Sport Breaking down good, bad, ugly of entertaining AL East race

23:50  19 june  2017
23:50  19 june  2017 Source:   Sporting News

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Breaking down the good , the bad and the ugly of an entertaining AL East race .

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From left: Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Aaron Judge© (Getty Images) From left: Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Aaron Judge And just like that, we have a tie atop the AL East standings.

The Yankees (38-29) provided the opportunity last week, with a disastrous seven-game California road trip that produced just one win against the Angels and zero wins against the A’s.

And the Red Sox (39-30) took advantage of the opportunity, going 4-2 last week — including two wins in three road games against the AL-leading Astros — to pull into a virtual tie atop the standings. The Yankees are a couple measly percentage points in front of the Red Sox (.567 to .565) because they’ve played two fewer games to this point.

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It’s the third time this year the Red Sox have been tied for first place in the division. They’ve yet to own that spot alone, and the first two times lasted for three days, total. Will this stint at the top last longer? Time will tell, but that’s not what we’re looking at today.

Instead, how did we get to this point? Let’s look at the division race in 15-day segments (yes, that’s an arbitrary amount of time, but twice a month seems about right) and break down what happened to impact the standings during each segment of time.

AL East standings as of April 15

Red Sox6-51.5
Blue Jays2-95.5

The good: Starlin Castro’s first season with the Yankees was solid, but far from spectacular. He served notice quickly that 2017 would be different, with three hits on opening day and four more multi-hit games by the end of this first arbitrary time span. Castro was hitting .326 after the Yankees’ win against St. Louis on April 15 and he’s kept that up, too — he’s hitting .324 on the season heading into this week.

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The bad: The Rays opened the season with an impressive 5-2 home stand that put them in a tie for first place (the only time this year they’ve shared the top spot), but life on the road proved a bit tougher. A 1-6 record on a seven-game road trip, against the Yankees and Red Sox dropped them to where they have essentially been all season, within a couple games of either side of the .500 mark.

The ugly: The start of the season was a disaster for the Blue Jays. The record was bad enough, but on April 13 former AL MVP Josh Donaldson was forced to leave the game in the sixth inning with a calf injury. He was placed on the DL and spent 43 days there before finally returning in late May. Ugh.

Standings as of May 1

Red Sox13-123.5
Blue Jays9-178.0

The good: The Mariners sent Wade Miley to Baltimore at the 2016 trade deadline, but the lefty was pretty blah, rolling up a 6.17 ERA while allowing 70 hits in 54 innings over 11 starts. Miley, though, was fantastic in the first month of 2017 for the Orioles. In five April starts, he compiled a 2.32 ERA and struck out 38 in 31 innings.

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The bad: Boston couldn’t find any consistency early in the season. The Sox followed a stretch where they won five of six with a stretch where they lost four of five, and pitching was a big reason. Chris Sale was excellent, of course, but reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello was up-and-down and former Cy Young winner David Price was still on the DL. And knuckleballer Steven Wright, who was such a stabilizing element in 2016’s Boston rotation, had an awful 8.25 ERA in five April starts before shutting it down for the season to have knee surgery.

The ugly: The whole Red Sox vs. Manny Machado thing was ugly. Just no other word for it. No need to recap, but an outline: On April 21, Machado slides over second base and into Boston veteran Dustin Pedroia, who has to leave the game with an injury. Two days later, Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes throws behind Machado’s head. Next series, Dylan Bundy hits Mookie Betts on the thigh (May 1). Later that game, Machado homers and admires the homer. Next game, Chris Sale throws behind Machado’s legs. Yeah. Ugly. Let’s be better, eh?

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Standings as of May 15

Red Sox19-184.0
Blue Jays17-227.0

The good: OK, this is where we talk about Aaron Judge for the first time. The big man had an outstanding April, with 10 home runs and a .303 average, but he really started to capture the baseball-watching-nation’s attention in May. In his first 11 games of the month, he hit .341 with a 1.169 OPS and popped four more home runs, including a massive 457-foot blast to center field on Mother’s Day. That was his third of the season of at least 450 feet, and a taste of what was to come — that jaw-dropping 496-foot blast he hit on June 11.

The bad: As you can see, the Jays played better in this stretch (8-5 in their 13 games), but the injuries just kept coming in May. Donaldson was still on the DL, and both Troy Tulowitzki and J.A. Happ joined him before the end of April. In the first couple weeks of May, those three were joined by Russell Martin (placed on DL May 8), Francisco Liriano (on DL May 11) and Steve Pearce (on DL May 15). Hard to find consistency without healthy players.

The ugly: The Rays opened May with back-to-back wins at Miami to pull to .500 and only 3.5 out of first place entering a nine-game home stand against three teams (the Marlins, Blue Jays and Royals) that were all struggling on the season. Perfect chance for Tampa Bay — which was 9-4 at home up to that point — to make up some serious ground in the standings, right? Wrong. The Rays went just 3-6, dropping them to a season-worst seven games out of first after games of May 11.

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Standings as of June 1

Red Sox29-243.0
Blue Jays26-286.5

The good: And this is where we bring up Corey Dickerson for the first time, even though he’d been pretty great all season up to this point. In 14 games from May 16 through June 1, Dickerson hit .361 with a 1.103 OPS, with six homers, 12 RBIs and 18 runs scored — mostly as the Rays leadoff hitter. He had at least two hits in eight of those 14 games, and it’s probably not a coincidence that Tampa Bay had a 10-4 record in that stretch.

The bad: OK, this isn’t a bad thing. Lots of good happened during this stretch for all the AL East teams, so we’re stealing this category. Let’s talk about the Blue Jays’ continued turnaround in the last couple weeks of May. From the 16th through the end of the month, they not only went 9-4, but Donaldson, Martin, Tulowitzki and Happ all came off the DL. After hitting .228 as a team with a .645 OPS and 22 homers in 25 April games, the Jays hit .263 with 49 homers and a .809 OPS in 28 May games. Lots of great months: Jose Bautista (.317, 9 homers), Devon Travis (.364, 16 doubles), Justin Smoak (.944 OPS, eight homers, 22 RBIs) and Kendrys Morales (.930 OPS, 16 RBIs).

The ugly: This isn’t about one team, but about the start of what’s been a troubling trend for AL East teams. The Red Sox took a trip to Oakland and went just 1-3 in their four games; in following trips there, the Jays went 1-2 vs. the A’s and the Yankees were just swept in a four-game series there. Guess that means the Rays should be wary of July 17-19 and the Orioles should be worried about August 10-13.

Standings as of June 18

Red Sox39-30--
Blue Jays33-355.5

The good: Yes, this stretch is a bit longer, but play along. The Red Sox have had a couple hiccups this month — they lost back-to-back games in New York on June 7-8 by a combined score of 17-1, for example — but overall they’ve played pretty well in clawing their way into this first-place tie. Boston’s outfielders have been solid this month; Jackie Bradley Jr has had injury issues this year, but he’s hitting .317 with a .930 OPS in June, Mookie Betts is hitting .300 with three homers and three stolen bases and Andrew Benintendi is hitting .291 with four homers and 12 RBIs.

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The bad: Back-to-back walk-off wins on June 6 and 7 against the Pirates to cap off a home stand seemed like a great way for Baltimore to enter a challenging road trip. Those Ws put the O’s only 2.5 out of first place, five games above .500. Things went sour, quickly. They went just 1-7 on the road, falling under .500 for the first time all season, and an 11-2 loss to the Cardinals in their first game back in Baltimore left them in fourth place, 6.5 out of first. They responded by scoring 23 runs in back-to-back wins against St. Louis, though, to pull back to .500.

The ugly: That 1-6 road trip we talked about in the intro? It dropped the Yankees out of sole possession of first place in the division for the first time since May 20, when they dropped into second by a half-game after — you guessed it — three consecutive road losses. If you’re a Yankees fan looking for a silver lining, it's this: They responded to that lull by winning five of their next seven games.

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