Are the Yankees on the verge of running away with the American League East?

Brian McCann and Alex Rodriguez have lead the Yankees to a commanding lead in the American League East (Photo: The Associated Press)

Brian McCann and Alex Rodriguez have lead the Yankees to a commanding lead in the American League East (Photo: The Associated Press)

The New York Yankees are en fuego. The rest of the American League East is going down in flames. This week’s sweep of Baltimore may have been a death kneel for the rest of the division.

That’s the simple explanation as to why the Yankees have built a surprising 5 1/2 game lead in the division after going 7-2 in their last three division series, capped by a three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles. They are now 12-4 in the month of July with everyone else in the East sinking. According to FanGraphs, the Yankees have a 79.3% chance of winning the division and even a 26.4% of winning the American League pennant and going to the World Series (higher than Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Houston)

New York has returned Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Miller from the disabled list to bolster their already dangerous lineup and bullpen respectively. They are second in the majors in runs scored and fifth in wRC+. After six innings, they are 39-2. After seven, 44-2. After eight, 50-0. All thanks to their sturdy bullpen. They are just another piece from becoming serious World Series contenders.

The rest of the division is in dire straights. The Toronto Blue Jays are in second with pitching problems. The Tampa Bay Rays are 6.5 games back when they were in first just a month ago. The Orioles are now seven games back. The Boston Red Sox, after climbing to within 5.5 games ahead of their meeting with the Yankees at Fenway Park before the All-Star Break, have lost eight in a row and have fallen to 12 games back. The Yankees are the only team that has surged in July; the rest of the division’s pain is their own gain.

Obviously it would be foolish to call the race over, but the Yankees are sitting pretty while the rest of the division is scuffling and trying to figure out what to do before the trade deadline next Friday. The Yankees don’t need to make a move as much as everyone else does.

A sweep at the hands of the Yankees may have turned the Orioles from buyers to sellers. Now seven games back, they could look to deal several of their free agents-to be: LHP Wei-Yin Chen (2.86 ERA/4.06 FIP in 116.1 IP this season), slugger Chris Davis (21 HR, 119 OPS+, 2.8 bWAR), submarine reliever Darren O’Day (1.04 ERA and a 11.9 K/9 rate and an All-Star selection in 34.2 IP), and Matt Wieters (.683 OPS in 114 plate appearances but remains one of the best defensive catchers in the game coming off Tommy John surgery) could all be dealt in order for Baltimore to retool their scarce farm system.

Tampa Bay has also been in free-fall since the end of June. They peaked at 40-30 on June 20th, but since they are 8-19. They have an elite pitching staff led by Chris Archer, Nate Karns, and Jake Odorizzi; but the blatant lack of major league caliber hitting has finally come back to bite them. According to Marc Topkin of The Tampa Bay Times, the Rays are already listening to offers for their relief corps, particularly All-Star closer Brad Boxberger (22 saves out of 24 opportunities with a  3.18 ERA) and LHP Jake McGee (1.19 ERA in 22.2 IP).

The Red Sox will also likely (once again) become sellers; for the third time in the last four seasons they sit in dead last in the division (and the entire American League as well!). They have the worst pitching staff in the American League, so they aren’t just one move from being relevant. They have one of the best farm systems in baseball, so it would be a bad move to use it up to make a foolish attempt to climb back from a 12 game deficit in the division and a 9.5 deficit for the second wild card.

The biggest threat to the Yankees is Toronto. The Blue Jays have the most dangerous lineup in all of baseball. They lead the majors in runs scored by a significant margin and their run differential is second only to St. Louis. However, they are just one game over .500 because of poor pitching, which ranks 12th in the AL in team ERA. Their only reliable starter is Mark Buerhle (120 ERA+/3.80 FIP), so they look to be active buyers before the deadline, actively looking for whatever starting pitching they can find, even if it isn’t an ace like Johnny Cueto. Just one starting pitcher with this offense will make the Blue Jays a much more serious threat to the Yankees.

The Yankees should look to make a move. They don’t seem to be willing to trade the team’s top prospects, RHP Luis Severino and 6’7″ slugger Aaron Judge for a rental like Mike Leake or Johnny Cueto.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, however, they will listen to offers for their other prospects, such as 22 year-old catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez is an expendable piece with Brian McCann signed to a huge contract and John Ryan Murphy established as his backup.

New York should look to add a starting pitcher, as their rotation has all-around been shaky: 19th in ERA, 12th in FIP. Although Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have overall been solid, their health and consistency is still questionable. CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi have pitched poorly all season, but the Yankees are still hoping for more consistency to come in the coming months.

On a more positive note, Ivan Nova has a 3.34 ERA in his five starts since returning from Tommy John surgery. He does have a 4.82 FIP due to a lack of strikeouts and command issues, so there still is some rust. His improvement will lessen the need for a trade.

While the rest of the AL East is figuring out where they go next, the Yankees have their sights set on October.

Moves the Yankees Should Make Before the Deadline If They’re Buyers

While I personally think the Yankees should be sellers due to the amount of age, injuries, and mediocrity on this current club, it’s clear they see themselves as still in the race in trading for Alfonso Soriano. Currently, they are seven games back in the loss column behind Tampa Bay and Boston for the division since they dropped both series against the two clubs. Since May 25th, they’re just 25-32 thanks to a horrible offense and mediocre starting pitching sans Hiroki Kuroda.

Fortunately, they are still two back in the loss column behind Baltimore for the second wild card spot so all hope is not lost, especially with the return (AGAIN) of the Captain. Still, they have plenty of work to do if they are gonna make a run at the playoffs. They boast  arguably the best bullpen in baseball, so the focus should primarily be on the lineup and the rotation.

1. Third-base: Yankees 3B provide the worst production at the position in baseball, putting up an atrocious .219/.278/.291/.569 line. The second worst 3B production is the Marlins with an OPS 39 points higher. With Kevin Youkilis likely gone for the year and Alex Rodriguez likely to be suspended for his involvement in BioGenesis, GM Brian Cashman needs to look to the trade market for a steady fill in at the hot corner.

The best choice would be Aramis Ramirez since the Brewers are horrendous and Ryan Braun is gone for the year for his involvement in BioGenesis. Ramirez is currently on the DL and has only played in 54 games this year but has put up a solid .271/.359/.414/.773. The injury concern and age is the only thing that should stop Cashman from trading for him. Other targets include San Diego’s Chase Headley (105 OPS+) who will probably cost some good prospects to get, and Michael Young (104 OPS+) even though the Phillies are still deluding themselves that.

2. First base: Mark Teixeira is out for the year, and Lyle Overbay hasn’t really provided much since the beginning of June. The potential market for first baggers is very rich. The Mariners could again be partners in a deal with the Yankees: Mike Morse (119 OPS+), Justin Smoak (122 OPS+), and Kendrys Morales (132 OPS+) all are instant updgrades over Overbay

3. Sell off: Just because the Yankees aren’t sellers, doesn’t mean they still can’t trade people off. Phil Hughes is the biggest trade piece they have, arguably as he is a rental. Although extemely inconsistent and mediocre (4.58 ERA), he can survive in the National League in a huge ballpark. Teams in the Senior Circuit desperate for pitching will be interested. The Braves will need an arm after Tim Hudson suffered that gruesome ankle injury. Turner Field could be a friendly fit for Hughes, as could Dodger Stadium.

With Hughes gone, Ivan Nova and David Phelps (currently on the DL) both can hold the fort beautifully at the back end of the rotation. They have to get Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia back on track if this team is going to make the playoffs. They also need to get rid of Joba Chamberlain, also soon to be a free agent. Just a change of scenery, because he’s worthless here.

4. Catcher: The Bronx “Bombers” have another giant black hole at the backstop position. The collection of Chris Stewart, Austin Romine and a brief season of Francisco Cervelli has put up numbers in the bottom third in the majors in production.

Unfortunately, the market for a catcher is very dry. The best options aren’t very pretty. John Buck has a .585 OPS since May 4th and Ryan Doumit has an 86 OPS+, but he’s raked in a small sample at Yankee Stadium. Still, they’re both upgrades over Chris Stewart.

5. Cut Bait: Management is still apparently committed to cutting the payroll to $189 million next season. Vernon Wells is on the hook for just $2.4 million, so they need to look into trading or out-right releasing him, especially after acquiring fellow right-hander Soriano. They also need to look into cutting Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis, as they are both on the DL and have been very unproductive when on the field.

Dream Lineup:

CF Brett Gardner

SS Derek Jeter

2B Robinson Cano

1B Kendrys Morales

3B Aramis Ramirez

LF Curtis Granderson

DH Alfonso Soriano

RF Ichiro Suzuki

C Ryan Doumit

Totally un-realistc, but you never know.