Who’s Going to Win the A.L. East?

Well, after the Jays have left Camden Yards with a two games to one series win they are left with 29 games remaining on the season schedule. So, are the Jays going to win the division? Their record is 76-57, identical to what their record was after 133 games last year. Over the course of August they had a record of 17-11, an era of 3.63 and outscored their opponents 135-110.

Despite this there are some questions in about their pitching staff that will be answered in the next month. How many innings can Sanchez pitch, and will any evidence of fatigue emerge? Can Osuna, who has been stellar to date, continue to consistently close down the stretch? Will Biagini and Grilli continue to impress out of the bullpen in setting up Osuna? Lastly, how will Dickey and Stroman, who can both be inconsistent, do over the rest of the season?

The Competition

With the Red Sox two games behind and the Orioles four games out they certainly haven’t wrapped it up. And let’s not forget that the Yankees are 6.5 games out – so that can’t be counted out entirely. Though, despite that the Rays have not been mathematically eliminated from winning the East, this is just a matter of time — if they were to win all 30 of their remaining games, Toronto would just need to win 11 of 29 to finish ahead of them — there isn’t really a need to discuss the Rays at this point.

All five Eastern division teams are playing each other for the majority of their remaining games, so the Jays have to be consistently beating their division rivals to stay in first place.

New York Yankees

New York obviously has the biggest challenge, both being 6.5 games out, but also having to leapfrog three teams in order to get to first place. They have certainly been on a hot streak lately, winning 17 of 28 games in August. This was driven by their offense, as while their 4.27 ERA over the course of August is consistent with their 4.22 ERA during the season to date, they have increased their run production compared to their opponents. In August the Yankees outscored their opponents by 18% (148 runs scored to 125 runs allowed), while prior to August they had trailed their opponents (scoring 419 runs compared to their opponents scoring a combined 452 runs).

However, even if they keep up this hot streak, it would appear that time is not on their side. Let’s say hypothetically Toronto and Boston were to both win only 15 of their last 29 games, and the Yankees went 20 and 10 to round out the season, New York would be tied with Boston and two games behind Toronto.

This is not to say it is impossible, but several stars would have to align for New York to win. Looking at the remaining schedule offers both good and bad news: while they have 16 of their last 30 games at home, they are not playing anyone that they have played extremely well against this year. They have 7 more games against Toronto, with whom they are 3 and 9 this year, and against the remaining East division teams they play, they are a combined 18-19 so far this year.

Baltimore Orioles

While they are only four games out, the Orioles were 13 and 16 in August during which time they had a team ERA of 5.33, and were outscored 152-132. Even though their batting average and OPS are pretty much identical to Toronto in August, it is their pitching that has lost them games. Baltimore is lucky that they have roughly an even number of home and road games left, as their home winning percentage far exceeds their road percentage (.642 vs. .439) and a high number of road games could pose a huge challenge for them.

At this point in the season coming back from a four game deficit is certainly unlikely, but it is not impossible. Barring a complete collapse from both Boston and Toronto though, Baltimore will be extremely unlikely to win the division unless their pitching improves dramatically. Of course fortunes can turn, and there is no reason why an abysmal August cannot be followed by a spectacular September, but again, winning depends on Toronto and Boston losing.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox had an August that was in some ways similar to the Jays. Their 3.69 ERA was close to Toronto’s team ERA. Both notched 17 wins, though Toronto had 11 losses, two fewer than Boston. The Red Sox averaged 5 runs per game, and outscored their opponents by a ratio of 1.33/1 (150 runs scored to 113 runs allowed). This runs scored-to-runs allowed ratio was better than Toronto’s 1.23/1 (135 runs scored to 110 runs allowed).

In the last month Boston’s pitching has been much better than they have been the rest of the season – so this has to continue for them to have a chance of taking the division. After a poor start, Price has pitched quite well his last five starts, and Porcello and Pomeranz continue to pitch consistently well.

What’s the Verdict?

So then, if it is unlikely that Baltimore and New York will win, where does that leave us? At this point, both Toronto and Boston are playing extremely well, and a two game difference can evaporate quickly. It will likely be stating the obvious to say that the difference will likely be determined by pitching – which has been both teams’ strength in the last month. Whoever finishes with the better pitching over the remaining games will likely win the division.

Originally published at bluejaysblog.ca