Three-way battle for the AL East title
Which team has what it takes to win the division, the O's, Rays or Yankees?
Our analysts examine the division title odds, injuries and key players. For the latest postseason odds, check out Hunt for October.
1. Odds of Rays or Orioles winning the AL East?
Christina Kahrl (@ChristinaKahrl), SweetSpot: I'd give both about a 30 percent shot at winning the division, with the Yankees owning the slightly better shot. I know, coolstandings.com and the like say the O's shot is much lower, but at some point you have to accept they've come this far. It isn't like the gods of equitable dice will force them to go 0-6 in their next half-dozen one-run games or something. Punt regression and what's supposed to happen; this is happening, and it's best we just enjoy the ride.
Marquis Heilig (@MHeilig), The Ray Area: After watching Baltimore at home against New York and then again Tuesday night, it would be almost malpractice to say the Orioles were anything other than the odds-on favorite to win the division. Unless, of course, this hot streak fades. They have a slightly easier schedule than the Rays, but the Rays have eight games left against New York and Baltimore, so in theory they have the most direct control of the division title. The X factor might be Baltimore's two remaining cross-country flights. Perhaps all that air time will crack the door for the Rays. Based on my calculations, two five-hour flights plus Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and half of the now-injured David Price gives the Rays a 22 percent chance of winning the AL East. That leaves 45 percent for the O's and 33 percent for the Yankees (who play a bunch of Football Championship Subdivision schools the rest of the way).
Chip Buck, (@Chip_Buck )Fire Brand of the AL: I'd say the Rays have a 50 percent chance of winning the East with the Orioles at around 30 percent. Injuries to Jason Hammel and Nick Markakis really hurt the O's.
2. Which is a bigger loss, Nick Markakis or Mark Teixeira?
Kahrl: Markakis, because the Orioles don't have any offensive talent depth, and their list of outfield assets was pretty limited even with Markakis in the fold. I mean, c'mon, Nate McLouth and Lew Ford? Those aren't the rewards of successful Dumpster diving; that's grabbing the nearest dead bodies in the zombie apocalypse and sticking them into the lineup -- and contending anyway. Chris Davis in the outfield and Wilson Betemit DH-ing isn't ideal, and not even getting Jim Thome back at some point would fix it.
Heilig: My gut reaction is Markakis. Tex is a great hitter, but a lineup that also features Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Derek Jeter doesn't figure to miss him a whole lot. However, it occurs to me that Baltimore has scored 63 runs in its past 10 games and hit three home runs Tuesday night in the series opener against the Rays. That offensive outburst seems to make Markakis expendable, making Teixeira the bigger loss.
Buck: Markakis, for sure. The Yankees have a ton of great bats in Cano, A-Rod, Jeter, Granderson and Swisher. The O's are forced to play Ford and McLouth in the corners, and that's a huge downgrade.
3. Who's the most important player in this division over the next three weeks?
Kahrl: Evan Longoria, because he helps keep Joe Maddon's offensive playbook simple: shift and move with the bottom of the order and his multiple moving parts, but let it ride up top and let Longoria and his boppers rip. Longoria is the best the Rays have; if he goes on a tear, he's the difference-maker who can carry the Rays out of the wild-card morass and give the Rays a couple of key days off to line up their rotation for October action.
Heilig: Carl Crawford, no question about it. Too soon? Sorry. I'm not sure I can pick a player who is the most important Ray in the next three weeks, much less a player who is the most important in the entire AL East. New York and Tampa Bay both have a lot of moving parts coming down the stretch between key injuries and streaky play. Baltimore has several guys playing well above their pay grade who may or may not be able to keep it up for three more weeks. I don't think I can point to any player in any clubhouse as being the most important because this division is so wide-open at this point. (Wait, didn't I just say that Baltimore is the odds-on favorite? Yeah, I did, but I am fickle.)
Buck: Alex Rodriguez. With Teixeira out with a calf injury, the Yankees really need A-Rod to step up and be the player we all know he's capable of being. Yes, he's in his decline phase, but he's still capable of great stretches. The Yankees need one of those stretches to come in September.