On Sunday afternoon, the Houston Astros beat the Texas Rangers 8-7 in Arlington to improve to 42-25 on the season. Houston’s .627 winning percentage puts the defending champs on pace for 101.5 victories this season, which would top the team’s total from last year and give the ‘Stros a record that in many campaigns would represent the best in baseball.
But in 2018, 42-25 doesn’t give you the best record in baseball. Hell, it doesn’t give you a top-three mark in the American League.
As of Monday morning, the Yankees have the best record in the AL at 42-19, a 112-win pace. They’re followed by the Red Sox, who stand 44-22, a 108-win pace. Then come the surprising Seattle Mariners, at 41-24, a 102-win pace. Finally, you get to the Astros.
The fact that four AL teams are on pace to win 100 games is notable for several reasons. For one thing, 100-win seasons are just not that common. Before three teams accomplished the feat in 2017, there had been only three such seasons total over the past six years, and it had been 14 years since three teams posted one in a single year. At one point earlier this decade, in a time of great parity, analysts wondered whether the 100-win team would go more or less extinct. For four squads to be on such a pace this deep into the season dramatically defies the trend of 21st-century baseball.
Then there’s the fact that all four of the prospective 100-win teams play in the same league. The best team in the NL so far, the Milwaukee Brewers, stands 39-26 (a 97-win pace). That means the AL’s top team is five games better than that of the NL, while the AL’s fourth-best team is two games ahead of the best the NL has to offer. Whereas the NL is tightly bunched, with a remarkable 12 teams currently between 31 and 39 wins, the AL is the exact opposite, with only four teams in that range.
And yes, there’s still a lot of season left, and it’s unlikely that all four AL powerhouses maintain their prodigious paces. The Mariners in particular seem likely to fall off, given their run differential, their injuries, their talent level and the relatively easy schedule they have faced so far. But the 100-win paces don’t seem to be entirely aberrational. The Yankees, Red Sox and Astros all grade out as potential 100-win teams per their run differentials and BaseRuns production, as do the Chicago Cubs. By any measure, there are just a lot of great teams right now.
So what explains this phenomenon? Well it’s hard to say for sure, but it seems as though the introduction of the second wild card has added greater incentive for teams to win their divisions and thus to turn good teams into great ones. It also can’t hurt that a large chunk of the league is currently looking toward the future. Amid that climate, some shrewd moves by the Yankees, Red Sox, Astros and even Mariners have led to gaudy win totals — and potentially triple-digit ones.