Assessing the future of the AL East after Red Sox knocked out in ALCS
by Aidan O'Sullivan, 2022
After a hard-fought six game series, the Houston Astros finally put an end to the Red Sox improbable run that took them from a projected fourth place divisional finish to one of the final four teams standing in the playoffs.
The ALCS began with an uninspiring loss for the Sox, before they blew out Houston in Games 2 and 3. For a moment, it looked like Boston had the chance to run through Houston en route to their fifth World Series of the century. Kiké Hernandez led a scorching hot offense, and Nathan Eovaldi headed a pitching staff that was good enough to support the offense.
Boston’s good fortunes shifted in Game 4. After a decisive non-strike call by Laz Diaz that capped off an overall horrific night for the home plate umpire, the Astros scored seven runs in the top of the ninth inning, and eventually won the game to tie the series at 2-2.
Unfortunately for Boston, this loss also gave the Astros all the momentum they needed to run through Boston in Games 5 and 6, clinching their third American League title in five years. The Red Sox scored a combined one run in the losses, their performance leading many to question whether their previous offensive outbursts were merely a facade. Alas, another offseason begins.
Luckily for Boston sports fans, this loss does not mean the end of Boston’s title window. In fact, it may be an indication that a new generation of young players will end Boston’s title “drought” of three years. Behind franchise cornerstones Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, the return of Chris Sale to pair with Nathan Eovaldi in the starting rotation, and a replenished farm system highlighted by Triston Casas and MLB Pipeline’s No. 9 overall prospect, Marcelo Mayer, the Red Sox may be contending for an American League East title over the next few years.
One problem: Three other teams in the AL East are also trending upward.
New York Yankees:
After a disappointing Wild Card exit, the Yankees may begin moving away from their signature lineup consisting of players with a ton of power and a ton of strikeouts, which has likely done a lot more harm than good for them. If 2021 was a wakeup call for New York to begin investing in more complete hitters, it won’t be good for the rest of the division.
Toronto Blue Jays:
The potential danger in the AL East doesn’t end with the Yankees. The Toronto Blue Jays flexed their wings in 2021, compiling 91 wins and the most home runs in the league. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. showed a rather large glimpse of his potential, Marcus Semien had a fantastic season at second base, and Robby Ray is a finalist for the American League Cy Young. Retaining both Semien and Ray in free agency will be difficult and their 14th-ranked farm system took a hit after a Trade Deadline deal for José Berríos, but the Blue Jays are here to stay.
Tampa Bay Rays:
Down in Tampa Bay, the Rays turned in another playoff run while maintaining their infamous low payroll. Wander Franco provided a preview of his talent in the four-game ALDS with Boston, amassing seven hits and two home runs. Worth noting: Tampa’s AAA, High-A, Low-A, and Florida Complex Minor League teams all finished with the best record in their respective leagues and won the championship. The AA Montgomery Biscuits lost by one run in the final game of their championship series. Of all the talent in the AL East, the Rays’ might shine the brightest. The success of their Minor League teams is a testament to that.
The Baltimore Orioles pose a slightly less formidable threat to the rest of the division, at least in the foreseeable future. After a 52-win season in 2021, tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the worst record in the league by a wide margin, the Orioles enter 2022 with low hopes. It is fairly unlikely they return to the 50-win level again, but their playoff ETA could very likely be beyond 2025. It’s not all bad in Birdtown, however. Cedric Mullins had a Silver Slugger season in 2021, slashing to the tune of .291/.360/.518. Even if Mullins does not repeat this performance in 2022, it looks as though the Orioles have found their centerfielder. Their farm system also boasts the number one prospect in baseball, Adley Rutschman, and hard-throwing LHP Grayson Rodriguez (No. 8).
Whatever happens, the AL East will be a division to watch.