The American League East has always been known as a difficult division to win, but the 2021 season took that notion to new heights. Four out of the division’s five teams finished with at least 90 wins, with only the atrocious Baltimore Orioles as the exception. The 91-win Toronto Blue Jays missed the playoffs entirely; the Yankees and Red Sox, of course, had to settle for an appearance in the Wild Card Game after being unable to catch the 100-win Tampa Bay Rays for the division title.
It took until the last game of the season to sort out who else would get a playoff spot from the East, and fans who suffered agita and stress after waiting for Aaron Judge’s walk-off single to keep the Yankees away from a tiebreaker can look forward to more of the same in 2022 and beyond.
The Rays, for their part, don’t look like they’ll give up their run of success anytime soon. The year after making it to the World Series, they finished with the best record in the league to clinch home-field advantage, at least through the ALCS. And that came after trading their ace starting pitcher Blake Snell to San Diego.
The Rays have probably the second-most enviable player development organization in baseball, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, and in 20-year-old phenom Wander Franco, they have one of the most exciting young players in the game. They may not always win 100 games, but they are going to be consistently good for a long time.
The fact that the Blue Jays finished with 91 wins is impressive on its own, but when you consider that they had three different home ballparks throughout the year, it becomes even more shocking. Now imagine if recent addition George Springer is healthy for the entire 2022 season and they sign a few solid arms in the offseason for their bullpen.
If they’re not re-signed, Toronto might need to fill voids left by pending free agents Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray, but still — with another MVP-caliber season from Vladimir Guerrero Jr., they could very well spend more time fighting for first place than trying to grab the second Wild Card spot.
The Red Sox were widely predicted to finish fourth in the division this season, but they were able to finish with the same record as New York ... and then promptly kicked them out of postseason play last night in the Wild Card Game.
While their starting rotation was expected to be rocky with Chris Sale out for the vast majority of the season, the likes of Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck were unexpectedly solid, and Nathan Eovaldi was able to fill the ace’s role with a 5.6 fWAR season. The Sox had their own struggles this season, similar to the Yankees, but were able to pull through. And the team certainly has the resources to splurge in free agency once GM Chaim Bloom decides that it’s finally time to do so.
Of course, injuries to even one major player could derail the 2022 hopes of any of these teams. Still, the Yankees will almost certainly have to take a huge step forward to distinguish themselves among this quartet next season. Plus, any other high-win teams in the other divisions (as Seattle was this year) will make it even more difficult to grab one of the Wild Card slots.
Although New York fans can dream of being in the National League East, where 88 wins was enough to send the Acuña-less Atlanta Braves to the Division Series, no team in the AL East is going to have such in any imaginable near future. At least there will still be the Orioles to beat up for the next few years ... if the Yankees can remember how to properly do that again anyway.