Best division ever? AL East setting historic pace

September 1st, 2023

Take a gander at the standings through the first five months of the season, and any number of things may jump out at you. Perhaps it’s the surprising teams at or near the tops of their divisions, like the Rangers and Mariners.

Or maybe it’s the entire AL East, where four of five teams are above .500 entering September.

This division has the potential to be historic. Let’s dig in.

The schedule

First, the context and its implications. This is the first year of the new, balanced schedule. The last time the schedule was balanced, Interleague Play didn’t exist. Now, every team plays every other team.

That means fewer games against divisional opponents, which can go multiple ways. If there’s a less successful team in a division, its peers in the division have fewer chances to theoretically pad their records against that team. But it also means that if every team in a division is good, those teams will have fewer chances to cut into each other’s records, and more turns to add on elsewhere.

Could it be the winningest division ever?

The AL East has a combined .556 winning percentage. Divisions began in 1969, and in that span, the best combined winning percentage for a season was .566 by the 2002 AL West.

But wait, the current AL East has the potential to be even more impressive, as five teams have compiled that .556, instead of the four in that ‘02 AL West. Next on the list is the ‘01 AL West (.565) and that same division in ‘12 (.542).

The fourth division on the list is the leader among those with five teams, and it should be familiar. It’s last year’s edition of the AL East, at .541. This combined strength has been building to this point.

Currently, the Orioles are at .624, Rays .612, Blue Jays .545, Red Sox .515 and Yankees .485. The latest into a season that an entire division has been above .500 was the NL East in 2005, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. All five teams were over .500 through Oct.1, the second-to-last day of the season. The Nationals then lost their finale to finish 81-81.

How? Winning outside the division

By definition, a division will go .500 against its own division. As noted above, each division now plays more games outside of it. The AL East has built this record with prowess against non-divisional opponents.

The AL East currently has a .578 winning percentage outside the division. The best for a season, excluding 2020 (when outside the division consisted of only the same division in the other league), was .603 by the aforementioned ‘02 AL West, followed by .601 by the ‘01 AL West.

The highest for a five-team division was the next on the list, the 2022 AL East (.577).

Off to a good start

Beyond forecasting placement on season-long historical lists, we can already rank what the AL East has done so far.

The AL East’s .623 winning percentage in April was the third highest by a division in a calendar month, minimum 70 games, behind only the 2001 AL West’s July (.648) and the 2002 AL West’s August (.625). But of course, as we’ve established, those were four-team divisions, meaning that the 2023 AL East’s April was the highest for a five-team division in a month.

The prior record for a five-team division in a month? That would be the ‘22 AL East again, at .619 last June.

Every AL East team reached 50 wins before playing its 95th game. The 2023 AL East is the first division to have each of its teams reach 50 wins in fewer than 95 team games.

There are still some games left, both inside and outside divisions. But this AL East could be historic.