Six months or so after the NFC East was the best division in football, the American League East has overtaken MLB. No team is below .500 as of Friday morning/early afternoon, and the fives clubs are a combined 105-56 against opponents outside the division. The Tampa Bay Rays (37-15) and Baltimore Orioles (33-17) lead the way, and the Rays have more Ws outside the AL East (24) than 12 teams have total.
At least sports fans outside of the Northeast corridor could poke holes in the NFC East’s success when Richie from Queens launched into an extremely East Coast-biased rant about Brian Daboll at Buffalo Wild Wings, because there’s no real argument to get him to shut the fuck up about his baseball love interests.
Tampa and Baltimore have run differentials of +114 and +45, respectively. The New York Yankees also have 30 wins, and even though the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays are only a combined three games over .500, their run differential is in the green, and they have the fifth- and 10th-best scoring offenses, respectively, in baseball.
The pitching leaves a little to be desired, and is probably what you should lead with when trying to get Johnny to stop yelling “27 rings!” The Rays and Yankees are Nos. 5-6 in staff ERA, with the Jays and O’s clocking in at Nos. 11-12. (The Sox are 25th, if you were wondering why they’re not better.)
While this is standard operating procedure most of the time for the AL East, it’s especially out of hand in 2023, and the other AL teams looking to get in via the Wild Card will have to keep up with a pretty demanding pace. The hope, if there is any, is for the Yankees, Sox, Rays, O’s, and Jays to all kick the shit out of each other, and keep the three at-large bids within reach.
The AL East is 47-47 vs. each other, but …
Since MLB has altered its scheduling across leagues, clubs now only play 52 games within the division instead of 76. That’s a 15 percent drop, down to 32 percent from about 47 percent. That’s a huge difference, and one that Tampa, Baltimore, Toronto, and New York are using to their advantage. (They’re Nos. 1-4 in the wins outside of the division.)
You’d think a broadening of opponents would theoretically give the teams chasing the Orioles and Yankees more opportunities to make up ground in head-to-head matchups, yet that’s not true because of the increase in interleague play. There are now 46 crossover outings per season, up from 20, so that’s 98 games in total against the division and opposing league. After all the changes to the schedule, the number of times an AL or NL team will play non-divisional league foes has decreased from 66 to 64.
I know I’m throwing a lot of numbers out here, but this is a baseball story, so you should be used to it — or at least prepared for it. Still, let me try to put this in a less confusing way.
For example, the Yankees will play non-AL East members of the American League 64 times instead of 66. That difference is negligible for the idea that fewer division games mean more chances for wild card teams to control their own destiny.
In reality, the AL East is just getting more games against opponents who aren’t in the AL East, which is a net positive gain for them. As a group, they’re 37-23 against the NL, and the Orioles, Yankees, and Jays have barely touched their interleague calendars. (Baltimore has 38 games left against the NL, New York 37, and Toronto 35.)
Good luck to clubs in the AL Wild Card race
This was not the year for Shohei Ohtani to be in a contract season. The Los Angeles Angels are currently sitting a game behind defending champion Houston, and 2.5 ahead of Boston and Seattle. We’ll see how this plays out. It’s Year 1 of this new format, but I think it will be easier for the good teams to rack up wins and extend leads in playoff races.
Fans in the Pacific Northwest should take solace in the fact that the Mariners ended their playoff drought last year because MLB might get even more top-heavy.
It took 700-plus words to arrive at my point, but it’s as simple as exchanging eight to nine series against the Rays, O’s, Yankees, Sox, or Jays for eight to nine series against a league that currently has fewer 30-win teams than the AL East alone.