Rays Notes: AL East Lives Up to Hype, Rays Can Hang With Tigers

By Robbie Knopf

The 2012 Offseason was quite a crazy one for the AL East. The Blue Jays made their blockbuster trades and the Red Sox steadily improved to generate excitement, the Rays carried out their usual type of offseason and found themselves predicted to go to the World Series, and the Yankees’ injury and the Orioles’ inaction made them seem prime for regression. People’s perception of the division fluctuated wildly, from a formidable division where each team was a legitimate contender to the worst the division had seen in years. So far in 2013, the AL East hasn’t featured five topflight teams but has been about as good as it has ever been, managing an aggregate .540 winning percentage that is the best of any division in baseball, edging out the NL Central (.539). Of the six best records in the American League, four are from the AL East.

One concern for the AL East was that only one team was going to make the Postseason because the teams would just tear each other to shreds. That’s certainly a possibility, but don’t count on it. Oakland in the AL West leads the first Wild Card spot by 2 games, but the top three teams behind the A’s are all in the AL East. The AL West is an incredibly weak division (.488 winning percentage, second worst in baseball), but the teams of the AL East are so good that someone is going to have to nail down that second Wild Card spot if not the first. Don’t worry about the AL East–these teams are good enough to take care of themselves and at the end of the day, at least two of them will be in the playoffs fighting until the last possible moment.

Speaking of the standings, taking one glance at them will tell you that the Rays enter their tough series with the Tigers ahead of Detroit by a half-game. The Tigers’ are considered one of those “scary” teams and a prohibitive World Series favorite, but so far this season, despite unremittingly pitching struggles that has turned this into a Rays team like none other, the Rays are ahead of the Tigers in the standings. Yes, the Rays’ are in 4th in the AL East (albeit by only 3 games) while the Tigers are in 1st in the AL Central, but the Rays are better than the Tigers now and could very well finish the year that way. The Tigers’ offense is so mighty, but the Rays have scored just three fewer runs and actually edge out Detroit when adjusting to ballpark, beating them in OPS+ 110 to 108. Yes, the Tigers’ rotation is pitching better than the Rays’ right now, but the Rays’ rotation has not yet hit its stride–and by the way, the Rays’ are throwing their best pitchers at Detroit this series, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, before bringing out Roberto Hernandez, fresh off a 8.2 IP masterpiece. Anything can happen in three games, but the Rays can by all means beat this Tigers team. Maybe if they do, people will look beyond their pitching woes early on this year and realize just how good they are.