August Tightened the American League East Race

American League East rivals are fighting for the top spot.
Adam Hunger – AP Photo

Through July, it appeared the American League East was set. The New York Yankees (79-52) rolled through every opponent and the other four AL East teams, despite being in contention for a playoff spot, were nowhere near them. However, this very long MLB season played its hand with a month of August that shifted the possibilities of the AL East. Going into the final full month of the regular season, the Tampa Bay Rays (72-57) are right on the heels of the Yankees.

Let’s take a look into what August had to offer for both teams and where they stand with a little over 30 games remaining.

New York Yankees

First Half Dominance

Through the first four months, the Yankees held a spectacular record of 69-34 with an 11.5-game lead in the American League East. Most impressively, they held the best record in all of baseball.

Of their first 33 series, they were 23-5-5. Yes, they only lost five series through four months which just shows how constantly in command they were no matter the opponent. To put this into perspective, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the best team in the National League, lost nine series in the first four months.

They were able to skyrocket ahead of the rest of the AL East opponents by beating them consistently. Overall they were 31-17 against the other four in the division.

They were on a roll that had not been seen by this organization in a long time. It would not be far-fetched to say they felt pretty confident. Yet, there are many examples of great teams getting a flat tire in the late months. August rolled around and put the Yankees through a very rough ride.

Awful August

In August, they went 10-18. A very different sight from what they experienced for the majority of the season thus far. Since the start of the century, this was the first time they posted 18 losses in a month. Their previous high was 17 which they did in August 2000 and May 2003.

In their nine series, they went 1-7-1. Included in those seven losses, were three straight against divisional opponents. Those were a part of six straight series losses to begin the month. It was the first time since the start of the century they lost six consecutive series. Their previous high was five between May 27 and June 12, 2005.

Things appeared to be turning around as they went on a five-game win streak between the 21-25th. The success was short-lived as they ended the month by losing four of five. Those final five games were against the Oakland Athletics (49-82), the second worst team in baseball, and the Los Angeles Angels (57-74).

Their offense which had topped the charts through July was stifled. In their 28 August games, they scored three or fewer 18 times and went 2-16 in those games. Through their first 103 games, teams held them to three or fewer 37 times where they went 15-22.

August saw the Yankees get shut out on five occasions. Through their first 103 games, they were shut out only six times. The last time they were shut out five or more times in a month was September 2016 when it happened six times.

The issues the Yankees ran into throughout August were extremely uncommon for this historic organization. All of these problems made their lead in the division shrink as the Tampa Bay Rays made a surge.

Tampa Bay Rays

An Inconsistent Start

Despite all of the issues the Rays had throughout the season with a lack of offense and an immense number of injuries they found ways to keep a winning record. Through the first four months, they only held a 54-48 record, well behind the pace set by the Yankees.

Through their first 32 series they put up some very even splits as they went 15-15-2.

One of the areas holding them back was their struggles against divisional opponents. The team at the forefront was the Yankees who went 7-3 against the Rays, six of those losses were by two or less. Then there was the Baltimore Orioles who went 8-8 against the Rays.

The AL East team helping them stay afloat was the Red Sox who the Rays went 8-2 against including a run differential of plus 19.

A second area that needed a lot of improvement was their ability to beat sub .500 teams outside of their division. In their 37 games against those bad teams that they should beat they only went 19-18. In those games, they only scored five or more runs 13 times where they went 10-3. They posted five or more 41 total times and lost six of those which means they struggled more frequently when scoring a bunch against bad teams than good teams.

They were given the chance to finally make a change with August and they took full advantage.

A Solid August

In August they gained some ground on the Yankees with an 18-9 record. Their 18 wins set a season high for wins in a month. However, the truly important stat is that they finished nine games over .500 for the month. The last time that occurred was August 2021 when they went 21-6.

They were much more consistent with winning series as they went 6-2-1. That included a stretch of five straight wins from the 12-25th. In there were some very crucial wins.

In order to gain ground on the front runner Yankees the Rays needed to beat them. The Rays went into Yankee Stadium in the middle of August and took two of three including a shutout.

Additonally they improved against bad teams. In 14 games against teams under .500 outside of the division they went 12-2 including eight straight wins against those teams to end the month.

Their offense also finally broke out against the bad teams. In those 14 games, they posted five or more runs on eight occasions. Most importantly they won all eight.

So much of the discussion has been on the offense, but this Rays pitching staff was excellent. They held opponents to three or fewer runs 19 times in August. With the help of some run support they were able to go 17-2. 73% of their games saw the opponents struggle to score. Their previous high this season was 17 in May. The last month they post 19 or more was May 2021 when they did it 20 times.

An Interesting Finish

The 11.5 game lead the Yankees had on the Rays at the start of August has shrunk to only six. With over 30 games remaining and the way both teams are trending that is a relatively weak six game difference.

The Yankees and Rays wrap up their season series with three in Tampa Bay this weekend and then three in New York next weekend. It will be a great opportunity for either team to make a push for the division. However there will still be plenty of games outside of these series.

For the Yankees, they conclude with six against the Red Sox and three against the Blue Jays and Orioles. Outside of the 18 games against the division they take on the Minnesota Twins (67-62), Milwaukee Brewers (69-60), Pittsburgh Pirates (49-81) and finish with four on the road against the Texas Rangers (58-71).

For the Rays they have a bit of a tougher road to the finish line. They do not have to worry about the Orioles, but they have nine against the Blue Jays and six against the Red Sox. They also take on the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Guardians (68-60). However they have one of the most unfortunate season series yet to play. Two of their final five series will be against the American League best Houston Astros (84-47).

It could be said that the Yankees have the clear advantage, but August proved how quickly things can change. The Yankees have had a tough time getting anything going their way no matter who they play. The Rays have some extremely tough series, but their pitching and offense has been clicking. The Yankees and Rays are most likely going to be tangled in a tight fight until the end to see who can claim the American League East.

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