About three months ago in the depths of the slowest part of the off-season, this blog visited what it had determined to be the top 3 teams in the AL (Red Sox, Yankees, Astros) heading into 2019…..
After about a month of games, how is that prediction looking?
After a bumpy 2-5 start to the season, the Astros took off on a 10 game winning streak, before cooling off with a 3-5 run in the last week plus. They have spent all of three days in first place to date and stand 15-10, a 1/2 game back of the Seattle Mariners heading into games 2 through 4 of a four game series with the Cleveland Indians.
Their offense after a slow start has been a bright, but inconsistent spot. The are #1 in the AL in BA (.277) and OBP (.354) and #2 in OPS (.842), but only tied for 5th in runs scored (121 runs) – 56 runs behind those same Mariners. The biggest offensive contributions to date have been from George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Michael Brantley. Josh Reddick and Alex Bregman have both flashed high averages and inconsistent run production. Part time DH Tyler White has been raising his BA while not knocking in a run.
The starting pitching, which was best in the world in 2018 is slightly above average with a 3.97 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP, reflecting a staff that has mostly had solid starts with a few stinkers thrown in the mix. This was to be expected with the loss of the still available Dallas Keuchel, the Tampa Bay Ray Charlie Morton and the out for the season Lance McCullers. Justin Verlander is coming on strong, Gerrit Cole seems to be righting his ship, Wade Miley has been mostly good as has Collin McHugh.
The Astros bullpen is easily leading the AL in ERA (2.88), WHIP (0.99), BA allowed (.193) and OPS allowed (.571). Their ERA for everyone not named Josh James (who has given up 10 of the bullpens 23 earned runs to date) is 1.68. Roberto Osuna (7 saves, 0.87 ERA) and Ryan Pressly and Will Harris (both 0.00 ERA) have led the charge for a fairly stingy bullpen to date.
New York Yankees
This has to be considered a very dangerous team. It would seem to be a minor miracle that the Yanks are 14-11 and two games back of the Rays with the equivalent of a whole everyday lineup and 1/2 a pitching staff on the Injured List. OFs Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, Clint Frazier, Jacoby Ellsbury, IFs Greg Bird, Troy Tulowitzki, Didi Gregorious, Miguel Andujar, (Catcher Gary Sanchez just came off the IL), SPs Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, and RP Dellin Betances are all on the IL right now. That’s about $80 million in salary on the IL for the pinstripers…..
Despite being 7th in BA (.251) in the AL and Tied for 5th in OPS (.783) the Yanks are 3rd in runs scored (131 runs) in the league. They have been riding the bats of a couple sluggers who are active now (Sanchez and Luke Voit) and the big bats of others who are now out (Frazier and Judge). Can they hold their end of the deal up going forward? That is to be learned.
Even without Severino and Montgomery, the Yankees starters have been quite good, sporting the 4th best ERA (3.52) and WHIP (1.17) in the AL. With the exception of former Astro J.A. Happ (5.96 ERA), the other starters Masahiro Tanaka (3.60 ERA), James Paxton (3.10), C.C. Sabathia (2.40), Jonathan Loiasiga (2.70), and Domingo German (1.75) have been between good and exceptional.
The Yanks bullpen has been the biggest disappointment to date sporting a 4.45 ERA (10th in the AL) and only converting 5 of 10 save opportunities. In truth, the bullpen has been a combination of guys doing good jobs (Adam Ottavino, Aroldis Chapman, Tommy Kahnle, Luis Cessa and Zack Britton) and guys getting bombed (The recently sent down Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Joe Harvey and Stephen Tarpley).
Boston Red Sox
The World Champion Sox dug a big hole to start the season (about a week ago they were 6-13 and 8-1/2 games back of the Rays) and have been working to steady the boat winning 5 of their last 7 and pulling up to within 5-1/2 games of the Rays heading into their weekend series against Tampa Bay.
The Red Sox, who dominated the hitting stats in 2018 as the Astros did in 2017 are off to a very slow start in 2019. They are 11th in the AL in BA (.239), 12th in OPS (.712) and 10th in runs scored (117 runs). Xander Bogaerts, JD Martinez, Mookie Betts, Mitch Moreland and Andrew Benintendi have all gotten off to solid, but unspectacular starts. Astro killer Jackie Bradley Jr. has been pitiful (.147 BA . .390 OPS) as has the whole bench, most of them well below the Mendoza line and/or hurt.
The starting staff has been brutal with a 5.91 ERA to date. The not unexpected injury to oft-injured Nathan Eovaldi has not helped, but the bigger concern may be the bookend matching ERAs of ace Chris Sale and Rick Porcello (7.43 ERAs) and the 5.88 ERA of Eduardo Rodriguez. Only David Price has really given the team what they expected to date from the rotation.
The Boston bullpen has not been good, but not a complete disaster with a 4.84 ERA (11th in the AL) and converting 7 of 10 save opportunities. Like the Yankees, the Sox have had a mix of good and bad efforts out of the bullpen with new closer Ryan Brasier (1.46 ERA, 6 saves), Brandon Workman (1-1, 2.38 ERA), Marcus Welden (3-0, 2.38 ERA) and Matt Barnes (2-0, 1 save, 2.61 ERA) leading the way. Sox fans have to wonder how the pen would look if some of the innings put up by Heath Hembree (5.11 ERA), Tyler Thornburg (7.5( ERA), Colten Brewer (7.45 ERA) and others were taken up by former closer (and still available) Craig Kimbrel.
Al three top teams have had their struggles at times in the early going, but none of the three have done their chances irreparable harm to date. The Astros and Yankees are lurking just behind their division leaders and the Sox are working their way back towards .500 before they start worrying about the top of the division.
The Astros are riding a great bullpen, a warming up offense and a starting rotation that would seem to be the eventual spot for a mid-season boost from the minors or from others.
The Yankees would seem to be playing beyond expectations with so many injuries and if they get most of the tools back could run away with the division. Or it could be one of those years relative to injuries for the Yanks.
The Red Sox would seem to be in a fragile spot. They have slowly cut into the 8-1/2 game lead, but a slight shove back down the slope might be tougher to overcome. Their key would seem to be getting Sale back on track and not on the IL.
Are these the three best teams in the AL at this point in the season? No. But they could still reach those heights. The marathon is only the equivalent of 4 miles done at this point.