We're almost a month into the season, and it seems an appropriate time for another trip "Around the AL East."
Here’s a look at a main storyline for each opponent in the Orioles' division as well as a look at who's hot and who's not on each club:
BOSTON RED SOX (16-7)
I’m not about to brag, because my preseason predictions overall don’t look so great. But I did go on record saying that, in the AL East, “each of the five teams could conceivably win the division — or finish last.”
Many people thought the Red Sox were the team least equipped to contend for the division title, but that sure hasn’t looked the case through four weeks of baseball.
Yes, it’s still incredibly early. If this were an NFL schedule, we’d only be through about two games. But it’s far enough along to wonder if we should start taking the Red Sox seriously, a question The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo tackled yesterday.
It’s been an emotional stretch for Boston, and this new group of non-divas seems to be meshing. The real revelation, though, is that Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are both pitching like aces with their former pitching coach John Farrell back as manager.
NEW YORK YANKEES (13-9)
Yankees fans are never going to be overly impressed by a 13-9 record, but with the team they’re putting on the field right now, they probably should.
If the Yankees can continue to hover above .500 and get Granderson and Teixeira back soon, they could be right in the mix for the division title again. But the rate at which their players are going down has to be alarming.
Who’s hot: Robinson Cano (.319/.374/.626 with 7 homers)
Who’s not: The bullpen, which ranks 23th in the majors in ERA (4.37) and 28th in batting average against (.261).
TAMPA BAY RAYS (10-13)
You may have thought the Orioles and Blue Jays were the only birds in the AL East, but that wasn’t true this week.
If Tampa Bay goes on to win the division, there’s no question “Cliff” and “Shelly” deserve most of the credit.
Kidding aside, it’s impressive how the quirky Maddon does so much to keep his team loose yet still commands respect and gets results.
The Rays are three games below .500, but they’ve played tough teams to open the year and David Price and Fernando Rodney haven’t pitched well yet. Don't expect them to fall out of the race any time soon.
Who’s hot: First baseman James Loney only has one homer (against the Orioles), but he's leading Tampa Bay with a .358 batting average and .424 on-base percentage heading into Friday.
Who’s not: Price is still winless (0-2) with a 5.52 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. In other words, it’s not just the O’s who have gotten to the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS (9-15)
What’s wrong with the Blue Jays?
We got a first-hand look at them this week, when they dropped two one-run games to the Orioles and then salvaged the series finale with an extra-inning bases-loaded walk after blowing a big lead.
It’s clear the Blue Jays have the bats (just ask Josh Stinson), but they haven’t done enough of the little things to consistently win through the first month.
Dave Perkins of the Toronto Star says the Jays can turn it around by “throwing more strikes and swinging at more strikes.”
Bill Lankhof of the Toronto Sun says they need to find ways to score other than hitting homers.
It’s too early to write them off – as ace R.A. Dickey says – but that Miami Marlins syndrome may start to sink in if they continue to struggle.
Who’s hot: J.P. Arencibia, who is tied with Chris Davis for the AL lead with 8 homers.
Who’s not: Manager John Gibbons, who was ejected in consecutive games Wednesday and Thursday.