What happened to the bad blood in the American League East?

Shi Davidi and Arden Zwelling discuss Jose Berrios' hot start to the season, how he flipped the switch from his form a couple of years ago, and how the Blue Jays must make tough roster decisions when Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson return.

The Baltimore Orioles need to do us a favour and figure out how to make us hate them. Like, PDQ — pretty damned quick.

Because as much as we like to make a big deal out of the American League East being the toughest division in Major League Baseball, it can’t hold a candle to the National League West or maybe even the NL Central when it comes to rivalries. It needs a breath of bad air, what with the road to the division title now travelling through Baltimore and their despicably likeable collection of fresh faces.

I was reminded of this Saturday night while watching the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers empty the benches after San Diego’s Jurickson Profar squared to bunt in a perfect game. It was pure boys being boys stuff… but it was also just April 13. Truth is, if you’ve been paying attention, the axis of anger fully shifted to California years ago, where the Padres, Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have taken turns throwing at each other and emptying dugouts and their fans have exhibited the kind of ill-tempered, jackassery usually associated with NFL fans. Meanwhile, for the past 15 or so years, teams in the NL Central have delighted in leaving bruises on each other’s hitters. (In a previous life, I covered a Cincinnati Reds-Pittsburgh Pirates series that was the most vicious I’ve seen.)

What do we have in the AL East? Other than New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone and Tampa Bay Rays counterpart Kevin Cash flexing and threatening bullpen Armageddon… er, not much.

Hating on the Rays is just bullying. It’s the type of stuff for which parents scold their kids. Hating on the Rays gets you a trip to the principal’s office and says more about you than it does them. Shame on you for hating the Rays. The Boston Red Sox? Please. They seem to have fallen into a funk of nameless aimlessness. Jack Daniels drinking dirtbags no more, they have guys like Triston Casas, who sunbathe and do yoga. Their fans are still… well, you know what we call them. But these days they seem more inclined to turn on their own team — especially the front office — than the opposing team. Not so different than Blue Jays fans, eh?

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We’ll get to see Juan Soto and the Yankees at the Rogers Centre these next three days and perhaps his presence will be enough to re-kindle some kind of Yankgst. Maybe his odd arrogance at the plate — the whole butt-wiggling thing when he takes a pitch — will spark something, although it’s a safer bet that more of the discussion in the stands will be: “If only the Blue Jays had the type of minor-league system to pull off that trade, we wouldn’t have had to go through the whole Shohei Ohtani thing.” Old friend Marcus Stroman will pitch Wednesday, and while his edginess might add a wrinkle in the summer, he’s still a favourite, here.

At this time, can we all take a moment to remember how easy it was for Stroman to get under Buck Showalter’s skin when the latter managed the Orioles? Remember Darren O’Day frothing at the mouth at the site of Jose Bautista… or then-Orioles general manager Dan Duquette famously remarking he didn’t think Baltimore fans would ever want a player like Bautista on his team? Good times. But that was when the Blue Jays were a bunch of reclamation cases like Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and late bloomer Josh Donaldson, who’d accumulated years of slights both real and imagined. It wasn’t just the Orioles. That team fought with the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers, too.

Question for you: Who is the Blue Jays’ biggest rival right now? Take your time. Uh-huh. Thought so. Can’t name one, can you?

There was all that nonsense last season when Aaron Judge was caught peeking into the Yankees dugout before homering off Jay Jackson and Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker wanted to get at Yankees third base coach Luis Rojas because of his positioning. Meanwhile, manager John Schneider could be lip-read saying “Shut up, fat boy,” to somebody in the Yankees dugout. But that’s more general pissiness than stuff that transferred to the field. How starved is this division for nastiness? Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., has for a couple of years at least put his forefinger to his mouth in a “shushing” motion whenever he rounds third on a home run — home and away — but it became a wire story out of New York earlier this month because the Blue Jays first baseman has been booed at Yankee Stadium for saying he would never play for the team. That’s how far the division has fallen.

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Unfortunately, it’s now lame stuff in the AL East, by virtue of the high bar that was once set by the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles. That Red Sox-Yankees rivalry pretty much died with Alex Rodriguez’s retirement, although there was a gradual mellowing after the departure of protagonists like Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon and the like. Rodriguez kept the flame alive, but he wasn’t considered a true Yankee. Besides, everybody in every ballpark in every division disliked A-Rod. We’re talking Bondsian-level dislike.

Maybe Soto re-signs with the Yankees and becomes that guy. But for now, we turn our eyes to the Orioles, because they are so young and so deep that they will run this division for the rest of the decade. Goodness knows this division needs a refresh, because the truth is the East really hasn’t been all that in the post-season. In fact, since the Yankees won their last World Series in 2009, AL East teams have advanced to the World Series just three times, with the Red Sox winning it twice. One of those wins came in 2013, with an over-achieving team featuring guys like Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. Tough to work up any anger for that group. Maybe it’s because playing within the division took a lot out of its teams. Maybe the rebalanced schedule will be a cure. But it wasn’t in 2023.

Meanwhile, I haven’t seen anything from the Orioles’ Gunnar Henderson or Jackson Holliday that makes me froth at the mouth. Adley Rutschman is the centre of it all and he’s already shown himself to be Jeter-esque in terms of poise and presence, without the hype that comes from playing in the world’s media capital or, it seems, the collection of A list, uh, companions. However, he might well collect an MVP award and he’ll be a better offensive player than the captain. Besides, he’s a catcher, and I have a hard time hating catchers.

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I guess it’s possible we’ll get tired of the hype surrounding Holliday, but seriously the guy looks like he could be doling out scoops at Baskin-Robbins or whipping up a mean Frappuccino and seems completely at ease with himself. Hate? No. Jealous? Yep. Beyond that, the Orioles no longer have the Angelos nepo babies as owners, and they’re managed by Brandon Hyde, who got into an in-game, shouting match with then-Blue Jays pitcher Robbie Ray a few years ago… and immediately apologized post-game.

Hyde, who must no longer care why the Blue Jays chose Charlie Montoyo over him as John Gibbons’ replacement, cuts a far different figure in the dugout than the smug, self-righteous Showalter. As long as Hyde remembers that he didn’t invent the game — a realization that escaped Showalter — we in this market are going to need to continue searching for that defining AL East personality that raises our hackles, and long for a simpler time.

Jeff Blair hosts Blair & Barker from 2-4 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The Fan and Sportsnet. Blair & Barker also host Blue Jays Talk following Blue Jays weekday games.

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