Who Will Win the AL East
RED SOX, YANKEES, AND RAYS IN A REAL DOGFIGHT IN THE TIGHT AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Just as the Boston Red Sox looked like they were ready to pull away to fulfill their futures prices and win the American League East, they went on a four-game losing streak that has tightened the race back up heading into Wednesday action.
Boston leads the NY Yankees by only ONE game. Tampa Bay is just 2.5 back. All three are around the 100-game mark in a 162-game season. There's plenty of time for either of those three to get hot and coast to a playoff spot. Any of the three, or even two of the three could miss the playoffs if they can't ever find that extra gear.
Let's spend some time today handicapping this three-team race. We can assume that Baltimore and Toronto are too far back, and too lacking in talent to make serious runs because they have run differentials of -70 and -85 respectively. If either proves us wrong, we'll start afresh in a few weeks!
WINS MINUS HOME GAMES
NY Yankees +8
Tampa Bay +1
You regulars know we like this snapshot stat a lot because it helps erase illusions caused by misleading splits in home/road differential. Both Boston and the Yankees have played a lot more road games than home games so far. As long as they can win consistently at home, both will be well-positioned for at least reaching the playoffs. Tampa Bay is much further behind than your morning newspaper standings suggest because they don't have a lot of extra home games coming up.
NY Yankees +106
Tampa Bay +9
While it's true that the Yankees best ball may be weeks behind them, the full season report card has them as the class of the division. Aaron Judge may be heating up again, which makes this team very tough to beat because it's so hard to "out-slug" the Yankees in a slugging season. Once again, we see the Yanks and Sox as well clear of Tampa Bay. And, that's with all of those extra road games. We're not going to say Tampa Bay is a "pretender." But, they need to lift their game significantly to be considered a real playoff threat.
NY Yanks: 4.9 runs-per-game, .334 on-base, .414 slugging
Boston: 4.8 runs-per-game, .322 on-base, .407 slugging
Tampa Bay: 4.4 runs-per-game, .314 on-base, .434 slugging
We want to use ROAD offense to evaluate these teams because Fenway has played like an extreme pitcher's park this season (really reducing home run count), while Yankee Stadium has had that jet stream blowing out to right. You get a CLEAN read by looking at road-only data.
That data is playing the same broken record! The Yanks and Sox are well clear of the Rays when it comes to getting runs on the board. Note, though that Tampa Bay has the best slugging percentage of the three. That could matter in "playoff style" baseball when pitching and home runs play such a large role. It's tough to "string together" hits in a sequential offense vs. playoff pitching, so dingers loom larger.
NY Yankees: 3.88 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Boston: 4.11 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
Tampa Bay: 4.37 ERA, 1.36 WHIP
For some context, the Yanks have the best road ERA in the American League. Boston ranks third, Tampa Bay sixth. Pitching wins championships...and these teams have some pitching! The Yankees in particular are much better than many realize. Those high scoring games in great home run conditions in the Bronx have created some illusions. And, prevailing winds are different in October than they are in the spring and early summer. Boston has the better mound reputation this season...helped by surprisingly poor scoring conditions in Fenway.
Though, in fairness, Boston has the second-best WHIP in the league (walks plus hits allowed per inning), trailing only Cleveland. The Yanks are still a respectable fourth.
To the degree we can handicap the race, it looks like a relative coin flip between the Yankees and Red Sox for the division, with both teams well-positioned to reach the postseason. (One will have to survive a play-in game vs. another Wildcard). Tampa Bay has a shot to get one of the Wildcards too, largely because none of the other contenders from other divisions have consistently reliable pitching.
In terms of betting these teams, it's tough to find bargains with either Boston or NYY because oddsmakers price them to perfection most of the time. The exception to that is that the back end of the Yankees rotation may be more likely to win away from home than they're getting credit for. Both teams are down about 5-6 units this season overall. The Yankees get there by blowing hot and cold. Tampa Bay is about break even. Smart bettors want to win money, not break even!