The Blue Jays spent the first several weeks of the season surging into first place in the American League East. They rode the outstanding pitching of Mark Buehrle, and a power-packed lineup featuring Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie and former Yankee Melky Cabrera. This was going to be their season. They were going to win the division for the first time in over twenty years. Then came the Yankees.
The Yankees have battled injuries to their rotation. Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda have all missed significant time. Nova is done for the year. Sabathia is out until the All-Star break. Pineda is out until August. The lineup has nearly no power. Mark Teixeira leads the team with eleven home runs. The Blue Jays have five guys in double-digits. But they managed to avoid any long losing streaks that have plagued other division rivals thanks to the incredible Masahiro Tanaka and a lights-out bullpen.
The Blue Jays have not won a single game in the Bronx since 2012, a streak that was extended this week as the Yankees swept the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. The Blue Jays came into the Bronx with a healthy 4.5 game lead and limped out with their lead down to 1.5 games. The Yankees, who have frantically been inconsistent all season, showed up in a big way. They got terrific starting pitching from Tanaka, surprising rookie Chase Whitley and David Phelps. They got timely hitting from Brian McCann, Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury.
The AL East has been the most surprising division in baseball. The Rays, picked my many (including myself) to win the division during spring training, have the worst record in the American League. The defending champion Red Sox are under .500. The Blue Jays, picked by many (although not by me) to be at the bottom of the division are in first place. But one-third of the way into the season, as the teams start to figure out who they are, a pattern is beginning to emerge.
A pattern that shows who is in the best position to make a run and win the division. It’s the team with the best pitcher in baseball, a rock solid bullpen, that is starting to hit like the back of their baseball cards say they should. That team is the Yankees, and after a three-game sweep of Toronto, the Bombers have made one thing clear. The road to the AL East crown has to go through the Bronx.