We are in the first week of what could be one of the most exciting and unpredictable baseball seasons in recent memory, and no division better exemplifies this than the one most likely to have its hats and jerseys displayed around campus: the American League East.
From 1998 to 2007 the AL East was the most predictable division in baseball. In fact, in seven of those 10 years the division finished with the exact same standings. The Yankees and Red Sox dominated the division and baseball as a whole, winning five World Series titles between them. If you lived in the Northeast and weren’t a Mets fan, then great. If not, life was miserable.
Then, in 2008, change came from the most unlikely of sources. The Devil Rays cut the satanic reference off the front of their name and won the division. Since then, the division has experienced more and more parity, culminating with this season, when all five teams have legitimate shots at making the playoffs. Each team has a shot, but there are red flags all over the division.
The Yankees and Red Sox finished at opposite ends of the division last year but enter this season with two big similarities: they are old, and they are hurt. Many of the players that defined the rivalry in recent years — Jeter, A-Rod and Ortiz, to name a few — will be watching the teams’ opening day clash from the dugout instead of the field. They’re both very talented teams that could make deep runs, but age could hold them back.
My beloved Orioles ended their 14-year streak of losing seasons and made the playoffs last year, but the Birds’ success could be difficult to replicate. The O’s were an average team in nearly every statistical category except for a ridiculously effective bullpen of no-names and the best record in one-run games in the history of the game. The signs might not be too positive, but it’s hard to ignore a team that finished with 93 wins last year.
The Blue Jays had a huge offseason trading for National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and making a huge trade with the Marlins that netted them three all-stars. This movement of talent north of the border took the Jays from mediocre to favorites for the division. In making a few big offseason acquisitions for well-known stars, the Jays are trying the same strategy the Marlins had last year. The result for Miami was 93 losses and an empty ballpark, followed by a fire sale of their best players … to the Blue Jays.
Finally there are the Rays, who have been consistently successful with a tiny payroll. The Rays once again lost a number of their starters, most notably B.J. Upton, through free agency to teams who could afford to pay them more. The Rays may be poor in terms of money, but they are filthy rich when it comes to young pitching, the most reliable formula to build a winning team in recent years. On the shoulders of their young arms, I predict that the Rays will emerge as the AL East champion come October.