The American League East division saw a wild change of expectations in April, leading us to expect a coming together in May. As the month concludes, we saw teams play more like what we expected, but the Red Sox remained good. With the Yankees on a wild roller coaster ride and the Orioles looking like the Orioles we know and love, June will be another interesting one in the AL East.
Tampa Bay Rays, 34-20, 1st place
Even after dealing away Blake Snell in the offseason, we still expected the Rays to be good, because they are the Rays. May highlighted their main idea, as the team surged, winning 15 of 16 entering their final game of the month. All this while they traded away one of their core clubhouse leaders, as Willy Adames joined Milwaukee.
The offense is not one of their strong points, but Austin Meadows and Mike Zunino slugged seven home runs apiece, while shortstop Taylor Walls debuted following Adames’ exit. Outfielders Manuel Margot, Brett Phillips, and Kevin Kiermaier have failed to differentiate them from one another, meaning that someone could be gone soon, with Meadows and Randy Arozarena locking up spots.
The signature stable of relief pitchers was great yet again, as was the rotation. As Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo got healthy, Josh Fleming and Shane McClanahan became key rotation members. However, no one was more impressive than 41-year-old Rich Hill. Hill allowed just three runs in 29.2 innings all month, striking out 34. This was refreshing following a rough April.
Team MVP: Austin Meadows, .247/.352/.591 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs.
Team Cy Young: Rich Hill, 0.91 ERA with a 0.81 WHIP, 34 strikeouts, and 10 walks in 29.2 innings.
Boston Red Sox, 32-20, 2nd place
The Red Sox did not drop their hot start, and while they lost the first place title, they still are tied in the loss column with the Rays. They had an easier schedule this month, but so did much of their division, considering how the Orioles are playing (more on that later).
Contrary to Tampa Bay, the offense is Boston’s great strength. Even though Bobby Dalbec and Franchy Cordero failed to get their feet off the ground, the stars were great. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers tried to outslug each other, and Hunter Renfroe got in on the fun. J.D. Martinez came back down to Earth, but if hitting .305 in a month is coming back down to Earth, then you are doing something right.
The bullpen improved, as Darwinzon Hernandez, Adam Ottavino, and Hirokazu Sawamura each had a monthly ERA under 3.00. Lefty Josh Taylor did not even allow a run. Even though Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Nick Pivetta slumped, the other two rotation members picked up the slack. Garrett Richards showed Sox fans why the team gave him eight digits in free agency and Martin Perez limited batters to a .225 average.
Team MVP: Xander Bogaerts, .322/.406/.586 with six home runs, three stolen bases, and 18 RBIs.
Team Cy Young: Martin Perez, 2.60 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP, 26 strikeouts, and eight walks in 27.2 innings.
New York Yankees, 29-24, 3rd place
The biggest climbers from April are the Bronx Bombers, thanks to a stretch where they won seven series to start the month, including a sweep of the first-place White Sox. The pitching was great, but in classic Yankees fashion, injuries made everything come crashing to a halt.
Giancarlo Stanton was insane to start the month, but he missed about two weeks. Luke Voit came back off the injured list, did not contribute at all, and is hurt for another month. Corey Kluber threw a no-hitter, and now will miss at least two months, it seems. Aaron Hicks is done for the year, opening up a hole in the outfield.
The lineup was continuously abysmal. DJ LeMahieu and Clint Frazier have thrown away their strong 2020s. The sole bright spot was Aaron Judge, who looked like a top-five hitter in baseball but had to carry the lineup. The lowlight of the season was this past weekend, as they scored five runs in a three-game sweeping by the awful Tigers.
The pitching attempted to salvage things. Kluber was great before his injury. Gerrit Cole stayed hot, and Domingo German looks like he can be a legitimate third starter. Jameson Taillon and Jordan Montgomery also were fine. The bullpen had its fair share of up-and-downs, but Zack Britton will return soon, which is a plus.
Team MVP: Aaron Judge, .326/.409/.558 with six home runs and 14 RBIs.
Team Cy Young: Corey Kluber, 2.27 ERA with 36 strikeouts, a 0.85 WHIP, and a .156 average against in 31.2 innings.
Toronto Blue Jays, 27-25, 4th place
Toronto was more of a middle-of-the-pack team in May, something that they definitely did not want to happen. A good June may be necessary to prevent them from losing too much ground. As expected, the hitters did their job, while the middle of the rotation fell behind.
The good news is that Marcus Semien and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. battled for the title of the best hitter in the division this month. Teoscar Hernandez and Randal Grichuk were good as well. We saw a rare bad month from Bo Bichette. The team also would like their $150 million acquisition, George Springer, to show up following back-to-back injuries.
The team bullpen was surprisingly good, as Jordan Romano, Travis Bergen, and Trent Thornton led the way. As expected, Hyun-Jin Ryu was expected to carry the rotation. Steven Matz, Robbie Ray, and Ross Stripling were just all right. The debut of Alek Manoah was amazing, and he could be a much-needed savior, for the team and Ryu’s sake.
Team MVP: Marcus Semien, .368/.429/.702 with eight home runs, two stolen bases, and 22 RBIs.
Team Cy Young: Hyun-Jin Ryu, 2.64 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP and 32 strikeouts in 30.2 innings.
Baltimore Orioles, 17-36, 5th place
The only team to especially pull themselves away from the pack in this division was negative. They are on a 13 game losing streak, winning just twice since John Means‘ no-hitter of the Mariners on the fifth.
Trey Mancini‘s bid for comeback player of the year is extremely strong. Returning from cancer, Mancini has been the team’s best player. At one point this month, he led Major League Baseball in runs batted in. Now, he’s in third place. Anthony Santander, Freddy Galvis, and DJ Stewart were also above average hitters this month.
Onto the pitching, and it was bad. Only Means and Cole Sulser had multiple outings and an ERA of 3.00 or better. The strong April bullpen has completely collapsed, with Adam Plutko and Cesar Valdez falling back down to Earth. The Dark Knight himself, Matt Harvey, looks completely washed. He allowed more than a run per inning, and his WHIP was over 2.00. This was absolutely a month to forget.
Team MVP: Trey Mancini, .312/.402/.591 with six home runs and 25 RBIs.
Team Cy Young: John Means, 2.43 ERA with a 0.75 WHIP and 30 strikeouts in 33.1 innings.
A Look Ahead
The Rays and Orioles seem very predictable for June, as they head in opposite directions. The Red Sox are starting to look for real. But the Yankees and Blue Jays? They could go anywhere. The Yankees offense could get no-hit, or look like the Yankees of years past. The pitching could be great or awful. No performance of Yankees baseball should be surprising. The same could be said for the Blue Jays but on a different scale. The offense could range from all right to insane, while the pitching is on the opposite end of the spectrum. All around, the pieces are in place for an exciting month.
Follow Carter LaCorte on Twitter @CarterHudBlog
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