Recent Events Cement AL East (Beast) As The Best Division In Baseball
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In every 162-game season from 2001 through 2022, divisional opponents saw each 19 times, meaning the Yankees played anywhere between 72 and 76 games in those seasons against their other four AL East teams.
After playing 1,778 divisional games in those 162-game seasons and 40 in the 2020 pandemic 60-game sprint, the number was reduced to 13 games for this year and the foreseeable future as a way to get every team to face each other.
The prevailing notion was that opponents would be glad to avoid 19 annual encounters with the Yankees. And perhaps the Yankees can be glad to avoid 19 annual encounters with their divisional foes given the strength of the AL East.
In a 22-game stretch where the Yankees won 15 times to go from having their season canceled on social media because of a 15-15 record to 10 games over .500, the Yankees played 14 times against divisional opponents. During those games, the Yankees won seven times with 12 of those contests being decided by three runs or less and 10 of those affairs getting decided in the fifth inning or beyond.
The competitiveness essentially backs up the concept of the AL East being the best of the six divisions. It is the only division with all five teams over .500 at least for now because the Red Sox after their earlier hot streak are two games over and the Blue Jays are one game over.
The last few weeks provided observers with sort of a round-robin between every team in the division except the Red Sox.
It started with the three Yankee games in Tampa that saw the Yankees blow a six-run lead in the series finale May 7, then the Orioles began their current 11-4 surge by taking two of three at home from the Rays and winning three low-scoring affairs. That was followed by the Rays splitting four games in the Bronx with the last three being under early consideration for the best of the season.
Then came the Yankees’ eventful trip to Toronto for four nights, featuring verbal jousting about the positioning of coaches in their box and manager John Schneider acting like a wrestling heel by calling a Yankee coach (assistant hitting coach Brad Wilkerson) “Fat Boy”.
While the Yankees got a break from the division last weekend, the Orioles headed to Toronto and pulled off a three-game sweep with two extra inning victories and closer Felix Bautista throwing 56 pitches to 13 hitters. The series was noted for Schneider losing track of mound visits in an inning and being forced to remove struggling starter Alek Manoah.
Then came this week’s series between the Orioles and Yankees. It started with Aaron Judge’s 38th career homer against the Yankees with his tying blast off Bautista’s hanging splitter but the Orioles exited the Bronx with two differing wins.
The first was the eight-run seventh highlighted by Adam Frazier’s three-run homer that clanked off the right field foul pole against a seemingly tired Nestor Cortes. The next was a routine 3-1 victory when the Orioles held the Yankees to three hits a night after their biggest inning in New York since June 1989 – two months in the run of New York’s four straight losing seasons.
The two wins in New York enabled the Orioles to at the very least cement their status as a second-place team while staying within striking distance of the lead.
“It’s definitely two tough places to play,” said manager Brandon Hyde, who had several of his friends from his native California at the series opener wearing t-shirts with his likeness on them. “I think we showed just a gritty team. The way we won, too. None of them were easy wins. Just really proud of our club. These are two really tough places to play, two excellent teams. We played well in so many areas.”
The Orioles capped a 5-1 road trip by doing all the things Hyde mentioned on the same day the Blue Jays lost their second straight. In a series where Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered off outfielder Luke Raley and signed a baseball for him in a 20-1 rout, the Blue Jays lost the other games and were left resorting to the tactic of calling a team meeting.
“We have to get better,” Schneider told reporters Thursday afternoon. “When it comes down to us as a staff, the expectations are put right in front of you. There is an urgency that needs to be had in order to meet those expectations. Wins and losses out the window. the last 10 days haven’t been great, and I think that the urgency in which those expectations are trying to be achieved is not right there.”
“Yes, that’s on me and the players, ultimately on me.” Schneider added. “When the players are recognizing that, and when the players are calling attention to that, it’s going to hold a lot more weight than anyone of the staff members trying to get mad or get in their face,”
So far, the combined record within the division is 47-47 and the next set of divisional games next weekend when the Rays visit the Red Sox, who then spent the second and third weekends of June facing the Yankees.
If anything, the recent round-robin tournament feel of the division merely cements its lofty status that is likely to continue through the end of the year. And the Yankees, Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays got good looks at it with varying degrees of success.
“This year it’s the AL Beast again,” said Baltimore Austin Hays said. “Every team, it’s a dogfight every series you play in the AL East. This was just another one of those. Just try to find a way to win the game, no matter what it is.”
And when those AL East teams win against each other, just exhale and enjoy it like Jason Adam did on May 14 when Judge’s drive to the warning track hung in the wind before landing securely in center fielder Jose Siri’s glove.