Three AL East teams advanced to the postseason, with two clinching on the final day of the regular season, while the Blue Jays missed out.
A lot has happened in the AL East since last week, as each team had something to play for in the final few games.
First Place: Tampa Bay Rays (100-62)
Having locked up the AL East a week ago, the Rays could have coasted and rested their starters to prepare for the playoffs. Instead, they held off the Houston Astros to comfortably clinch the best record in the AL. This is also the first time in franchise history the Rays won 100 games. The shocking 2008 team won 97 games, and last year’s team did not get the chance.
Brandon Lowe is hot at the right time, with five home runs this week. He hit three Saturday in the blowout over the Yankees. Randy Arozarena had an interesting week, hitting a home run and swiping four bags to reach a 20/20 season. Wander Franco did not get the record, but he did tie Frank Robinson for longest on base streak by a rookie. This is just the first of many seasons in a potential Hall of Fame career.
It is anyone’s guess as to which relievers will feature most prominently in the playoffs. Given how unexciting the rotation is, the bullpen will continue to eat most of the innings. 2020’s main man, Nick Anderson, has been hurt almost all year. What you can count on, though, is quick hook from Kevin Cash. I don’t think he learned his lesson from pulling Blake Snell too early in the World Series, and he doesn’t have any starter nearly that good.
Second Place: Boston Red Sox (92-70, 8 games back)
The Red Sox earned the first Wild Card spot in dramatic fashion. After inexplicably dropping a series to the Orioles with everything to play for, they took the first two games from the Washington Nationals. But Chris Sale did not show up Sunday against debutante Joan Adon, and the Sox went down 5-1. Then the lineup came to life, with Alex Verdugo hitting a two-run double to tie the game. In the ninth, Rafael Devers hit his second home run of the game to give Boston the lead and a playoff spot.
With the win, the Red Sox will host the Yankees in the most anticipated Wild Card Game since MLB expanded to ten teams. They will have lots of options as the starters have been pitching better in short stints. Eduardo Rodriguez pitched five scoreless, and then he and Nick Pivetta each had 1-2-3 innings to close off Sunday. Tanner Houck was once again pulled too quickly, as he threw five perfect innings. Among the relievers, Garrett Whitlock is healthy, and he also pitched a clean inning in the finale.
Third Place: New York Yankees (92-70, 8 games back)
They waiting the whole weekend to do it, but the Yankees got the magic number down from one to zero. After taking two of three in Toronto, the Bombers were in the driver’s seat Friday morning. But two bad losses left their season in doubt. Scoreless until the ninth inning Sunday, Aaron Judge hit a walk-off single to prevent a play-in game.
Not everything is swell in the Bronx, because DJ LeMahieu is hurt. He will miss at least the ALDS if they get that far. Luke Voit is more seriously hurt, so that means more playing time for Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres. The inconsistent stars need to step up for this team to have a chance. They cannot rely on Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton every game.
Fourth Place: Toronto Blue Jays (91-71, 9 games back)
Devastating. The powerful Blue Jays took apart Orioles pitching in the weekend sweep and got nothing to show for it. Dropping a home series to the Yankees left them in a deep hole, but they only needed the Yanks or Red Sox to lose on Sunday to force Game 163. Instead, the Baby Birds will spend October at home wondering how they could have won just one more game this season.
It is not fair to place blame on a team that finished strong, but they cooled off just enough towards the end. Robbie Ray got hit around in his final start, while Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez were slumping before the weekend. They each homered off the O’s in a pair of blowouts, but it did not matter. Now the front office has to decide whether to pay up for Ray and Marcus Semien or start looking for replacements.
Fifth Place: Baltimore Orioles (52-110, 48 games back)
Another awful season is finally over. This team was worse than expected because of the nightmare AL East, but more so because the pitching was largely unplayable. The rookies did not prove themselves, but pitched better in the last couple of weeks. Alexander Wells, Zac Lowther, and Keegan Akin look a lot better and will get rotation chances next year. The best prospects are coming, so 2022 is time to see dramatic improvement.
The one good thing to come out of the weekend sweep is that the Orioles “earned” the top pick in next year’s draft. They finished with the same record as the Diamondbacks, and the tiebreaker is previous season record. They also had the same record last year, but in 2019, the D-Backs were over .500. The top farm system will only get better. A small bright spot is that Tyler Nevin hit his first career home run Sunday, so here’s to many more.
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