“Look at the schedule!”
It’s ESPN analyst Woody Paige’s catchphrase, and I’m sure many Blue Jays and Orioles fans understand the sentiment. They certainly mention it enough. After each and every unsuccessful season one of those teams endures, baseball conversations all over the country go straight to the powerhouse AL East. Why do the Orioles finish so poorly every year? Why, they play 19 games a year against each AL East team! Look at the schedule!
For all the talk about how great the AL East is, there are actually far more formidable schedules that teams have played throughout the years of baseball. I sorted through MLB history by games played against teams who finished the season above .500, and went looking for teams in the post-strike AL East. It surprisingly took quite a bit of scrolling. The 83rd team on the list finally fit the bill- the 2003 Baltimore Orioles. They played 111 games against teams with winning records, which ranks well behind the record- the 1926 St. Louis Browns (who would later become the Orioles). They finished second-to-last with a 62-92 record that year, certainly a precursor to their descendents’ cries of imbalance.
However, playing many games against good opponents does not doom a team. The 29th team on this list was the 1991 Minnesota Twins. They boasted an impressive .549 winning percentage against these teams, and eventually took home a World Series championship trophy that year.
Even if you argue that the AL East competition has stricter standards than a mere winning record, the case doesn’t hold. Stiffening my criteria to opponents having a stout .600 winning percentage, the first post-strike AL East team on the list is the 2002 Blue Jays- behind 287 other teams. To find the World Series winner who faced the most teams above .600 requires you to look a little farther than the previous list. At 81st, still 206 slots above those Blue Jays, the 1909 Pirates come in. As any sports fan easily knows, those Pirates rode yet another studly season from Honus Wagner to win the World Series that year.
So, next time some poor, ignorant fan blames his team’s failure on the competition of the AL East, ask him how a Nick Markakis-led Orioles or a Vernon Wells-led Blue Jays would do in the NL West. If he thinks they have the talent to compete with those opponents, tell him one thing:
“Look at the schedule!”