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Weekly AL East Recap: Playoff Contenders Holding Steady

AL East Tampa Bay Rays

Injury returns, unusual home runs, and a historic game in Iowa highlight the action in the AL East as we reach the final 50 games.

Solid weeks from the top four teams in the AL East mean that the standings are quite similar to last week.  That will change with more head-to-head matchups going forward.

First Place: Tampa Bay Rays (72-47)

The Rays had a decent 4-3 week following a series win in Boston and a series loss in Minnesota.  They won easily Monday night and still have three more against the Orioles.  A much bigger test is this weekend when the White Sox come to St. Petersburg.  They also signed David Robertson, fresh off a silver medal with Team USA in the Olympics.

Except for a clunker on Saturday, the offense is firing on all cylinders.  Mike Zunino is killing the ball with four home runs this week, and the team hit two inside the park.  Brandon Lowe hit three home runs, while Wander Franco, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brett Phillips hit two.  ALDS hero Mike Brosseau is back in the Majors, and he added a home run.  Franco hit a wacky long ball off the Green Monster that landed on the batter’s eye.  They will need all this power hitting in order to beat the ChiSox power arms.

The pitching staff has been more up and down.  Josh Fleming got the win Monday as the bulk guy after the Red Sox tore him apart.  He gave up doubles to the first three batters and didn’t recover, allowing 10 runs in Boston.  Shane McClanahan consistently goes five-plus innings, allowing two or three runs, which is more than acceptable from a rookie.  Michael Wacha gave up seven runs, and he might not be on the team much longer.  Collin McHugh has been great as the opener, and he gave up just one hit over four shutout innings this week.

Second Place: Boston Red Sox (69-51, 3.5 games back)

The Red Sox went 4-2 after dropping a series to the Rays and then easily sweeping the Orioles.  Most games were over early, as the closest margin was four runs.  The offense put up scores of 20 and 16 this week, as they seem to be turning things around.  Three games in the Bronx will go a long way towards determining the AL East and the Wild Card.

The biggest trade acquisition on the team made his debut.  Kyle Schwarber played his first Sox game Friday and then hit two doubles Sunday.  That is certainly encouraging, but not as encouraging as Bobby Dalbec hitting three home runs and a triple.  Hunter Renfroe also hit three long balls, and Jarren Duran and Connor Wong also tripled.  The stars also showed up, as Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Rafael Devers each hit two home runs this week.  Just to add to this lineup, the Red Sox also brought back Travis Shaw, who has had many great moments at Fenway.

The rotation looks much better now that Chris Sale is back.  He gave up two runs over five innings in his first start in two full years.  Tanner Houck is now a rotation staple as well, which means Martin Perez and Garrett Richards have moved to the bullpen.  Eduardo Rodriguez bounced back with two good starts, and he could have gone longer Sunday.  Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta also threw quality starts to round out a pretty good top five.  Matt Barnes is still struggling, so he needs to figure out what’s wrong while he is still the closer.

Third Place: New York Yankees (66-52, 5.5 games back)

The Yankees had another good week, going 4-2.  After finishing off the Kansas City Royals, they washed off the Field of Dreams heartbreak to beat the White Sox and the LA Angels in a makeup game.  They are in the middle of a tiring stretch, with 13 games in 12 days.  A double-header with the Red Sox is next.

The superstars are playing like it.  Joey Gallo and Aaron Judge both hit three home runs this week, and Gallo accounted for their whole offense Monday.  Brett Gardner has also played much better of late, and he hit a cycle for the week.  D.J. LeMahieu has been disappointing this year, but he is also playing better in the second half.  Luke Voit is making the most of his playing time, as he hit a big home run to take down the White Sox.

Gerrit Cole is back, and he was good Monday.  He came one out short of a quality start and got the win.  Nestor Cortes is pitching way better than expected, and he went six innings with just one run.  Homer-happy Andrew Heaney unsurprisingly got hit hard in Iowa, and he knows he is not helping the team.  The same is true of Zack Britton, who gave up the walk-off home run.  But, Aroldis Chapman is also back and will be the closer again to shut down AL East opponents.

Fourth Place: Toronto Blue Jays (63-54, 8 games back)

The Blue Jays dropped a bit in the AL East after a 3-4 week on the West Coast.  They split four games with the Angels and dropped two of three in Seattle.  Now they have a reprieve with two off days sandwiching a two games with the Washington Nationals.

Another week, another Blue Jay wins Player of the Week honors.  This time it is Teoscar Hernandez, who hit three home runs and two doubles on ten hits, leading to an OPS of 1.476.  Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and George Springer stay hot with two runs each.  While Bo Bichette and Marcus Semien are slumping, role players Corey Dickerson and Santiago Espinal have picked up the slack.  The latter two each hit over .310.

The aces did not have their best stuff this week.  Jose Berrios gave up six runs in a loss, and Hyun Jin Ryu gave up four in a loss.  The rest were good, as Steven Matz pitched five innings with one run allowed, none earned.  Robbie Ray and Alek Manoah had quality starts.  The bullpen was good for the most part, but Adam Cimber took a loss with three runs, and Rafael Dolis gave up three runs while recording no outs.  Connor Overton made his MLB debut with 1.1 scoreless innings.

Fifth Place: Baltimore Orioles (38-79, 33 games back)

You have probably heard the Orioles are on another long losing streak.  An 0-7 week brings it up to 12 games, and many of them have not been close.  When both the pitching staff and the lineup are performing poorly, the team performs poorly.  Because of the recent slide, the Orioles are just a game and a half back of the Arizona Diamondbacks for the first pick in the 2022 draft.  Speaking of draft picks, the Orioles promoted 14 of their draft picks from this year to Low-A Delmarva.  Led by first rounder Colton Cowser, hopefully these guys can keep moving up at a fast pace.

There were a few highlights this week.  Cedric Mullins got his hit streak up to 20 games before an 0-5 on Sunday.  Fighting for his roster spot, D.J. Stewart had a two-homer game.  Richie Martin hit his first home run of the year by wrapping the ball around the Pesky Pole.  Ryan McKenna went 4-9 with two doubles.  Waiver claim Jorge Mateo is proving to be much better than the previous middle infield options.

There are lots of ugly lines lines from the pitchers, as even John Means was off his game this week.  But Marcos Diplan might be a legitimate bullpen option, as he has not given up a run after four appearances.  With September call ups coming soon, maybe Alexander Wells will be back, as he is shutting down AAA lineups at the moments.

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