If you’re a believer in Fangraphs’ projections, we might as well start digging the grave for the 2017 Blue Jays’ playoff hopes right now.
With Toronto sitting at 19-26 through its first 45 games (which represents just slightly over a quarter of the MLB season), Fangraphs suggests the Blue Jays have a 5% chance to win the American League East.
The Red Sox lead the way at 44.7% probability (even though Boston is just 22-21 and is 4.5 games behind the Yankees for first), and the Yanks are given a 35.1% chance after starting 26-16.
These probabilities are reflected in the updated 2017 AL East betting odds at Bet365.
As of May 23, Bet365.com made the Red Sox a +130 favourite to win the division, followed closely by the Yankees at +140.
The Orioles were +425, which seems a little low considering that they’re given a 9.2% chance to win the division at Fangraphs.
And bringing up the rear at +1800 odds are the Blue Jays and Rays, both of whom have less than a 6% chance to win the AL East according to Fangraphs.
Here’s a closer look at each of the division contenders in the 2017 AL East race.
1. Boston Red Sox (+130)
— SB Nation MLB (@SBNationMLB) May 12, 2017
It’s been a slower-than-expected start for the Red Sox, who were projected to win the division with ease after the offseason acquisition of Chris Sale from the White Sox.
Sale has more than held up his end of the bargain, posting a 2.19 ERA in his first 9 starts and striking out more than 13 hitters per 9 innings, well above his career average. But the stud lefty is only 4-2 on the year because the Red Sox aren’t scoring very many runs. Boston ranks 18th in the majors in runs per game and is second-last in baseball in home runs, showing that they badly miss David Ortiz’s bat.
Still, Boston is hitting the ball at a decent clip (third in MLB with a .267 team batting average), and they’ll be getting David Price back in their rotation soon. Closer Craig Kimbrel is enjoying a phenomenal season, and the Red Sox bats are simply too good to stay this quiet for long (at least from a power standpoint).
2. New York Yankees (+140)
— Last Word on MLB (@LastWordOnMLB) May 14, 2017
Many prognosticators felt the Yankees were an up-and-coming team in 2017 that was possibly another year away from serious contention. But that future is now.
New York’s young bats have been bashing the ball around the park so far this year, ranking second in MLB in runs per game, batting average, OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and home runs. The Yanks also swipe bags, sitting sixth in baseball with 30 steals in their first 42 games.
Aaron Judge has slowed down a bit since his incredible start to the year, but he’s still on pace to hit more than 40 home runs and drive in 100-plus. Starlin Castro and Matt Holiday could also crack the century mark in RBIs, and five of the New York regulars have on-base percentages higher than .370. This offence looks legit.
Pitching, particularly the rotation, was supposed to be the Yankees’ undoing. So far, the New York hurlers are holding up as well, sporting the seventh-best team ERA in the bigs and ranking sixth in WHIP. Masahiro Tanaka has struggled at the top of the rotation (5-3, 6.56 ERA), but Luis Severino and Michael Pineda have made up for that, each averaging more than 10 strikeouts per 9 innings and cutting their walks down.
3. Baltimore Orioles (+425)
— Baltimore News (@BaltimoreMDNow) May 18, 2017
Baltimore is always an underrated bunch because of its obvious flaws in the starting rotation. The Orioles are once again mediocre in the pitching department, sitting 19th in team ERA and second-last in WHIP so far in 2017.
But the Orioles stay in contention in two ways: power hitting, and their bullpen.
Baltimore is seventh in the majors in home runs, even though none of the O’s hitters have more than 10. Once Mark Trumbo (six HR in 43 games) and Chris Davis (nine in 42) start hitting bombs at their regular rate, the Orioles offence can be even more dangerous.
Meanwhile, if we learned anything last year in the MLB playoffs, it’s the value of a relief corps. Even though the Orioles have been without stud closer Zach Britton much of the season (remember, the guy Buck Showalter left in the bullpen in last year’s wild card game versus the Jays?), Baltimore’s relievers lead the majors with 13 victories so far.
This formula can help you make the playoffs, as the Orioles have done pretty consistently over the last few years, but taxing your bullpen so heavily isn’t the recipe for a division title. We’d need a lot better than +425 odds to take the Orioles to win the AL East, even despite their decent start to the year.
4. Blue Jays (+1800)
— John Chidley-Hill (@jchidleyhill) May 16, 2017
The easy thing to point to as a culprit in the Blue Jays’ 19-26 start to the season is injuries.
Toronto has been without (take a deep breath before reading off this lengthy list)… Josh Donaldson for nearly the entire season, Troy Tulowitzki for about half of it, Russell Martin, Aaron Sanchez, JA Happ and Francisco Liriano. Those guys just happen to be, in order, the 2015 AL MVP, a two-time Gold Glove shortstop, a four-time All-Star catcher, the 2016 American League ERA leader, a 20-game winner last season, and a veteran lefty who had a 2.92 ERA in 10 appearances last year for the Jays.
But even if and when the Jays get all these guys back, there’s no guarantee Toronto can get back into the race. The Jays’ offence has struggled dating back to last September, when Toronto scored just 100 runs and slugged a meager .363.
Jose Bautista isn’t who he used to be, and the Jays badly miss the power threat of Edwin Encarnacion. The bullpen also has some issues with Roberto Osuna struggling in the closer’s role and Jason Grilli sitting at 1-4 with a 7.71 ERA through his first 18 games.
5. Rays (+1800)
The days of Tampa contending in the AL East seem to be long gone, especially with Joe Maddon having moved on to the Cubs.
The Rays can still pitch with the best of them, ranking sixth in team ERA and seventh in WHIP so far this year, but the offence isn’t consistent enough to win ball games. Even though Tampa has hit the third-most homers in MLB, they’re just 15th in runs per game and 17th in team batting average.
They don’t have enough depth to survive injuries to key players, and they’ll be a seller at the trade deadline if they can acquire some future prospects.
2017 AL East Betting Pick
As Jays fans, this will be a tough one to swallow. But as bettors, it looks like the smart money here is on the Yankees.
New York isn’t going away. The bar has been raised after a surprisingly strong start to 2017, giving the young players a lot of confidence. And if the Yankees are in contention at the trade deadline, as they should be, look for management to feel pressure to go for it by acquiring a big name or two to fill out the starting rotation or bring some veteran consistency to the lineup.
Boston is the favourite right now based on reputation more than anything else. Baltimore continues to put too much of a burden on its bullpen, even if the Orioles can sneak into the playoffs as a wild card. Toronto is behind the eight-ball early, still has a lot of injury concerns and has regressed from the past two seasons even when healthy, and Tampa is an afterthought in this division.
We’ll take the Yankees +140 on the updated 2017 AL East betting odds.