Posted by Andy on April 6, 2010
Lots of folks feel that the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays are the three best teams in baseball. Of course it's not possible for more than 1 of them to win the AL East division or for more than 2 of them to make the playoffs. It's possible that they might be the three best teams but since they play each other so much (more than 5o games among these 3 teams) it limits the ability of all three teams to rack up high seasonal win totals. For example, even if these 3 teams split their games against each other, they'd all have to play about .565 win% against everybody else to all reach 90 wins for the season, and 90 wins doesn't even necessarily make you a playoff team.
So the bottom line is that by the end of the 2010 season, the true ability of these 3 teams might be masked by the fact that they played each other so much. This is a sort of strength-of-schedule issue that is mentioned in other sports (such as college basketball) but rarely mentioned in professional sports (with the exception of the NFL, which tailors each team's schedule to try to counterbalance the previous season's performance.)
Anyway, all of this got me to thinking--since divisional realignment in 1994, how many times has one division featured 3 teams with 90+ wins?
Nobody did it in 1994 or 1995 because of the strike-shortened seasons but no division was on pace for 3 90-win teams even if full schedules had been played.
In 2002, it happened in the AL West, with the Athletics totaling 103 wins, the Angels 99, and the Mariners 93. These high win totals were possible because only 3 other teams in the American League were over .500 and the Rays and the Tigers both lost 106 games. Amazingly, the feat also occurred in the NL West, with the Diamondbacks winning 98, and Giants winning 95, and the Dodgers winning 92.
The AL Central did it in 2006, with the Twins at 96, Tigers at 95, and White Sox at 90.
So that's 3 times in 16 seasons, meaning 96 total divisional races. That suggests that even if this year's versions of the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees are all pretty good, there's a pretty low chance that they'll all finish with 90 or more wins.