In recent years, the AL East has been widely regarded as one of the weakest divisions in baseball. Some teams were plagued with injury-prone veterans, some were too inexperienced and others were in limbo between rebuilding and contending. Now in the 2016 season, the rest of the league is afraid of the AL East. First place and third place are separated by a few games, so both the division and the wild card are up for grabs. Through numerous trades and call-ups in the last few years, the AL East has gained strength and it is possible for the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Orioles and even the Yankees to make deep playoff runs.
The Toronto Blue Jays currently sit atop the division thanks to consistent bats and amazing pitching. They are second in the MLB in homeruns in large part because of Edwin Encarnacion and reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson, who have 36 and 34 homeruns, respectively. While the Blue Jays used to be known as Jose Bautista’s team, Encarnacion and Donaldson are proving this season why they lead the team just as well as Bautista does. On the mound, the Jays are headlined by J.A. Happ, who has an astounding 17 wins, and Aaron Sanchez, who has 13 wins, and an ERA under 3.00. The Jays’ lethal pitching-hitting combo has gotten the team this far, but it’s important for other players, like shortstop Troy Tulowitzki or pitcher Marcus Stroman, to step up in order to avoid collapse.
The Red Sox and Orioles have been switching off between second and third all season, and they share similar problems in their quest for first place. Both teams have great power behind the plate, but their pitching rotations lack consistency. Mark Trumbo is having a breakout year in Baltimore, hitting over 40 homers, and accounting for much of Baltimore’s offense. However, they haven’t gotten much production out of their big arms like Ubaldo Jimenez and former first-round pick Kyle Gausman. Over in Boston, David Ortiz is putting together a monstrous final season, leading the team with 31 homeruns and the league with a .626 slugging percentage. Paired with younger bats like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, who are both having a phenomenal year at the plate, the Red Sox have scored the most runs in the league by a large margin. Although the Red Sox have been great behind the plate, David Price, whom they signed to a monster 7-year, $217 million deal this offseason, has not lived up to the hype. If Price starts playing like the Red Sox expected him to when they handed him this huge contract, there is no reason they cannot win the pennant.
In fourth place, but out of the running for the AL East title, are the New York Yankees, who are still in the hunt for a Wild Card sport. After dealing Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran for younger players, the Yankees called up Gary Sanchez, who is shining in his new role as a Yankee, and has hit 11 homeruns quicker than anyone in MLB history. Sanchez’s emergence, plus a great season by Masahiro Tanaka, who is proving himself to be a legitimate ace, could help the Yankees sneak into that final Wild Card spot. The Blue Jays, Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees are playoff threats – just don’t bet all your money on the last place Tampa Bay Rays to make a big late-season run.