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Why the Yankees Still Have to Be AL East Favorites

Sports Illustrated logo Sports Illustrated 4/24/2019 The SI Staff

Between the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox, perhaps no division has been as eye-opening as the AL East. New York's never-ending Injured List could double as an All-Star team. Tampa Bay looks dangerously good (as long as Cy Young winner Blake Snell is more careful in the bathroom). Then there's Boston, the defending World Series champ, that's somehow been rooming with the Orioles at the bottom of the division for most of the season.

 So what can we make of this frenetic start to the season? More importantly, who's going to win the AL East? Our staff agrees in unison: It's the Yankees.

Tom Verducci

If I thought before the season the Yankees would win the AL East, I can't jump off a pick after three weeks in which they still haven't fielded their expected starting lineup. This team will mash, and the AL just has too many easy wins on the table to write off a very good team. Don't be mistaken, though: the Rays are legit, with more quality arms than perhaps any other team. I just might have undersold them as a wild-card team.

Stephanie Apstein

Rumors of the Red Sox' demise have been greatly exaggerated, but they have dug themselves a sizeable hole with a 9–15 record. I think they are a good enough team that they will make it close, but losses count just as much in April as they do in September. The Yankees have fumbled to a 13–10 start, but unlike the Red Sox, whose struggles defy explanation, New York has done it with most of the team in traction or under quarantine. I expect New York to take the division by a game or two, and Boston to look back angrily at the games it let slip away this month. 

Emma Baccellieri

I originally picked the Yankees, and I'm sticking with them. Yes, injuries have thus far rendered their roster looking more like that of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders—at least, when they haven't rendered it more like that of the Double-A Trenton Thunder. But such a large chunk of the team can't spend forever on the IL, and when they get healthy, there's no reason to believe that they can't be as good as originally expected. Even in their depleted state, they have a notably high run differential, and adjusted standings like FanGraphs' BaseRuns and Baseball Prospectus' third-order win percentage indicate that the club "should" have won more than they have. When they're back to full strength, they should be just fine.

Michael Beller

I'm sticking with the Yankees. They've had a season's worth of IL stints in April, yet they're still just 2 1/2 games behind the Rays. Some of those players aren't coming back anytime soon, but a lot of them are, and this offense, when healthy, is still the class of the division. The Rays are for real, and the Red Sox are a strong bet to figure things out sooner rather than later, too, but I'm still trusting the Yankees offense to carry them to the top of the AL East.

Connor Grossman

Everyone has touched on the Yankees' chock-full Injured List, but here's a striking way to quantify it. 

The Rays are going to make this a fight through the end of September, so don't be surprised to see both teams in October and the 2018 champs nowhere to be found.

Jon Tayler

I picked the Yankees preseason, and despite their roster getting swept away like the Avengers post-Thanos snap (no Endgame spoilers, please) and Tampa's hot start, I'm sticking with them. That's predicated, though, on all the missing pieces getting and staying healthy. That's no guarantee, as we've already seen with Luis Severino, Dellin Betances and Aaron Hicks, whose absences have extended far longer than expected (and in the case of Severino and Betances, will keep them sidelined for quite a bit more).

As is, New York's lineup right now—with far too much Gio Urshela and Austin Romine and Mike Tauchman for anyone's liking—would make a Triple A squad weep, and the loss of Aaron Judge is a hammer blow. But I still think the Yankees have the most talent overall of any squad in the division, and if they can stay within striking distance of the Rays, then all those healthy players returning to action should propel them to the title.

Related Slideshow: Best of the 2019 MLB Season (Provided by imagn)

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