The Best (and worst) Divisions in Baseball

Coming into the season, the American League East was expected to clean up. Boston added Adrian Gonzalez from the National League, New York is New York, the Rays added former all-stars Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, and the Orioles picked up Vlad “the Impaler” Guerrero and master of the hit-it-far-or-strikeout approach, Mark Reynolds (who has been a valuable player for Arizona despite breaking his own record for strikeouts…twice).

After horrid starts from Boston and Tampa Bay, the AL East is getting things back together. It’s the only division in the American League with a winning record, and has outscored the AL West, the next best division in the AL, by 28 runs.

As for the NL, I think it’s no surprise that the NL East is playing the bully role. Last season saw the wildcard come out of this division—the Braves—after a fierce race with the Padres from the West. This offseason saw witnessed of the best pitchers in baseball in Cliff Lee join the pitcher’s version of murderer’s row in Philly. The Marlins were building off an 80-82 season with a lot of young talent, including a very underrated pitching staff that features Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez (career 3.66 combined FIP). So far this season—like in the AL—the NL East is the only division in the league with a winning record, and additionally has outscored the second-place NL Central by 79 runs.  The Marlins are performing even better than expected, the Braves pitching has surprisingly been the best in the division (as well as all of baseball), and the Phillies are still the Phillies. P.S. Chase Utley isn’t even back yet.

Since everyone loves futility, the worst of each league belongs to the AL Central and the NL West. Minnesota has single-handedly pulled down the Central, having already lost three games out-of-division by double digits. In the league where pitchers actually hit, the Padres and Dodgers are working hard to keep the NL West down, combining for a 23-35 record out-of-division. The best of the NL West isn’t really all that good, either, with the top three teams combining for just a +14 run differential. Even Cincinnati alone, the second best team in the NL Central, has a +23.

As we near the one-third mark of the regular season, talent is starting to take the reins from randomness, and I would not be at all surprised to see the top two divisions in baseball residing in the East at season’s end.

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