Rays, Jays and Orioles are the teams to beat in the AL East

Let’s take a look at the A.L EAST and each team’s strong points and weak points as we enter the second half of the season.

I will allow my collgues on the site to handle the Rays route to a division title something that is very attainable. They will need the best starting staff in the division to pitch up to expectations and they will need to score about 4 runs per game.The bullpen will also be a key in these final 80 games.

Let’s break things down in a quick thumb nail sketch of the A.L. East with all the teams at or above the .500 mark and only 8 games separating all five teams in the division.

Baltimore: The Orioles are in second place in the A.L. East and they are doing it with power and defense. Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters, Nate McLouth and Nick Markakis make up the most productive scoring line-up in baseball. They can score runs in bunches and they also can flash the leather on the defensive side. But their problem remains their pitching staff both starting and relief.

Manager Buck Showalter, does not have five starting pitchers that he can count on each week to give him quality starts. Let me amend that he does not have three consistent starters. Jason Hammel has been the defacto staff leader. Meanwhile, Miguel Gonzalez has been the second best starter on the team after that the O’s have to get Jim Palmer out of the broadcast booth if they make the playoffs. The bullpen has also been an issue with closer Jim Johnson blowing 5 saves before we hit the All Star break.

To use a NHL hockey term the Red Sox who lead the division are grinders. Manager John Farrell has done almost everything right in taking Boston from last place in 2012 to first place at the halfway point. That said we still have a long way to go and the Red Sox like all teams in the division have their problems.

Let’s look at what has gone right thus far and that would start with David “Big Poppi,” Ortiz who hitting over .300 while slugging 16 homers and driving in about 60 RBI. Those are impressive numbers and we know that the batting average will dip a bit his power numbers should stay up there. Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury have both done a fine job both at the plate and in the field. Like the Orioles the Red Sox starting pitching is inconsistent with Jon Lester being spotty and their ace Clay Buchholz out until likely the All Star break. Meanwhile, again like Baltimore the Red Sox bullpen is an issue with closer Joel Hanrahan out for the season. So the Sox will need to keep on grinding if they want to win the East.

The Blue Jays are starting to figure things out and it is not too late for Toronto to become a force in the division. Finally, we are seeing the Toronto Blue Jays play the way we expected them to play. They were 16-6 as they closed the month of June which included an 11 game winning streak. After a getting to know you session in April starting in May, the bats got going. The defense has improved as the season has gone on. The bullpen has been terrific. And finally, in June, the starting pitching has been good.

They Jays pitching staff is starting to look like a real group with Esmil Rogers and Chien-Ming Wang having pitched far better than fans had any right to expect. Then both, R.A.Dickey and Josh Johnson look like they might finally be healthy. The last piece of the starting pitching puzzle, Mark Buehrle seems to have remembered how to pitch

If the Blue Jays can stay consistent then they can quickly become a factor in the race.

Lastly we have the Yankees heading into the second half of the season. The team has played thus far without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. That is a problem for any team but the Yankees aren’t that deep that they can go 162 games without that kind of firepower.

C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes are trying to hold down the fort in starting pitching and they still have Mariano Rivera on his victory tour. But this is not a Yankees team that is going to be playing October baseball and look for a few big changes to come this off season.

Botom-line the division is there for the taking and the Rays , Jays and the Orioles have the best teams from top to bottom to make the second half run at the A.L. East title.