NEW YORK — It's not often, in this day and age of baseball, that every team in a division is competitive. And it's not often that an entire division is capable of playing .500 ball or better.
But that could be the case in this year's American League East.
The AL East has historically been top-heavy with the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and, over the last decade, the Tampa Bay Rays jockeying for first place. This season, the division appears to be as wide-open as it has been in recent years, with every team capable of finishing the season over .500.
Last year, the Yankees (99-63), Toronto Blue Jays (92-70), Rays (86-76) and Baltimore Orioles (83-79) all finished above .500. The Red Sox (78-84) were the only team that did not.
Since MLB’s realignment in 1993, no division has had all of its teams above .500. The closest instance was in 2005 in the NL East, when four teams were over .500 but the Washington Nationals ended up 81-81.
This year, the Rays, who lead the AL East at 14-2, are one of the biggest stories of the young season. They became the fourth team in MLB history to win their first 13 games.
What has stood out during Tampa Bay's hot start has been its combination of dominant starting pitching and home-run power. Entering Monday, the Rays lead the major leagues with 36 homers — second baseman Brandon Lowe has a team-leading five HRs — and they've been equally impressive on the mound with a baseball-best 2.54 ERA and just 42 runs allowed, the fewest in MLB.
Going into the season, the Yankees and the Blue Jays were co-favorites to win the division. Both are 10-6 and will be in the mix for the AL East title with Tampa Bay.
Can the Red Sox compete in the AL East?
Reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge leads the Bronx Bombers' potent offense, but starting pitching has been their strength early on. The Yankees rank fourth in the majors in team ERA (3.04), and $300 million man Gerrit Cole (4-0, 0.95 ERA) looks like an early favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award.
Toronto, which handed the Rays their first two losses of the season over the weekend, boasts a tremendous amount of depth on its roster as well as a dangerous lineup featuring Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, George Springer and Matt Chapman.
The Orioles were the best story in baseball last season as their young squad became a nightly must-watch, especially in September when they were vying for a wild-card spot. This year, the O’s aren’t sneaking up on anyone and have shown the rest of the league that 2022 was no fluke with a 9-7 start.
The one AL East team that could bring up the rear is the Red Sox (8-8). After finishing last in '22 and losing four-time All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts in free agency, Boston didn’t make many improvements this season. While Rafael Devers continues to be an MVP-caliber player, he is the only Red Sox position player with an OPS over .850.
One major factor in the entire AL East potentially finishing over .500 is the introduction of balanced scheduling in 2023. With each team now playing clubs within their division 13 times, teams at the top won't get to beat up on teams at the bottom of the standings.
The new schedule also allows clubs to face other struggling squads around the league. The Rays have already capitalized on this new dynamic, winning their first nine games against the Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals and Oakland A's, all among MLB's worst teams.
As the season enters its third full week, all five clubs in the AL East are at .500 or better. The division had all five teams over .500 going into the All-Star break last season, so the entire AL East finishing above .500 is not out of the realm of possibility.