3:15 pm Jun. 18, 2012
The New York Yankees, winners of nine straight, possessing the American League's best record, look unbeatable.
Yes, all teams that go on nine-game winning streaks look that way. But though the Yankees hold just a 1.5 game lead over the Orioles (and 3.5 over the Rays) roughly 40 percent of the way through the season, they appear to be on a dramatic, familiar trajectory.
The Orioles have been the most consistent Yankee opponent so far. Their 14-9 April was laughed off in some quarters as just another Baltimore false spring, but they were a respectable 15-13 in May, and have been 10-5 so far in June.
But their starting pitching is simply not at the level of New York's, with Jake Arrieta, who shut out the Yankees over eight innings on May 2, pitching to an 8.02 E.R.A. since. It is a talented group, just a young and inconsistent one. And the offense employs one bona fide star in center fielder Adam Jones, two prospects who may or may not be breaking out in catcher Matt Wieters and first baseman Chris Davis, and many uncertainties as well. The Orioles have staying power in terms of contending for a playoff spot. But it will take some doing for them to stay with the Yankees.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has the pitching to contend. Their 3.50 E.R.A. is second in the American League, and their pitching depth, both starting and relieving, is better than any other team's ... with the exception the Yankees.
But their offense is simply terrible, with a .235 team batting average. They'll get third baseman Evan Longoria and designated hitter Luke Scott back from injuries soon, but unless their teammates pick up the base, there will still be a big gap between their productivity and the Yankees'.
The Blue Jays are talent-packed, but nearly everything that could go wrong has so far. They just lost Kyle Drabek, a rotation member, to what appears to be an elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery. He's the second starter to go down in several weeks, following Drew Hutchison.
Opening Day first baseman Adam Lind hit .186 and got sent to Triple-A. They haven't gotten much production in the lineup out of the catcher, shortstop or left field spots either. Only Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista have dramatically outhit the league average.
The Blue Jays are already 6.5 games behind the Yankees.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, just lost starter Josh Beckett to the disabled list. They already trail the Yankees by 7.5 games. Their pitching has been bad, especially from the starters. The offense has been inconsistent. It's still early enough that anything can happen, of course. But unless they pick up the pace soon, they're going to be in the position of counting on the Yankees (and everyone else who's ahead of them in the divisions standings) to collapse.
Now of course, there are two wild card berths available in each league. If the Yankees maintain anything like their current form over the summer, they're likely to be all that's left for the other teams in the division to play for.