The trendy analysis for the American League East is that the Boston and New York are going to battle for the title, bringing back the usual intensity that goes with a Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
But when does the obvious ever happen in baseball?
The Orioles, who had five consecutive .500 or better seasons before their last-place finish in 2017, will contend if they can rebuild a rotation. The Blue Jays have pitching depth and the Rays are the Rays.
Predicted finish: Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays.
Here’s an AL East notebook:
BALTIMORE: The Orioles, who won 75 games last season with basically two starters, right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, could return to their winning ways with even modest improvements to the rotation, which had a 5.70 ERA in 2017. ... Bundy, 25, was 13-9 with 4.24 last season and there are no more concerns about innings limits with him. ... The Orioles are still waiting for Gausman, 26, to put together a complete season. He’s had flashes of brilliance and last season, when he had a 5.85 ERA in the first half, 3.41 in the second, including 2.41 in his last 14 starts. ... Can right-hander Chris Tillman, 29, after having a 7.84 ERA last season, return to the 30-plus starts guy he was for four seasons, starting in 2013? ... The new guys are right-handers Andrew Cashner, 31, who has a 3.80 ERA in eight big league seasons and 3.40 for the Rangers last season, and Alex Cobb, 30, who has a 3.50 ERA in six big league seasons with the Rays and 3.66 last year. Cashner has a groundball rate of 49 percent, which should play well in Camden Yards, a ballpark that doesn’t favor fly ball pitchers.. ... The new shortstop is Manny Machado, a Gold Glove third baseman who is eligible for free agency after the season. The Orioles tried to trade him. Now they’ll make a run at October with him and worry about signing him after the season, much like what the Royals did with their best players. If they are out of the race midseason, does Machado get traded? ... Center fielder Adam Jones, a franchise player, is also in the final year of his contract. He’s hit 248 home runs and made five All-Star teams with the Orioles. ... Machado’s replacement at third is Tim Beckham, who was energized coming to the Orioles after a trade from Tampa Bay last season. He’s played nine games at third during his career. At the plate, which is the real Beckham? Last season, he hit .394 in August, .186 in September. ... The Orioles are looking for better seasons from designated hitter Mark Trumbo, who begins on the disabled list with a quad injury, and first baseman Chris Davis. Trumbo hit 47 home runs in 2016, but slipped to 23 last season, including six in the final two months. ... Davis, who has five years left on his contract, kept his strikeouts to less than 200 (195), but he played in only 128 games. Davis has won two home run and one RBI titles with the Orioles. He hit 47 home runs in 2015, but dropped to 38 and 26 in each of the last two seasons. If he stays off the disabled list and is more aggressive at the plate with fewer called third strikes, Davis could hit 40-45 home runs. ... The closer, left-hander Zach Britton, starts the season on the disabled list with a ruptured Achilles tendon, so right-handers Mychal Givens, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day and lefty Richard Bleier will hold things together until Britton returns. Brach will get most of the save chances. Last year, he was 18-for-24 when Britton was injured. ... The superstar in the making is second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who became a dangerous middle-of-the-order hitter last season with 32 home runs. ... Left fielder Trey Mancini, once a prospect without a position, is a key player. Last year, he hit 24 home runs, becoming the seventh Orioles rookie with at least 20 home runs in a season. Mancini’s total was four short of tying the Orioles’ rookie record, 28, by Cal Ripken Jr.
BOSTON: The Red Sox, eyeing their third consecutive AL East title, added J.D. Martinez, who hit a combined 45 home runs for Detroit and Arizona last season. Martinez will get most of the DH work, moving Hanley Ramirez to first and costing Mitch Moreland playing time. .... The Red Sox are a dangerous team because they are coming off a 93-win season despite a season of injuries and under-performing players. ... Martinez’s bat will beef up the Red Sox’s power. Last year, they finished last in the AL in home runs (168). But still, the Red Sox’s offense manufactured runs well enough to finish sixth in the league in runs scored (785). ... The Red Sox need bounceback seasons from Hanley Ramirez (.242.-23-62), outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (.245.-17-63) and shortstop Xander Bogaerts (.273-10-62). Bogaerts was slowed by his July wrist injury from a year ago while Betts played with an injured hand. Both are healthy going into the season. ... The key to the rotation is left-hander David Price, a former AL Cy Young Award winner who was limited to 11 starts last season because of elbow issues. He had a 3.82 ERA in those 11 starts and dominated in relief for the Red Sox in their AL Division Series loss to Houston. Price is on the third year of a $217 million contract. He led the AL for the Red Sox with 230 innings pitched in 2016. ... The rotation also includes left-hander Chris Sale, 28, who had a 2.75 ERA in the first half of last season and 3.12 in the second half, and right-hander Rick Porcello, the 2016 AL Cy Young winner who led the league with 17 losses last season. ... Eduardo Nuñez, who hit .321 with eight home runs in 38 games for Boston last season, will be the opening day second baseman. Dustin Pedroia starts the season on the disabled list while rehabilitating a knee injury. ... The closer is right-hander Craig Kimbrel, who averages 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
NEW YORK: After hitting an major league-high 241 home runs in 2017, this year’s question: With the addition of outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, will the Yankees challenge the all-time record of 264, held by Ken Griffey Jr. and the 1997 Mariners? Stanton hit 59 last season for Miami and joins a lineup that has Aaron Judge (52 home runs last season), Gary Sánchez (33), Didi Gregorius (25) and Brett Gardner (21). ... The Yankees, who had 91 wins and were beaten by the Astros in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, fired manager Joe Girardi and replaced him with Aaron Boone, who has never managed or coached at any level. ... The new third baseman is Brandon Drury, 25, who hit .267 with 13 home runs for Arizona last season, and the new second baseman is Neil Walker, who is a threat to have double-digit totals for home runs, as well. Last year, Walker hit 14 home runs in 111 games combined for the Mets and Brewers, including nine during April for the Mets. ... The rotation is led by the opening day starter, right-hander Luis Severino, who had a 2.98 ERA with 230 strikeouts while finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting. ... The rest of the rotation has right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, in his fifth year of a seven-year deal with the Yankees; left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander Sonny Gray and left-hander Jordan Montgomery. Tanaka had a miserable first half last season, but was better in the second. Sabathia had a 3.69 ERA and has made the transition from power to command pitcher. Gray was disappointing after arriving in a trade from Oakland, especially in the postseason, but the Yankees figure he can win 15 games with a 3.50 ERA. ... The Yankees believe that first baseman Greg Bird, who has been slowed by injury early in his career, is capable of 30-35 home runs. ... There’s no arguing about the power arms in the bullpen, right-handers Dellin Betances, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green and David Robertson setting up the closer, left-hander Aroldis Chapman and his 100 mph fastball.
TAMPA BAY: There’s not much excitement in Tampa Bay after the Rays have let go of third baseman Evan Longoria, right-handers Jake Odorizzi, Cobb and Brad Boxberger, first baseman Logan Morrison and outfielders Steven Souza Jr. and Chris Dickerson. ... The Rays were 80-82 last season and haven’t had a winning record since making the 2013 postseason and losing to the Red Sox in the ALDS. ... As usual, the Rays have young productive pitchers. Right-hander Chris Archer, who had a 4.07 ERA last season and has pitched at least 200 innings in three consecutive seasons, and left-hander Blake Snell, who had a 2.84 ERA in last 10 starts of 2017, lead the rotation ... The bullpen has power arms leading up to closer right-hander Alex Colomé, who saved 47 of 53 last year. ... The new right-handed bat is C.J. Cron, acquired from the Angels after he hit 16 home runs last season ... Former Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, an All-Star in 2016 who had injuries in 2017, is healthy and Rays are counting a bounceback season. He’s 15 pounds lighter. ... Former National Denard Span, traded from the Giants, will get most of his at-bats at DH while the outfield will be strong defensively with Mallex Smith, a super prospect, in left, Kevin Kiermaier in center and Carlos Gomez in right. ... The new third baseman is Matt Duffy, who hit .258 combined for the Giants and Rays last season.
TORONTO: The Blue Jays, who lost in the ALCS in two consecutive seasons (2015-2016) and finished 17 games out in the AL East last season, are trying to hold on to contending status for another season, something that won’t be easy. The dangerous offensive force that used to define the Blue Jays is gone and the pitching staff could show its age. ... The Blue Jays are going to need consistent production from their top two starters - right-handers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez - because who knows if they can bank on solid seasons from 35-year-old left-hander J.A. Happ and 34-year-old Marco Estrada, a changeup pitcher? Happ is coming off two seasons with ERAs of 3.18 and 3.53, but Estrada showed signs of slipping when his ERA jumped to 5.17 in the second half of last season. ... Stroman, 26, has thrown 200 innings in each of the last two seasons and had a 3.09 ERA last season. Sanchez has potential to be the Jays’ ace, but last year, he was sidelined three times with blister issues. ... The closer is right-hander Roberto Osuna, who gave up three home runs in 64 innings last season with a strikeout rate of 11.7 per nine innings. His WHIP was 0.85. ... The two new outfielders are questions with Curtis Granderson in left and former Cardinal Randal Grichuk in right. Each piled up the strikeouts last season, but Granderson did hit 22 home runs combined for the Dodgers and Mets. ... The infield corners are potential free agent third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 33 home runs 113 games last season, and first baseman Justin Smoak, who hit 38 home runs. ... How much can the Blue Jays get from shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, 33, who has been bothered by injuries the last two seasons?