Tampa Bay Rays

Picked by most to finish last in the AL East, the Tampa Bay Rays have outpaced their projections by being only 3 games out of first with a 46-45 record.  This outpaces the 77 wins that were predicted in our Rays preview.

After a 3.5 WAR season last year, his lowest in any season he played 100+ games, Evan Longoria has rebounded with 2.5 WAR so far, with a 117 wRC+ (compared to a 107 last year).  He has seen a 30-point raise in his OBP, which can be partially explained by a 1.5% raise in his walk rate over last year.  Overall, Tampa Bay has a run differential of -9, so the offense still needs to improve if the Rays are to win the division.

Tampa Bay has used 9 starters so far this year, with only one having a negative WAR.  Chris Archer has seen regression in his HR/FB rate, but that hasn’t stopped him from posting a xFIP of 2.57 with a K/9 rate of 10.87.  Brad Boxburger has emerged as a very effective closer with 23 saves, allowing manager Kevin Cash to mix and match aggressively with Jake McGee, Kevin Jepsen and the rest of the effective bullpen.  This has helped the team to a 33-7 record when leading after 5 innings, even though Drew Smyly has only made 3 starts.

At the trade deadline, Tampa Bay will be looking for cheap upgrades.  One position that Tampa could look to improve is catcher.  Rene Rivera, brought in to provide Jose Molina-like glove work as well as a passible bat, has a wRC+ of 47.  Backup Curt Casali has served a good backup the past couple of years, but with only 43 games of MLB experience so far, he might not be ready for a bigger role.  AJ Pierzynski would be a good option if the Braves decide to sell, but Tampa could also hope to see some positive regression in Rivera’s bat, as he is playing his typically excellent defense.


Baltimore Orioles

Balitmore entered the All-Star break at 44-44 after going 2-8 in their last 10 games.  Before the recent slide, they were well on their way to the 86-win prediction that Chris Baber had before the season began.

Once again, Baltimore is relying on the long ball to power their offense, with 110 homers as a team on the season so far, putting them on pace to hit over 200 again this year.  The most unlikely source of power has been breakout star Manny Machado, who has 19 homeruns, already a career best.  This has come with a strikeout rate nearly double his career average and a wRC+ of 145, 30 higher than his previous best.  Combined with his defense, he already has clocked a 4.2 WAR, well on his way to setting a new career high.

After a disastrous 2014, Ubaldo Jimenez has rebounded to pick up Chris Tillman’s slack.  He has done this by cutting his BB/9 nearly in half to 2.9, along with a 9 percentage point decrease in his FB% to 27.8%.  Zach Britton has been his usual dominant self, with 23 saves and an ERA under 2.00, and the bullpen as a whole has been effective, leading to a 30-5 record when Baltimore is leading after 5 innings.

With a major chunk of the team scheduled to be free agents after this season, there was speculation that Baltimore might try to trade some of those players at the deadline.  Chirs Davis was a name that was floated as a possibility, but that has been quashed as Dan Duquette has said he is not trading Davis if the team is still in contention.  If the 2-8 slide continues on the other side of the All-Star break, then it’s worth keeping an eye on.  Otherwise, Dan Duquette will probably try to make an under-the-radar move he is known for, while avoiding another Andrew Miller for Eduardo Rodriquez type deal.  Even with no additions, Balitmore should contend right until the end in the AL East.


New York Yankees

The AL East leaders at the All-Star break, the 48 wins the Yankees have put them in position to achieve the 76 wins Matt Trueblood predicted for them with time to spare.

The offence has been helped by the resurgence of Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Alex Rodriguez.  They’ve combined for 54 homers so far, with Mark Teixeira sending 22 Tex messages and A-Rod hitting 18 A-bombs (I promise I’m done with the John Sterling references).  Of these three, Mark Teixeira is the most likely pullback candidate.  He currently has a 23.4% HR/FB rate, which would be a career high.  He is also on pace to play in more games than he has since 2011, so it will be interesting to see if he can avoid the injury bug the rest of the way.

With C.C Sabathia having another bad season and looking to be finished as a pitcher capable of more than eating innings at a below league average level, Michael Pineda is stepping up into his role.  Pineda is averaging more than a strikeout per inning, and has increased his slider velocity 2 MPH, while sacrificing some horizontal movement.  The Yankees will need him to continue to form a powerful 1-2 punch with Masahiro Tanaka at the top of the rotation in order to hold on to the AL East.

The Yankees will always be connected with the crème of the trade deadline crop, but I would be surprised if they make a major deadline deal.  Rather, it seems like Aaron Judge and Luis Servino will join Rob Refsynder in the majors to help the playoff push.  While Cole Hamels won’t be headed to the home clubhouse in Yankee Stadium anytime soon, a trade for Scott Kazmir would make sense, and would be the biggest move I can see them making.  No matter what they do, it seems like the YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANKEES will win the AL East (now I’m done).

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