When the dust settled at this year’s trade deadline, there was no clear winner. That will come later, when the players swapped around get a chance to get some serious time in playing for their new squads.
What’s clear now, though, is that the balance of power in baseball is shifting. It might be a tough truth for Red Sox fans to face, but here it is: the American League East, long considered the gold standard of competition in baseball and even in the entirety of sports, is no longer the toughest in baseball.
That distinction now belongs to the American League West, and it’s not even close. It’s the division that boasts baseball’s hottest team (Oakland), its most potent offense (Texas) and its most devastating starting rotation (Los Angeles).
Entering this year, the East was expected to run away with all the accolades. The second wild card introduced by the league was seen as an excuse for teams like the Blue Jays to have a chance to compete against the juggernauts in New York, Boston and Tampa Bay.
Instead, entering July 31, the Rangers are widely regarded as one of the league’s most complete teams and the A’s and Angels are sitting pretty in the two wild card spots. Meanwhile, save for the Yankees, teams in the AL East are languishing near .500, struggling to separate themselves from the rest of the league’s mediocre squads.
The rich keeping getting richer out on the West Coast, too. The back-to-back defending AL champion Rangers added Ryan Dempster to shore up their rotation on Tuesday afternoon, swapping a couple of minor league prospects for another shot to win now. The move could have also been in response to the Angels’ deal for Zach Greinke, who joins a rotation already anchored by Jared Weaver along with Dan Haren and C.J. Wilson.
The wild card, long the hallmark of finishing second in the AL East, is no longer a consolation prize waiting for whoever can’t keep up with the Yankees. Instead, the wild card now appears to be the West division’s to lose, as the Angles gain momentum behind Mike Trout and Co. and the A’s assert themselves as a legitimate threat.
Many assumed entering this year that the Angels and Rangers would be in the mix for a playoff berth, and most expected the Red Sox and Rays to be right there, too. Whether it’s due to injuries, bad luck or something else, things haven’t quite turned out that way.
Sure, there’s still plenty of time left for the East to turn things around with the rosters that they have, but if the actions made at the deadline are any indication, it’s not likely. The AL West announced loud and clear at the trade deadline that it’s not going away, and the East has yet to register a response.
The most competitive division for the rest of this year is likely to be in the Pacific time zone, and it should be a heck of a show. Fans of baseball better get used to staying up late.
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