Boston Red Sox in a tight race for the AL East division title
By Sean Penney
Current Record: 72-60 (third in AL East, 3 games back)
Remaining Divisional Games: Blue Jays (4 games), Yankees (6 games), Red Sox (7 games).
Why they will finish first
You can never count out a team that hits as many home runs as the O’s. They lead the league with 71 homers, topped by Mark Trumbo‘s major league-leading 40. Baltimore also has a pair of hitters tied for 8th in the league with 32 homers, making them the only team in the league to have three sluggers in the top 10 in that category.
Manny Machado is one of those heavy-hitters. He is one of the game’s best all-around players, providing stellar defense regardless of if the team places him at shortstop or third. Machado is fifth in the league with a 6.1 WAR and seventh with a .920 OPS.
Half of Baltimore’s remaining 30 games are at home, where they are 42-23 this season.
Why they won’t
Baltimore’s starting rotation ranks 13th in the league with a 4.94 ERA and they have now lost ace Chris Tillman to a shoulder injury. Three out of the five starters currently making up their rotation include Yovani Gallardo (5.69 ERA), Ubaldo Jimenez (6.46 ERA) and Wade Miley (7.14 ERA), none of whom have any business starting for a playoff contender.
The offense is dangerous, but Baltimore’s woeful pitching staff has been the culprit behind a +9 run differential that is light years behind the two teams ahead of them. Boston has an AL-best +119 run differential and Toronto is right behind at +104. Baltimore’s run differential suggests that they have played at the level of a team barely above .500, so they are fortunate to be this close in the race as it is.
The O’s have the ability to finish teams off late in tight games with a dominant 1-2 punch of All-Stars Zach Britton (owner of a ridiculous 0.67 ERA) and Brad Brach. In a tight race that could come down to the final days of the season, a game blown by the bullpen could mean the difference between winning the division and settling for a Wild Card. Of the teams in this race, Baltimore has the least to worry about securing those late-inning leads.