’s division for the taking. The Wild Card is also up for grabs as we are near the home stretch, with nobody out of it yet, except the Orioles, of course. There are certain things each team can do to win the AL East playoff race, let’s break it down.
Rays: Figure out that pitching staff
The Rays have one of the most complete teams in baseball. Their hitters and bullpen are at an elite level, but the starting pitchers lag behind. The departure of Rich Hill hurts them even more, as he was pitching very well. Ryan Yarbrough and Michael Wacha are the most experienced starters on staff, and they have not been good in 2021. Although a strong bullpen is important in October, you can’t win games if you are always behind in them. The Rays starting pitchers currently rock a –2.5 WAR, 24th in baseball. If the Rays can figure out the pitching staff, or maybe revert back to an opener strategy, than they very well could find themselves back atop the AL East playoff race and in the Fall Classic.
Red Sox: Have Chris Sale return to form, tighten up the rest of staff
With Chris Sale expecting to return Saturday, the Red Sox need to right the ship. They have been on a deep descent recently, losing first place to Tampa and New York looming for second. Sale will look to help improve a pitching staff that has struggled but shown glimpses of hope. Boston’s bullpen has been one of the best in baseball, but similarly to Tampa they need to figure out their starters. Since the all-star break, the Red Sox have allowed 7 or more runs in 8 of the 24 games. If they plan to make a deep run in the playoffs, Chris Sale needs to return to Cy Young status. Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta need to continue pitching well, and a fourth starter emergence would be necessary for a World Series chance.
Yankees: Stop leaving runners on base and get the bullpen back to early-season form
The Yankees have been horrendous with runners in scoring position. They have the fifth most LOB in baseball, and their ability to ground into double plays is concerning. New York has one of the most talented lineups in baseball, but they just cannot pick up timely hits. If fully healthy, the Yankees are dangerous, but they need to put the ball in play to succeed. They are getting hot, but if they want to make a run, it’s the bullpen that needs help.
Earlier this week, the Yankees became the first team in MLB history to have five save opportunities in one game. They were also the first to blow four save opportunities and win the game. Earlier this season, the Yankees bullpen was dominant. However, this middle part of the season has not been nice to them. They have struggled, and 25 of their 51 losses have been primarily from bullpen arms. The Yankees can continue to catch Boston and Tampa if they swing hot bats but can only go far in the playoffs if their bullpen reverts to the dominance of the early season.
Blue Jays: Get the Bullpen Consistent
The Blue Jays have one of the best offenses in baseball, with an elite run differential. However, they are still in fourth place in the division. It has to be the pitching right? Well the Blue Jays actually have a great starting rotation, and the addition of Jose Berrios will improve it even more. The struggle has been the bullpen, who has just not been consistent. Jordan Romano has truly been the only elite guy, and the rest of the pitchers have been below average. The Blue Jays must make up the ground in the division by winning tight games, and their 8-13 record in one-run games shows their struggles in that department. The number one reason for that is the bullpen, and the winners of the AL East playoff race will have a strong pen.
It would be surprising for anyone to catch Tampa Bay, who is still playing well. However, I do think New York will pass Boston and grab a wild card spot. New York is playing well and Boston is slipping. Although the Yankees 3-10 record against their rival will hurt, I believe they will overcome it.
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