The AL East has been one of the most competitive divisions in baseball in recent years. In 2022, it has been no different, with the Orioles having shown improvement and every other team in the division involved in the playoff race.
With the season halfway over, and the most important part of the playoff race beginning, here’s a look at one key for each AL East team during the rest of the season.
New York Yankees: Stay Healthy
The 2022 Yankees are one of the best teams in the sport. Aaron Judge is an All-Star and MVP Candidate. On the mound, Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes are both AL Cy Young contenders.
In the last several seasons, the potential for the Yankees to have a season like the one they are having so far was always there. Nearly every year, the team dealt with multiple injuries that caused important players to miss huge parts of the season.
Judge played 148 games last year, but only 28 in 2020 and 102 in 2019. Stanton, like Judge, was healthy for most of last season but played only 23 games in 2020 and 18 in 2019. This year, for only the second year in a row, Stanton and Judge have been healthy and at their best for most of the season, and the resulting combination has been incredible for the Yankees’ lineup.
The Yankees’ bullpen has had the most injuries on the team in 2022. However, the pitching staff, especially the bullpen, has been incredibly deep for the team in recent years, and despite the injuries this season they still have the lowest team ERA in the AL.
In addition, Luis Severino, who has dealt with multiple injuries in the past, has been phenomenal this season. The 28-year-old starting pitcher has a 3.11 ERA through 15 starts and has been an important part of the Yankees’ rotation.
At the trade deadline, the Yankees could potentially add an outfielder or a reliever. However, the most important part of the second half of the season is staying healthy. That can be hard to control, but if the team’s best players don’t spend too much time on the injured list, they could finish with the best record in the MLB.
Tampa Bay Rays: Add Offense at the Trade Deadline
The Rays, in contrast to the Yankees, are among the teams with the most injuries in baseball. Manuel Margot, Brandon Lowe, Mike Zunino, and multiple other players have all missed significant stretches of the season so far.
Despite that, Tampa is still in a position to make the playoffs. The Rays’ pitching staff has been one of the best in the sport, and despite the injuries, they are essentially a league-average team on offense.
One of the best decisions the Rays could make is to trade for a player to add to their lineup at the deadline. The team is potentially one of the most logical trade destinations for Willson Contreras.
Contreras has had the best start to a season in his career for the Cubs as he has spent more time as the designated hitter. The Rays need to improve their production both at catcher and designated hitter, and Contreras could be the perfect solution for the team.
An outfielder could also be a solid addition for the Rays in the wake of Margot’s injury. Ian Happ, another Cub, could make sense for the team as he has the positional flexibility to play all three outfield positions that the Rays desire while also being a switch-hitter. Andrew Benintendi and Tommy Pham, who played for the team in 2018 and 2019, could also be potential trade targets.
The Rays should improve in the second half of the season as players return from injury. However, adding to their offense would help them secure a wild card spot and position them to advance in the playoffs.
Boston Red Sox: Acquire a Starting Pitcher or an Outfielder
Boston had a bad start to the season and for a time looked like they could trade away Xander Bogaerts at the trade deadline. However, an incredible month of June where the team went 20-6 has brought them into a tie for third in the AL East.
The Red Sox offense has been solid this season. Rafael Devers is an MVP candidate and has an OPS+ of 162. Xander Bogaerts has been very good so far this season and should be an All-Star, and J.D. Martinez has continued to be productive.
However, the team is currently dealing with injuries to Rich Hill, Nathan Eovaldi, and Garrett Whitlock. Whitlock and Eovaldi could be nearing a return from the injured list, but a starting pitcher could add important depth and production for the team in a competitive division.
While a trade for Frankie Montas or Luis Castillo may not happen for the Red Sox, or even be the best move for the team, adding a solid starting pitcher could be a huge boost for the second half of the season. Adding depth to the starting pitching group will be important as the team deals with injuries.
An outfielder could also make sense for the franchise as they enter the second half of the season. Enrique Hernandez is currently on the injured list and just began a rehab assignment. Hernandez has an OPS+ of 69, and Alex Verdugo and Jackie Bradley, Jr. have an OPS+ of 89 and 59 respectively.
Jarren Duran has been outstanding since being promoted from the minor leagues, with an OPS+ of 147, but he has only played 52 games in his career. Adding an outfielder such as Happ Benintendi, or even the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds could make sense for the team at the trade deadline.
Toronto Blue Jays: Strengthen the Pitching Staff
The Blue Jays were one of the most exciting teams ahead of the 2022 season and they entered the year as a World Series favorite. An inconsistent start to the year has meant they are 15 games behind the Yankees for first in the division.
Entering play on Thursday, the Blue Jays had the fourth-worst ERA in the American League. Jose Berrios has a 5.44 ERA through his first 17 starts, and offseason signing Yusei Kikuchi has a 5.12 ERA through 16 starts.
In addition, the Blue Jays also have the third-worst bullpen ERA in the AL. Even with Jordan Romano, who has 18 saves, the team’s bullpen has struggled to a 4.25 ERA so far this season.
As a result, the second half of the season will be focused on strengthening the pitching staff to support one of the AL’s best offenses. Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah both have sub-3.00 ERAs and could anchor a fantastic starting rotation if the team can make a trade at the deadline.
Castillo, Montas, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, and others could all be logical additions for the Blue Jays to make. They could even trade for multiple starters at the deadline depending on how aggressive the team would like to be.
Andrew Chafin, David Robertson, and Daniel Bard, among several other options, could significantly strengthen the bullpen. If the Blue Jays can add a starting pitcher and a reliever, the team could have a fantastic second half, as the offense has already been one of the league’s best and should continue to find consistency.
Baltimore Orioles: Continue to Build for the Future
One of the most significant moments of the Orioles’ rebuild came on May 21, when Adley Rutschman made his MLB debut. Then MLB’s No.1 prospect, Rutschman will be a huge part of the future of the franchise.
The Orioles have improved this season. While this trade deadline will undoubtedly see some players traded away, namely Trey Mancini, the overall direction of the franchise points towards playoff contention in the next few years.
As a result, much of the second half of the season will be spent on developing for the future. The Orioles will have the No.1 pick at the upcoming MLB Draft, and whatever player they select could help the team finish its’ rebuild.
The next few months of the season will be important for the team. Baltimore’s young players will gain the experience of playing against some of the best teams in the league during a playoff race.
In the next few years, the Orioles should become a contender for the playoffs and to win the AL East. The next few months will be important as the team continues to position itself heading into this offseason.