It’s nothing too remarkable or profound to say that there were some very good contests in the American League divisions this year. Anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention to MLB this year will have noticed at least that much. But what is surprising is the extent and timing of it.
The largest margin of victory in an American League division this year was three games. This was by the Detroit Tigers who were also the first team to clinch a division title in the American League. They did so on 1 October, winning the 160th game of the season. The other two division champions both clinched on the final day of the regular season and the Wild Card was also won by only three games. (With the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers both tied for the first position.) The average margin of victory in the American League this year was just two games.
This was in stark contrast to what we usually see in the American League. Since the start of the 21st Century, the average victory margin has been more than 6.5 games and lowest average in a single year was still more than four games. This year the average victory margin was only two games, the lowest the American League has seen since 1987 which was in the two division era of course. It’s been a bit more common in the National League, however.
The average margin of victory has not been a lot lower in the National League (since 2001 it has been 6.1 games to the 6.7 in the American League), but there have been more close contests and close seasons. Twice in this century has every division been decided by two games or fewer and there have been 17 division races decided by three games or fewer as opposed to only 12 in the AL.
We also saw different teams compete this year. The Oakland A’s won the division for the first time since 2006 and for only the second time since 2003. The Orioles pushed the New York Yankees all the way to the last day of the season and although the Tigers repeated as Central Division Champions it was only their second such title this century. The team they beat out, the Chicago White Sox, have not won the Central since the year they won the World Series in 2005 and were expected to be out of contention this year.
This is excellent news for baseball as a whole and although we won’t necessarily see a season quite as close as this again, there is a suggestion that this may be the start of an overall trend. The Orioles, A’s and White Sox all found success this year mostly off of young players. The Orioles are well built to continue competing in the future and although the A’s and White Sox may have a harder time proving that this year was not a fluke, there is no reason why they can’t.
Certainly they are at least decently placed for the future and there are other teams following that path as well. If we are lucky, we may see a truly competitive American League this decade for the first time in a long time.