Is the AL Beast in decline?

For the last decade, the AL East has been the unrivaled "best division in baseball." In 2008, free-spending perennial contenders in New York and Boston were shocked when Tampa Bay, long a punchline, won the division, breaking a ten-year stretch of either the Yankees or Red Sox finishing first. Only once during that decade did the other not finish second. Since then, Tampa has picked up another divisional crown, as well as two Wild Cards, and has never finished below .500. The two juggernauts have continued to rattle off 85-95 win seasons (save for putrid 2012 Sox), and more recently, the Orioles have joined the fray. Even the Jays consistent mediocrity (between 73 and 87 wins in every season since 2004) help make The Beast host of many a harrowing road trip for teams from the West Coast, Midwest, and National League. Run differentials and divisional winning percentages from the past seven seasons tell the tale:

  • 2013: +222 (1st), .534 (1st)
  • 2012: +123 (2nd), .519 (2nd)
  • 2011: +271 (1st), .528 (1st)
  • 2010: +248 (1st), .532 (1st)
  • 2009: +239 (1st), .520 (2nd)
  • 2008: +333 (1st), .538 (1st)
  • 2007: +180 (1st), .504 (3rd)

But the Beast's reign of terror may be coming to an end...or at least an interlude.

As of the start of games on Monday, no team in the division has a positive run differential and the overall differential (-35) is worse than every division except the NL West (-43). The Beast is the only division which has less than two teams above .500.

Perhaps more worrisome than these early returns is the rash of injuries, particularly to pitchers, which has exposed a lack of depth, even for the division's creme de la creme. This week the Yankees must once again turn to Vidal Nuno (6.59 ERA), the Rays will rely upon 35-year-old Erik Bedard (7.45 ERA) and rookie Jake Odorizzi (6.52 ERA), and the Blue Jays will debate whether to replace reclamation project Dustin McGowan (6.88 ERA). Yankees fans are all to aware of similar issues which plague the lineup.

Every MLB team deals with injuries to key players. One reason the AL East has remained a powerhouse over the last decade is that these teams have excelled at compensating for such injuries. The Red Sox have done it by building a deep bench, getting the most out of platoon players and career minor leaguers. The Yankees have generally filled gaps with in-season acquisitions. The Rays seem to have an endless stockpile of major-league ready prospects. Perhaps each of these teams will again manage to get excellent production out of patchwork rosters for the next several months. However, the early returns are not encouraging and there seem to be no obvious readymade solutions.