It may come as a shock around the baseball world that the Baltimore Orioles are in first place in July, but to Orioles fans it’s not really a surprise. Most baseball experts selected Tampa Bay or the Boston Red Sox as the obvious choices to win the division, and predicted Baltimore as merely a middle-of-road team. However, that was not the case among Orioles fans. They saw a well-constructed roster with an extremely talented core of players, and a team that was in a playoff-or-bust season.
After an up and down first three months the Orioles are finally getting consistent contributions from every aspect of the team. Also, as the Orioles seem to be finally hitting their stride the rest of the division is struggling with a mired of injuries and inconsistent play. Because of this, the Orioles are in prime position to really put some distance between them and the other teams in the division.
The big news in the American League East this week was the injury to Yankees’ ace Mashiro Tanaka. The right-hander had 12 of the teams 46 wins and was on his way to an All-Star game appearance and probable Rookie of the Year Award. However, his elbow stiffness forces him onto a D.L. that already includes fellow starters C.C. Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova.
As of today the Yankees haven’t even named a fifth starter and may not until after the All-Star break. The current rotation will welcome new additions Brandon McCarthy, who had ten losses and an ERA of almost five this season for Arizona, and Shane Greene, who will make his second career start Saturday against the Orioles and had an ERA of 4.61 in AAA this season.
After a surprising surge that saw them briefly atop the division, the Blue Jays have lost 18 of their last 27 games going back to June 10th. Now to add to their troubles the Blue Jays added slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a D.L. that also includes Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind and Brandon Marrow. The Jays are hopeful Encarnacion will be back by the end of the month. However, a month without their best hitter may prove to be too much to keep pace in the division.
There are analysts around baseball that continue not to give up on Red Sox and Rays finding their way back into contention. Maybe this is stubbornness from people who predicted them to win the division, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where either team is relevant in September. As of Thursday, the Red Sox are 41-51 and the Rays are 42-52. If we’re assuming the division winner will win around 90 games, that would mean that the Red Sox would need to go 49-21 and the Rays would need to go 48-20 the rest of the season. For two teams currently ten games under .500 that just doesn’t seem logical.
The Orioles have a vital three games series against the Yankees in Camden Yards to finish out the first half of the season. Then they begin the second half with a 10-game west coast trip immediately after the All-Star break. With the rest of the division struggling, the Orioles can use the next few weeks to distance themselves atop the division. Eventually, one of these teams will get healthy and attempt to make a run at the playoffs. Any lead the Orioles can build now could prove vastly important in August and September.