As May comes to an end, the MLB season is in full swing. The sport that captures all of our hearts every summer has kicked off, and so have the division races that will decide playoff spots as we get close to October.
At the end of May, the AL has an outstanding division, a horrific one, and one of the most surprising divisional races we’ve seen this year. Let’s make some predictions for how each of them will play out.
Predicting Each Division Race in MLB: American League
538 Prediction: Tampa Bay Rays (55%)
Let’s start with the only division in baseball where every team is over .500. Every team in the AL BEast has a solid chance of making the playoffs, but Tampa’s absurd 39-18 start has made the division crown a tough one to take from them. Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena have been revelations, and the pitching has been outstanding.
The Baltimore Orioles and the preseason favorite New York Yankees are the significant threats to the Rays, sitting 3.0 and 5.0 games back at 35-20 and 34-23. The Orioles’ road record is key to watch for their chances as if they keep their AL-best 18-9 road record rolling at a similar pace, they’ll be in contention if they can pull enough home games out down the stretch. The lack of experience is a problem, though, and many large media outlets still don’t regard the O’s as true contenders.
The Yankees have been streaking lately, only losing one of their last seven series. Aaron Judge is rounding back into MVP form, and his 199 OPS+ is powering the Yanks right into the heart of this divisional race, although the Orioles did just take two out of three in Yankee Stadium.
The Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays sit further out of first place, at 9.5 and 9.0 games back, and will need something to change fast if they are to contend for the division. Corner outfielders Masataka Yoshida and Alex Verdugo have been carrying the Sox, with Yoshida posting a .313/.389/.486 slash line and Verdugo putting up a 121 OPS+, but the pitching has been subpar.
For the Jays, the main problem has been pitching, with former Cy Young contender Alek Manoah at a 5.53 ERA and three starting pitchers having FIPs above 5.0. If either of these teams improves their pitching, they could make a run, but I don’t see that happening. This division will come down to a three-team race between Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and New York, but the Rays have just gotten out to too good of a start to make me think anyone’s going to catch them. Give me Tampa Bay.
Pick: Tampa Bay Rays
538 Prediction: Minnesota Twins (68%)
From the best division in baseball to the worst. The AL Central has been downright pitiful through May, posting a combined win percentage of only .427 and a combined run differential of -171. Not great. The Twins haven’t even been that great, with only three hitters above league average, but their pitching has carried them so far, with every starter having an ERA+ above 100.
The Cleveland Guardians, last year’s division winners, have not lived up to expectations thus far, posting an abysmal 24-30 record and relinquishing their claim to being favorites. The problem with Cleveland is a simple one – they can’t hit the baseball. One single player on their team has an OPS+ above league average, and that’s superstar infielder Jose Ramirez. If Cleveland is going to make a run at this still easily attainable division, someone else desperately needs to step up.
Surprisingly, the Detroit Tigers sit in second in the division right now, despite their 25-28 record. The Tigers have similar problems as the Guardians, but they have stayed afloat in this division so far, and if their key hitters come through, they could be dangerous down the stretch. Former top prospect Spencer Torkelson and big-money signing Javier Baez have been horrid at the plate, but if they wake up, Detroit could definitely put a scare into the Twins. Eduardo Rodriguez needs to keep pitching like an undisputed ace with a 2.13 ERA for that to happen as well.
The Kansas City Royals are rebuilding, and their 17-39 record shows that they have no intent on challenging for the division this year, but their young kids are gaining valuable experience for the future. The Chicago White Sox were a team many predicted to make that jump this year and steal this division to jump back in the playoffs, even without their longtime first baseman Jose Abreu. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened, and Chicago now is a dumpster fire possessing a 23-34 mark on the year.
Luis Robert has been their only saving grace, and Eloy Jimenez can be when he plays, but their pitching has been terrible. Their best pitcher in Lucas Giolito has a 4.08 ERA, and their supposed ace Lance Lynn is up at a 5.83 ERA. Chicago won’t be contending this year, and they’ll need to reevaluate their team if they want to in the future. And honestly, I don’t love Minnesota, but due to the incompetence of every other team in the AL Central, I’m going to have to pick them to win the division.
Pick: Minnesota Twins
538 Pick: Houston Astros (55%)
The reigning World Series champion Astros seemed like a sure bet to take the division at the start of the season, but they have been passed in the standings by the 35-19 Texas Rangers, who have been baseball’s biggest surprise to this point. The Rangers are raking, as 10 of their top 11 hitters by plate appearances this year have an OPS+ above 100, and nine of those 11 are above 115, which is 15% above the league average. Their pitching has also been superb, with Nathan Eovaldi putting up a 2.42 ERA and Jon Gray not far behind at 2.81.
The bullpen has also been great, as relievers like Will Smith, Brock Burke, Jose Leclerc, and Dane Dunning have been outstanding and a large part of the Rangers jumping to the top of the division. Oh yeah, and they’re doing all this with Jacob DeGrom only making 6 starts so far this year.
The Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners are further away from the top after disappointing starts, sitting at 7.0 and 7.5 games back of Texas. Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani will always be the main story when talking about the Halos, but the help they’re receiving is not good enough to be a contending team. Matt Thaiss is the only other Angel with an OPS+ above 110, and four of the Angels’ top six starters have ERA+s below 92. Not ideal.
The Mariners have heated up after a very cold start and now sit at 28-27, but someone other than Jarred Kelenic (who possesses a .283/.340/.524 slash line) needs to step up in their offense, and the Mariners would love if it could be recently-extended Julio Rodriguez. The pitching has been fantastic though, and that’ll keep them in the playoff hunt. As far as the Oakland Athletics, they’re already 24.5 games back and are on a historically bad pace.
That leaves the aforementioned Astros, who are still contenders at 32-22, but Yordan Alvarez has been their only good hitter this year with a 168 OPS+. More than half of their lineup has been below average this year, and that’s with Jeremy Pena and Jake Meyers barely clearing a 100 OPS+. The Astros need to get some life from their order and fast, before they start three straight series against 2022 playoff teams and then cap that off with a massive series against the Rangers. That lack of output from the Houston lineup is why I’m going to go against the grain here and take Texas to continue their hot start and win the AL West.
Pick: Texas Rangers
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