Before the season, most people saw both the AL East and AL Central as three-team races. While ten games is far too few to significantly alter those predictions, four of those teams are wallowing toward the bottom of the standings. Which are most likely to turn it around? Let's examine, starting with the best of the bunch:
Boston: Perhaps you've heard that the Red Sox are 2-8 and that their -31 run differential is by far the worst in the league thus far. No? I understand; SportsCenter hasn't had time to cover it between all that Stanley Cup talk.
Seriously, though, we all know that Clay Buchholz and John Lackey have combined for 8 home runs and 23 runs in 18-2/3 innings, that Daisuke Matsuzaka managed to make the Rays' offense look like the '27 Yankees playing a game in Coors Field, that Kevin Youkilis has 2 RBI and that Carl Crawford has Sox fans yearning for the glory days of Daniel Nava.
We also know that Boston will be fine. If last year's visit to the infirmary yielded 89 wins, I find it difficult to imagine that this season's outfit won't hit 90, even with a 2-8 stretch. Crawford and Youkilis will get back to looking like All-Stars. I bet that Jed Lowrie takes more and more at-bats from Marco Scutaro, and emerges as one the American League's best shortstops. Anyone who saw Josh Beckett on Sunday knows there are still shades of the pitcher he was just two years ago, when he went 17-6 with a 3.86 ERA and 3.6 K/BB ratio. Buchholz is not the pitcher he looked like last year, but he's still an asset, and even John Lackey will (probably) settle into a back-end innings eater, which is enough with this lineup. Even if he doesn't, Sox fans can take solace in this: their #2 starter could be A.J. Burnett.
Minnesota: The Twins have yet to score more than 3 runs in a game. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau both have OBPs of .303 - and they are tied for third on the team. They possess only two quality starts and they are a very un-Twin like 10th in the A.L. in walks allowed. Sound like small sample size to you?
Granted, this may not be one of the better Twins teams of recent memory. But in this division, they don't have to be, unless maybe Asdrubal Cabrera hits 50 home runs. As long as Mauer and Morneau stay healthy, this team should be in the playoff race come September.
Tampa Bay: Now, I start to get worried. Two weeks ago, I thought the Rays were the third best team in baseball. But this offense has done its best Mariners impression (Non-Dice-K Division), and there are reasons to believe that will continue. Evan Longoria is gone for the rest of the month, Manny is gone for good, and Dan Johnson appears to be Joe Maddon's new clean-up hitter. I was optimistic about this team's approach to replacing Crawford and (especially) Pena, but in the ultracompetitive East, every setback is magnified, and losing Longoria and Ramirez are definitely setbacks.
Then, there are the starting pitchers, none of whom have an ERA better than league average. Some pegged this rotation as the best in the A.L. before the season, and ten games certainly won't change that. Even if the offense finishes toward the bottom of the league, the rotation should keep the Rays competitive. But will that be enough? And what of Joe Maddon's style if things go south? This team struggled through much of the second half of the 2009 season, including a terrible September. I still think the Rays are a good team, but there is a possibility of implosion here.
Detroit: I am not a believer in the Tigers, and I wasn't before the season. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander are obviously great, and I really like Max Scherzer and Victor Martinez. As for the rest of the roster ... let's say I'm underwhelmed. I'm always weary of teams that rely so much on so few players. Where will this team be if Cabrera misses a few weeks?
I also think the Tigers have been slightly overrated the past few years. Remember 2008, when they were supposed to score 1000 runs? Their opponents scored closer to that number than they did, and they finished 74-88, in last place - behind the Royals. This team has not made the playoffs since its World Series run in 2006. The past two seasons, Detroit's run differentials have been -2 and +8. They've been an average team, and I don't see this team being much different. One reason people do believe in the Tigers is they usually get off to a fast start, before fading after the All-Star Break. In 2009, they led the division by seven games on September 6, before losing their lead, and a one-game playoff, to the Twins. Their only poor April the last few years was 2008, and we saw how that turned out. I don't see enough weapons in the lineup and I see too many questions on the pitching staff. I won't be surprised if this supposed American League contender is looking toward the future come September. And Jim Leyland is looking toward a retirement of cigars and scotch and whatever it is that keeps that man going.