Hey 2023 Baltimore Orioles, this is all your fault.
We could be thinking that when the Orioles turned the American League East upside down by going from 110 losses in 2021 to 101 wins and the division championship in 2023. The Orioles finished in first place for the first time since 2014.
To the delight of Birdland, the Boston Red Sox finished last with 78 wins and the New York Yankees were in fourth with 82 wins which was their fewest in a full season since 1995. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
All this upheaval in the AL East has the big-market, big spenders not too happy perhaps with the 101-win Orioles and 99-win Tampa Bay Rays. If anyone thought they would sit idly by and watch the O’s and Rays take over this division without throwing more money at their problems, you were sadly mistaken.
Juan Soto, welcome to the AL East. Shohei Ohtani, would you like to join him? Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who might get $200 million dollars, might not be far behind.
The rich could be getting richer in the AL East – or should we say the traditionally rich. Because this past October it was the Orioles, Rays and Jays in the playoffs while the Yankees and Red Sox were setting up tee times.
If you want to see an easily annoyed O’s fan, watch his or her reaction when the Red Sox or Yankees throw money at a problem. Soto is a great hitter, but the hope around Birdland would be that he’s one (year) and done in the Bronx and then New York is hurt by both the loss of the players they gave up to get him for one year and whatever luxury tax issues his 2024 salary could cause or add to.
The AL East clubs played at a collective .580-win percentage outside the division in 2023. Their overall record, counting all games, produced a 449-361 mark and the .554-win percentage was the best record ever for a five-team division. Since divisional play began in 1969, no division has more World Series wins than the 16 by the combined AL East.
The East is a beast – until it wasn’t. And it wasn’t in October when the O’s, Rays and Jays were all swept in the first round going a combined 0-7. The was the most losses by one division ever without a single win in a postseason. Dating back to the Yankees being swept four straight in the 2022 AL Championship Series, the division right now has an 11-game postseason losing streak riding.
The Texas Rangers went 5-0 against the Rays and O’s by a combined 32-12 score on their way to the World Series title.
So, for the East, sensational regular season, terrible postseason. What can we make of that I asked MLB Network analyst and former MLB general manager Dan O’Dowd during the Winter Meetings?
“Yeah, I don’t read anything into that. I’m a believer that there is both skill and luck involved in the game of baseball and over 162 games the skill permeates. In the postseason, luck does. You know that O’s-Texas series, if some things had changed at (the O’s) home it would have been a more compelling series. Postseason is wrought with those things happening. I wouldn’t change my plan other than they need an impact starting pitcher. That was obvious. You need to put your team in that position each year and eventually you will break through,” O’Dowd said.
The Orioles are currently combating the Yankees and Red Sox's cash in one of the few ways they truly can – by producing a better farm system. A system that might make those big spenders jealous. All the money in the world can’t buy the O’s prospect list.
Last year the O’s bucked tradition. The tradition being that the Yankees and Red Sox buy the best players and win a lot. In recent years teams like the Rays and O’s have shown they can overcome that. It is not easy, and it is a tremendous challenge. But they did it in 2023.
The big spenders are bound and determined for that to not happen in 2024.