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.