AL East race might be closest ever

Sometimes our expectations are thwarted by reality, as Arizona Diamondbacks fans and Pittsburgh Pirates fans looking forward to October baseball have found. In the case of the AL East, the expectations coming into the season were that of a brutal melee, a yearlong war of attrition that left all five teams beaten, battered and bloodied in its aftermath. So far, these predictions have come true.

As of Monday morning, a scant 2 1/2 games separate the AL East leader, the New York Yankees, from the AL East cellar dweller, the Toronto Blue Jays. While that's a larger number than the separation between first and last in the NL East, the difference is that nobody really considers the Mets, Marlins and Phillies to be in the same tier of ability as the Braves and Nationals. The AL East is a different story.

Five competitive teams

In the preseason, the ESPN Forecaster panel picked the Blue Jays to win 77 games on average, the best predicted record of any last-place team in baseball. The ZiPS projection system saw the AL East as excruciatingly close. The difference in average expectation between best (Boston) and worst (Toronto) was only seven wins over a 162-game season, the smallest spread in the 11 years ZiPS has projected the leagues.

Since the end of March, that race has gotten even tighter. The two teams projected to be at the top of a very tight division, the Red Sox and Rays, have been treading water so far, and those mediocre Aprils are baked into the final record. The closeness of the race now is almost shocking, as can be seen in the ZiPS mean projections for the five teams for the rest of the season (see table).