108: Being in the AL East both a blessing and a curse for Blue Jays

The AL East has always been tough, and 2017 is no different. (Photo: Stan Behal/Toronto Sun)

The AL East has always been tough, and 2017 is no different. (Photo: Stan Behal/Toronto Sun)

By Tyler King

Canadian Baseball Network

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This is probably going to be the most unoriginal article you’ve ever read.

Why? Because if you are a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays you’ve had to read stories like this pretty well every year. 

So, consider this a recording - or at least a friendly reminder:

The AL East is the best division in baseball ... (if not the toughest division in all of sports).

But, you may be happy to know, the fact that the Jays play in this dubious division is not all bad news for you fans. In years such as this one, it does end up producing some parity, which gives teams like the Blue Jays a chance to crawl out from the cavernous hole they dug for themselves with an 8-17 month of April. 

(You can also thank Justin Smoak basically turning into Babe Ruth for their comeback). 

If, however, a team like the 42-18 Houston Astros were in the Jays’ division, that hole might yet be inescapable - as the Jays would currently be 12.5 games back of those AL West leading Astros, rather than the six games they actually sit behind the 33-23 AL East leader, the New York Yankees.

Now that may appear to undermine the overarching thesis that the AL East is the biggest and baddest division in the game, but you must have noticed that the reason there is so much parity to begin with is because all five teams in the AL East are really good.

The result is that those teams end up beating on each other, and there is no San Diego Padres or Philadelphia Phillies for them to feast on 20 times a year - which is precisely why this parity can also be bad.

The Jays have had to play 29 of their 60 games against divisional opponents, which, when you realize just how good the AL East truly is, puts them at an obvious disadvantage.

However, although the Jays are currently last in the AL East, their record is a mere two games under .500 (29-31). No other last place team has a record better than seven games below .500.

What that seems to also indicate is that the AL East tends to beat up on everybody else, too.

If you added the records of all the five AL East teams prior to the start of play on Thursday, they have a combined win-loss total of 155-137 (+18). The only other divisions with collective records above .500 are the AL West and NL West, both of which have 10 more wins than losses ... 

Or, to put it another way, the AL East has eight fewer losses than the next best divisions in baseball (and we’re only two months into the season).

As impressive and terrifying as that is, the strength of the Jays’ division can also be quantified in numbers beyond sheer wins and losses.

Take, for example, the unmatched home run power that is prevalent in all AL East lineups. The Blue Jays, Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, and Tampa Bay Rays are currently among the top 10 home running hitting teams in the entire MLB (they’ve all hit more than 80 homers). And of the 33 individual American League hitters with 10 or more home runs, 13 (39%) hail from the East.

Sure, all the National League purists (and thus designated hitter haters) can argue as much as they want about “hitter friendly” parks. And yes, the American League - the East in particular - is well known for having more than their fair share of short porches. But even that argument starts to crumble when you consider that all five AL East teams are in the top 10 in home runs hit on the road

(The Blue Jays have hit more homers on the road despite playing two less away games.)

With numbers like those it’s hard to look past the home runs as what makes the AL East so threatening, but it’s the fact that their lineups are so well-rounded that truly makes them dominant. 

Five of the 10 best individual batting averages, four of the top six OPS’s, and five of the top 10 slugging percentages in the American League belong to players from AL East teams. Which is part of the reason why no AL East team is worse than ninth in the league in total runs scored.

But even with their heavy ($$$) investment in power hitting, the AL East also has its fair share of all-star pitching. In fact, three of the AL’s four best team ERAs belong to teams from the AL East - the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. The Blue Jays and Baltimore are both in the top 10. 

Of the 21 qualified American League starters with ERAs under 4.00, 10 of them hail from the AL East. And of the 20 pitchers that have opponent’s batting averages of .250 or lower, nine belong to teams in the Jays’ division.

If you simply combined the ERAs of all AL East teams, they would have a collective divisional ERA of 4.03. If you did the same for the AL West it would be 4.22; the AL Central would be 4.38.

It’s therefore no wonder that, as of last week, both CBS and ESPN had all five AL East teams in the top 15 of their MLB power rankings. No other division had more than three teams as high.

So how does a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays process all that information? Good question.

And maybe this is a bad time to tell you that the Jays play 46 more games against divisional opponents this season ... 

Then again that’s 46 more chances to crawl out of the basement.

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Follow Tyler and #Section108 on Twitter: @TylerJoseph108