Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

As we close the book on the AL East in 2023, let us bow our heads for a moment:

What a great year it was for division. After all, sending three of five teams to the playoffs is quite the accomplishment. So is seeing four of those five finish above .500.

The twist? Neither the New York Yankees nor Boston Red Sox made the postseason. Toronto, Tampa Bay, and 101-win surprise Baltimore took their respective places in the sun. The AL East was practically playing with house money when the playoffs began. The most competitive division on the most competitive stage.

And then, all three teams proceeded to go a combined 0-7. Not just 0-7, but a non-competitive 0-7. The AL East didn’t just fall in the playoffs, but barely showed up to play.

The Blue Jays drew the Minnesota Twins, champions of the perenially weak AL Central and regular Yankees playoff punching bag. The Twins swept the Wild Card series and only needed to outscore Toronto 5-1. Instead, everyone’s talking about John Schneider’s managing mistakes in Game 2.

Tampa Bay started the season hot to the tune of going 30-9 and also won 99 games. They were outscored 11-1 and swept by the Rangers, no thanks to four costly errors in Game 1.

Finally, Texas made young Baltimore its next victim. The Orioles’ youth, despite a late Game 2 rally, was no match for the American League’s best lineup. Now, add clutch pitching from former Yankees Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi. The Rangers swept again.

Three teams. Three unexpectedly early exits. And all while the Yankees and Red Sox are currently swapping jokes on the golf course.

It’s an odd thought to have, dear readers, but maybe the AL East’s success this year was a mirage. The Yankees horrifically underachieved and no one expected much from the Red Sox. In turn, that gave room for a youth-led team like Baltimore to overachieve. The same can be said for the Blue Jays’ pitching, which never ranked higher than 10th in MLB over the last five years before suddenly jumping to fourth in 2023.

Most important of all, did anyone realistically expect the Rays to fully take advantage of a soft schedule and win their first 13 games?

This is just one year, but maybe we really need to take a look at how we view the AL East. Is it really the home of healthy competition after the Yankees missed out on October this year? Because looking at the rest of the division, it’s clear New York is still the best run team.

Boston has potential, but just fired Chaim Bloom despite his lowering payroll, developing the farm, and fielding competitive teams like ownership asked. The Rays are good not so much because of talent, but because Kevin Cash is a great manager. Toronto, on the other hand, still hasn’t won with veteran executive Mark Shapiro in charge and seems a chaotic organization.

That leaves Baltimore who, if we’re being honest, probably has the brightest future. They have a great young core of hitters in the lineup and former No. 1 pick Jackson Holliday isn’t far behind. Grayson Rodriguez, despite his poor playoff showing, is an ace in the making. Brandon Hyde is a great manager too, but just ran head first into future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy.

Mind you, none of this is to say the AL East is a bad division. It’s still baseball’s best by a wide margin, even with this poor playoff showing. The Yankees having Gerrit Cole means they’d probably win at least one game, even as the lowest seed.

Even so, competitive divisions win competitive games on the most competitive stages. And in 2023, with three of its own represented, the AL East practically no-showed.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.