Hitters: B+. The Orioles are a year removed from a .729 OPS that was close to the middle of the pack in the league. This season, that team OPS is slightlt up to .749, and the main reason is center fielder Adam Jones. Jones was involved in trade talks this offseason, and his future in Baltimore was in doubt. The Orioles kept him, and Jones has responded by OPSing .963 and 14 homers. The 2.8 fWAR he’s accrued already is just 0.1 off of his career high of 2.9, set last year. Catcher Matt Wieters has tapped into his limitless potential, and has an .800 OPS and eight homers. Even Chris Davis has gotten into the act, OPSing .790 with a career-low 26.8% strikeout rate. The only real disappointment so far for the Orioles has been third baseman Mark Reynolds, who has just two homers on the season with a .661 OPS, and strikeouts in a third of his at bats this yar.
Pitching: A. Last season, the Orioles had a 4.92 ERA. This year, they’ve slashed it by nearly a run and a half down to 3.48, though the team’s FIP sits at 4.02 (regardless, a massive improvement over a year ago). The big change is in the bullpen, which GM Dan Duquette set out to improve over the offseason. Sure enough, the pen has a 2.15 ERA, which is a hair behind Texas as the lowest mark in baseball. The 3.85 FIP indicates that won’t last very long, however. The rotation has also vastly improved thanks to the additions of Jason Hammel an Wei-Yin Chen, both of whom have ERAs in the low-3.00s. Throw in a vastly improved Jake Arrieta (whose 4.72 ERA is a run higher than his 3.76 FIP), and Baltimore’s rotation suddenly looks formidable. Even Brian Matusz has improved from last year. The only sour point has been Tommy Hunter, but he’s at least eating innings for the team. In the bullpen, five of the seven core members have double digit innings pitched an an ERA under 2.00. It’s been a story of night and day in comparison to last year for the Orioles.
Intangibles: A+. It’s May 21st, and the Baltimore Orioles have the best record in the American League, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers in all of baseball. With just a +14 run differential (tied for third best in the AL East), Baltimore’s run at the top might not last too long, but right now, the team is just going to roll with it. I don’t think anyone predicted that the Orioles would be leading the AL East right now, with the Yankees and Red Sox floundering around the .500 mark at the bottom of the league. Throw in the outright dominance of last year’s first round pick Dylan Bundy in the low minors, and there is a level of optimism that Orioles fans haven’t seen in years.
Overall: A. Baltimore’s success through the first quarter of the season is inspiring to all fans of teams that have been doormats in recent years. The Orioles are really holding their own against the tough AL East too, with a 3-5 record against the Yankees, a 3-0 record against the Red Sox, a 2-1 record against the Rays, and an outstanding 5-1 mark against the Blue Jays. It’s not going to get any easier for Baltimore, but they’ve held their own so far.
Boston Red Sox
Hitters: B. Despite Boston’s struggles this year, you really can’t blame the offense. The team has a .793 OPS (although that is down from the .810 OPS they posted last year), which is a top three mark in baseball. David Ortiz has been an absolute monster, OPSing 1.008 for the season with nine homers. Shortstop Mike Aviles, who won the job in Spring Training, has an .800 OPS and eight homers for the season. Prospect Will Middlebrooks has been a monster since his callup, with an .886 homers and five homers in just 17 games. Outfielder Cody Ross has an .883 OPS this year, and is providing a huge boost to a banged-up Red Sox team. Boston’s offense has been just fine so far
Pitching: D-. This has been a complete disaster for the Red Sox this year. Clay Buchholz has a 7.77 ERA this year, with nearly an equal amount of strikeouts and walks on the season. Mark Melancon, aquired from the Astros this offseason to solidify the bullpen, threw just two innings in the majors, and allowed 11 runs. He’s currently hanging out in AAA Pawtucket. Jon Lester has been good, but not dominant, with just a 3.95 ERA and an alarming 5.84 strikeout rate. Rookie Felix Doubront has actually been the team’s best starter in my opinion, striking out a batter per inning with a 4.09 ERA on the season. Josh Beckett has dealt with off the field issues while struggling on the mound, and Daniel Bard has one more strikeout than walk this year with an ERA approaching 5.00.
Intangibles: F. Well, let’s see here. New manager Bobby Valentine has clashed with players, management, fans, and the media while turning the team into an absolute circus. The Red Sox have been beaten down with injuries, most notably to brand spanking new closer Andrew Bailey, 2011 breakout star Jacoby Ellsbury, and veteran stalwart Kevin Youkilis. Josh Beckett and his off the field shenanigans have also added another element of tumult to the team. Oh, and the Red Sox have been in last place for much of the season. I think that covers it all.
Overall: D+. I mean, it could be worse…they could be the Twins. The Red Sox have actually won eight of ten, and are now just a game under .500, and a game out of moving out of the basement in the AL East. Boston actually could be able to turn things around in the final 3/4 of the season, with just some good fortune.
New York Yankees
Hitters: B-. You know what you’re getting out of the Yankees high-octane offense. Their OPS is nearly identical to last year, and the usual contributors are doing their thing. Derek Jeter is having a renaissance year at age 37, with a .347 average and an .879 OPS this season. Curtis Granderson is repeating last year’s breakout season with 13 homers and an .899 OPS. New DH Raul Ibanez has been a monster so far, with nine homers and a .918 OPS while missing a few games. There have been some lowlights however. Mark Teixeira continues his history of slow starts, with just a .665 OPS and only a .226 average. Alex Rodriguez continues his downward slide, OPSing only .767 with a .399 slugging percentage. Russell Martin has been a mess, with a .634 OPS and a pathetic .167 average on the year. The good has been good, but the bad has been bad.
Pitching: C. New York’s rotation has been bad, with a 4.93 ERA this season. CC Sabathia has still been great, posting a 3.78 ERA for the season and striking out a batter per inning. Ivan Nova is also striking out a batter per inning, but has been bit by the homer bug and has an ugly 5.69 ERA this year. In fact, all of the Yankees starters are allowing a ton of homers this year, including Phil Hughes allowing more than two per nine innings. The bullpen has been good however, with Cory Wade, David Robertson, and Boone Logan striking out well over a batter per inning. They all also have FIPs under 2.00 this year.
Intangibles: C-. New York’s psyche took a hit with the torn ACL suffered by Mariano Rivera to knock him out for the year. The torn labrum suffered by Michael Pineda, acquired from the Mariners this offseason for Jesus Montero, also damaged the team’s plans a lot too. Then, to follow up the Rivera injury, fill-in closer Robertson strained his oblique and will miss a couple of weeks.
Overall: C. The Yankees are struggling overall this year as their core starts to age. The team is just a game above .500, and a game out of last place in the AL East. Their +7 run differential is the divisioin’s worst, and out of the five AL East teams, their 31.4% playoff odds is the worst in the division. The Yankees are in real trouble here, and need to start getting bounces their way to keep pace in the AL East.
Tampa Bay Rays
Hitters: B. The Rays have largely used a plug and play, patchwork offense this year due to a litany of injuries, but it’s worked out pretty well for them so far. Ben Zobrist has an .810 OPS while playing second base and right field, while Matt Joyce has played both corner outfield positions and hitting a team-leading eight homers with a .951 OPS. Evan Longoria has missed the last few weeks, but had a .994 OPS when he was in the lineup. Carlos Pena and Luke Scott haven’t been great in the middle of the order, but they’ve been adequate.
Pitching: B-. Matt Moore was expected to take souls, yet he has a 5.20 ERA and 5.08 FIP this season. Jeremy Hellickson has a 2.77 ERA, but his FIP is two runs higher at 4.78. David Price has been dominant, striking out nearly eight hitters per nine and posting a 2.88 ERA. Closer Fernando Rodney has been a godsend after his signing was panned in the offseason. Rodney has allowed just one run in 19 2/3 innings, striking out 19 with just three walks.The rest of the bullpen and rotation have ranged from “adequate” to “average”, with no one clearly standing out.
Intangibles: C+. Injuries have killed the Rays so far. Longoria, Desmond Jennings, and BJ Upton have all missed time on the offensive side of the field, while Kyle Farnsworth hasn’t thrown a pitch out of the bullpen and starter Jeff Niemann broke his leg last week. The Rays’ fantastic baseball operations department has done a great job at providing manager Joe Maddon with a batch of replacements to keep the Rays in contention.
Overall: B. Despite everything negative that’s happened so far for the Rays, they have the third best record in the American League. Them staying in contention despite losing their franchise leader speaks volumes about their team as a whole, and if they’re still afloat when Longoria comes back, they can take over the AL East.
Toronto Blue Jays
Hitters: B. I want to give the Blue Jays a lower grade here, but can’t, considering that their 200 runs scored are third in the American League. Toronto’s offense hasn’t possesed that dominant force like it has over the last two years in Jose Bautista. Bautista is struggling this year, thanks to a .191 BABIP. He’s homered 11 times, but has just a .787 OPS, which is terribly low for him. The best offensive player on the Jays has been DH (and now, first baseman?) Edwin Encarnacion, who has 13 homers and an .897 OPS. He’s also stolen six bases, tied for the team lead. Problem children (from other organizations) Colby Rasmus and Yunel Escobar have been offensively bad with their bats, while Brett Lawrie has started slow. Second baseman Kelly Johnson has proven to be an adept acquisition, homering eight times and posting a .790 OPS this year.
Pitching: B-. The Blue Jays rotation has been very dynamic, loaded with young talent that is delivering on a variety of levels. Ace Brandon Morrow has done what he’s always done, with a 2.63 ERA for the year. Both Morrow’s strikeout and walk rates have fallen, but it’s resulted in the best strikeout to walk rate of his career. Ricky Romero has been his usual solid self, though his walk rate has spiked this year. Rookie Drew Hutchison has been average, though not better or worst. Kyle Drabek looked to have his walk problems under control early on, though that seems to have changed in recent starts. And then, there’s Henderson Alvarez, who has a 3.30 ERA despite striking out just 18 hitters in 60 innings. I didn’t even know that was possible. The bullpen has had varying degrees of success, with new additions Francisco Cordero and Sergio Santos struggling, but Darren Oliver and incumbents Jason Frasor and Luis Perez thriving.
Intangibles: C+. This is a team that could get away from manager John Farrell if things turn south. Lawrie, Escobar, and Rasmus came to Toronto from the Land of Misfit Toys, and we already know what can happen with Lawrie when he gets frustrated. If those players continue to struggle, things could get ugly in a hurry. The Blue Jays are also on their third closer of the year in six weeks, with Casey Janssen taking over the role presently.
Overall: B-. The Blue Jays have the second best run differential in the AL, and the second best playoff odds in the AL East. But yet, it feels to me that they haven’t scratched their full potential yet. This is a team that could absolutely explode over the season’s final three quarters, or it could completely implode upon itself as well.