AL East shaping up for great raceBy Matt Verderame
The American League doesn’t have any great teams in the division. Nobody will ever remember this race and talk about it as a time when titans of the sport clashed against one another. Instead, they will remember it for a trio of teams with huge offenses going for broke in a year dominated by pitching.
Going into Sunday’s action, the Toronto Blue Jays are 66-51. They have a half-game lead on the Baltimore Orioles who sit 65-51, and a two-game advantage on the Boston Red Sox who check in at 63-52.
Toronto was spinning its proverbial wheels for much of the season before the pitching decided to aid one of the best lineups we have seen this decade. Behind the talented young arm of Marcus Stroman and the veteran hands of both R.A. Dickey and J.A. Happ, Toronto has vaulted itself into the driver’s seat, albeit tenuously.
The Blue Jays are led by the reigning American League Most Valuable Player in Josh Donaldson, who at 31 years old is compiling another tremendous season. Donaldson is hitting a team-high .294 with 28 home runs and 78 RBI. Those latter two figures would also lead just about any club, but Edwin Encarnacion is besting both of them. Encarnacion, who continues to get better into his mid-30s, is hitting .268 but with an absurd 32 home runs and 95 RBI.
Even with Jose Bautista on the disabled list, Toronto continues to click along with Michael Saunders hitting 20 home runs and Kevin Pillar adding 27 doubles and 10 stolen bases.
Yet Toronto is far from the only offensive power in the race. Baltimore has a group of no-name starting pitchers outside of staff ace Chris Tillman, and yet it continues to surge under manager Buck Showalter.
The Orioles are led by third baseman Manny Machado, who has matured from a temperamental young kid to one of the true stars in baseball over the past few campaigns. Machado is batting .207 to go with 26 home runs and 69 RBI and Gold Glove-caliber play. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop has also blossomed nicely with 17 blasts and a .281 average.
Factor in Adam Jones (.276/23 HR/67 RBI), Chris Davis (.222/24 HR/ 62 RBI) and the slugging Mark Trumbo (.260/33 HR/84 RBI) and the Orioles can mash with anybody.
Finally, the Red Sox are looming with their own dynamic attack. While David Ortiz is still crushing the baseball in his swan song season, it’s all about the young guns. Xander Boegaerts is leading the team with a .313 average and an OWAR or 3.9. Mookie Betts has been spectacular, hitting .309 with 23 bombs and 76 RBI. Jackie Bradley Jr. has also piled up 17 home runs and 62 RBI while Ortiz leads the Red Sox with both 26 taters and 90 RBI.
In a division all about offense, it will ironically end up being about pitching. Whoever can throw the best starts over the last month and a half will go to the playoffs. The teams that don’t will either miss out entirely, or face the ugle prospect of the Wild Card Game.