Two months of baseball have passed, and each team in the division is about to reach 2200 plate appearances. We're officially leaving Small Sample Size territory and starting to find verifiable statistical ground. Let's dive in.
This is the trouble with divisions only allowing one team free entry to the playoffs. All four teams challenging for the AL East title would lead the AL Central by a significant margin, contending with Texas and Oakland and maybe Detroit.
While only 3.0 games back in the division, the Rays are about even when considering playoff odds, with Baltimore the only slight. The Rays, Red Sox, and Orioles are all riding 7-3 win streaks over the last ten games, while New York has been faltering at 3-7.
Just like the last five years, it's going to be close. If there's any particular outlier in the top four, it's the Yankees. ESPN projects their playoff odds significantly under Tampa Bay, but Baseball Prospectus actually boasts significant confidence. The Yankees have been edging out games and finding wins behind surprisingly dominant pitching performances, while their offense may be underachieving.
While the Rays are normally a team to boast pitching and defense, they have become far more balanced this year. In fact,it's almost as if the top payrolls and the division pursued the opposite effect, striving for great pitching, decent defense, and seeing what sticks at the plate. The top three teams in the AL East for FIP are the TIgers, Yankees and Red Sox. Meanwhile, the Rays are ninth in the division but in the tip five for runs scored, boasting a better run differential than all but Boston.
Moving forward, I expect the Rays to continue trending upward. Baltimore is riding dominant hitting and a mediocre pitching staff, and their success does not seem sustainable if the staff cannot improve from the bottom third of the leaderboards. The Red Sox hitting is bound to slow down, while the Yankees offense is bound to heat up. It looks to be a three team race to the top, and the first to have the wheels fall off may not be able to recover.
Last year the Rays didn't fall out of contention until Game 160 of 162. As of May, with a glut of pitching prospects to sustain the rotation, an improving bullpen with lots of opportunity, and somebody named Wil Myers thumping home runs in Durham, I see no reason why the Rays won't contend all year.
Here are some stats from the Division.
Any stats in bold denote a top-5 rank in baseball.
Traditional Team Stats