On Saturday morning, ESPN’s Buster Olney passed along the interesting fact that all five teams in the American League East has a negative run differential. The first-place Yankees are tied for the worst differential at -10 with the Red Sox, while the second-place Orioles are at -1, the third-place Blue Jays are at -6, and the last-place Rays are at -2.
It’s still early so run differential doesn’t mean a whole lot. But over a larger sample of games, run differential correlates strongly to winning baseball games. By this simple arithmetic function, we can conclude with a large grain of salt that the five AL East teams have played no better than average baseball to begin the season.
The only other division with three teams in the red in run differential is the AL West. The Rangers (-2), Mariners (-6), and the Astros (-51) have played subpar baseball. It’s… a bit of an understatement for the Astros.
No surprise here: The Astros are headed back to the postseason to defend their title following a landslide 11-3 win over the Angels on Friday. This figures to be their third playoff run since 2015, though they have yet to wrap up the AL West with a division title.
First baseman Yuli Gurriel led the charge on Friday, smashing a grand slam in the first inning and tacking on a two-run homer in the second and RBI single in the fifth to help the Astros to a seven-run lead. The Angels eventually returned fire, first with Mike Trout‘s 418-foot homer in the sixth, then with an RBI hit from Francisco Arcia in the seventh, but they couldn’t close the gap in time to overtake the Astros.
On the mound, right-hander Gerrit Cole clinched his 15th win of the year after holding the Angels to seven innings of three-run, 12-strikeout ball. His sixth strikeout of the night — delivered on an 83.1-MPH knuckle curveball to Kaleb Cowart — also marked the 1,000th strikeout of his career to date. He was backed by flawless performances by lefty reliever Tony Sipp and rookie right-hander Dean Deetz, both of whom turned in scoreless innings as the offense barreled toward an 11-3 finish with Jake Marisnick‘s sac bunt and George Springer‘s three-run shot in the eighth.
Despite having qualified for the playoffs, the Astros still carry a magic number of 6 as they look to clinch a third straight division title. They’re currently up against the Athletics, who entered Friday’s contest against the Twins just four games back of first place in the AL West.