Toronto’s sweep of Atlanta just the latest flex for dominant AL East
Matt Chapman came sliding across the plate, touching off a wild celebration in Toronto after the Blue Jays completed a three-game sweep of Atlanta.
It was yet another moment of excellence for the AL East, which could be headed to a historic season.
The Blue Jays are in third place in the division, but after their walk-off win over the Braves on Sunday, they also have the sixth-best record in all of baseball. All five AL East teams are above .500. The team in last place — the Boston Red Sox — is a solid 22-19, which is about an 87-win pace for a whole season.
Right now the AL East includes baseball’s top team in Tampa Bay (31-11), plus the top four teams in the American League wild-card race. Baltimore (26-14), Toronto (24-16) and the New York Yankees (23-19) would all be in the playoffs if the postseason began now, and the five teams in the division have a combined winning percentage of .615.
And that includes all the games they’ve spent beating up on each other. Against teams in other divisions, the AL East has won over two thirds of its games, going an incredible 93-46 to this point. It’s not unusual for the AL East to be powerful, given the presence of the Yankees and Red Sox, but this year has been something of a perfect storm, with lower-spending teams like Tampa Bay and Baltimore posting the two best records in the majors so far.
So it’s not too early to speculate on whether this year’s AL East might be the very best division in MLB history. No division has ever had all of its teams finish above .500, and right now FanGraphs projects that the AL East will do just that.
The .615 winning percentage by the AL East — if it continues — would easily top the all-time list for a division. According to Sportradar, the current record belongs to the 2002 AL West, which finished at .566. That division included Oakland (103-59), Anaheim (99-63) and Seattle (93-69), with the Angels winning the World Series that year.
Of course, the AL West also had Texas, which was 72-90 in 2002. What is setting this year’s AL East apart is that it has dominant teams at the top, plus teams at the bottom that are still pretty good. With a more balanced schedule in effect this season, the AL East teams won’t have to face each other as much, and that makes it quite feasible that they could all finish with winning records.
Although no division in MLB or the NFL has had every team finish above .500, it has happened in basketball, according to Sportradar. And quite recently, at that. This season, the NBA’s Pacific Division included the Kings (48-34), Suns (45-37), Clippers (44-38), Warriors (44-38) and Lakers (43-39).
If that went largely unnoticed, it’s probably because the relevance of divisions is pretty low in the NBA these days. And even in baseball, you shouldn’t expect an “AL EAST!” chant to break out if one of those teams wins the World Series. Divisional or conference solidarity isn’t the same in the pro sports as it might be in the SEC.
But about a quarter of the way through the 2023 season, AL East fans are watching something special.
Before the wild card — when there were only two divisions per league — which division had the highest winning percentage in a season?
With the AL East looking so formidable, the Seattle Mariners have to be careful not to fall too far behind in the postseason race. They’ve won nine of their last 13 to pull back to .500, and they’re only two games behind the Yankees for the third wild card. They’re also five games behind AL West-leading Texas.
That 107-win season for San Francisco in 2021 feels like a long time ago. This past week, the Giants dropped two of three at home against Washington and then lost three of four at Arizona. They trail the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers by 8 1/2 games in the NL West.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Baltimore’s Cedric Mullins hit for the cycle Friday night in a 6-3 win over Pittsburgh. He was the seventh Oriole to accomplish the feat — a list that includes Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken.
COMEBACK OF THE WEEK
Down by four runs with one out in the bottom of the eighth, Cleveland strung together four straight singles, cutting the Los Angeles Angels’ lead in half. Then Josh Naylor connected for a three-run homer.
Andres Gimenez added a solo shot to cap the six-run inning, and the Guardians went on to an 8-6 win Saturday night.
Naylor ended up hitting three go-ahead homers in the eighth inning in that series.
That was the AL East in 1983, which posted a winning percentage of .534. It included Baltimore (98-64), Detroit (92-70), New York (91-71), Toronto (89-73), Milwaukee (87-75), Boston (78-84) and Cleveland (70-92).
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