Red Sox rotation, Yankees bullpen are cream of AL East pitching crop

The most persistent question in the American League East involves the Yankees and World Series champion Red Sox.

Which team has the best rotation? Let’s say the Red Sox.

Which has the best bullpen? No doubt, it is the Yankees.

The Blue Jays rotation banks on the health of its two best pitchers, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez and the rest of the rotation is a work in progress.

The Rays rotation has a strong big three. But the Rays will likely continue to pioneer their “opener” ways. In other words, start a game with a relief pitcher, maybe the same guy two games in a row.

With Alex Cobb, Dylan Bundy and Andrew Cashner, the Orioles, who used 14 different starters last season, have the potential to speed up the rebuilding process and make the season more interesting that most expect. Who knows if David Hess can build on his late-season success from 2018?

The AL East’s storylines for pitching:

BALTIMORE: The top three in the rotation - RHPs Alex Cobb, Dylan Bundy and Andrew Cashner - should be a sign that all is not lost for the Orioles. ... Bundy had a 5.45 ERA in 31 starts in 2018, and while he’ll never blame injuries, he wasn’t the same pitcher after injuring his left ankle June 23 against Atlanta. He was 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA during June before the injury. In 15 starts after the injury, he posted a 7.61 ERA on his way to a team-record and league-high 41 home runs allowed, seven more than second-place James Shields of the White Sox. Still, he was inconsistent before the injury: He pitched well in April, but was miserable in May. ... The Orioles need Cashner, who had a 5.29 ERA in 2018, to revert to his 2017 form with Texas, when he had 11 wins and a 3.41 ERA. Last year, Cashner struggled with giving up home runs (1.5 per nine innings). His groundball rate dropped and he was hammered by opponents hitting .320 with runners in scoring position. ... A regular spring camp should be all that Cobb, 31, needs. Last year, he signed late, made his first start on April 14 and gave up 30 hits in his first 11 2/3 innings covering three starts. His first half ERA was 6.41, but in the second half, it dropped to 2.56, looking more like the steady pitcher that posted consecutive 2.76 and 2.87 ERAs for the Rays in 2013 and 2014. ... The Orioles signed free agent RHP Nate Karns to add potential experience to the rotation. Karns had a 4.37 ERA in five seasons and he’s pitched for four different teams. He started his career with Washington in 2013 and has pitched for Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Seattle. ... The most likely candidate for No. 5 is RHP Hess, who finished strong in his last nine starts of 2018. Hess made mechanical adjustments and had a 3.24 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 16 walks in those starts. He also had 12 strong innings in two September starts combined against the Yankees and Astros. ... RHP Yefry Ramírez, 25, who had 24 strikeouts in his first 23 1/3 innings during the first half of last year, and RHP Jimmy Yacobonis, 26, who had a 5.40 ERA in seven starts in 2018, are also candidates for the No. 5 rotation spot. Ramírez spent the winter working out in the Dominican Republic with former big leaguer Ramón Martinez. ... RHP Miguel Castro, a bullpen workhorse in 2018, goes to spring training wanting to be a starter. ... After an impressive finish in 2018, RHP Mychal Givens’ time as come as the Orioles closer. The return of LHP Richard Bleier from injury will also help the bullpen.

BOSTON: The defending World Series champions re-signed RHP Nathan Eovaldi, a World Series hero who didn’t pitch in 2017, to keep him in a rotation that has LHPs Chris Sale and David Price in the first two slots. ... Eovaldi and RHP Rick Porcello are also in the rotation and the No. 5 guy is LHP Eduardo Rodriguez. ... Price established himself in the hearts of Red Sox fans with a 3.58 ERA and 16 wins during the regular season and passionate performances in the postseason. The days of kicking around Price in Boston are history. ... Sale was an AL Cy Young candidate early in the season, but late in the season, he struggled with fatigue and took time off to stay rested for the postseason. He was 12-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 2018 and struck out Red Sox nemesis Manny Machado of the Dodgers to finish off the World Series win. ... Porcello, the AL Cy Young winner in 2016, had a down year in 2017, but bounced back in 2018. ... RHP Craig Kimbrel was the Red Sox closer last season, but he’s still unsigned, so that means hard-throwing RHP Matt Barnes will likely take over the job.

NEW YORK: The Yankees have rebuilt their bullpen to be the deepest in the AL, begging the question: Do the Yankees have faith in their rotation? The Yankees bullpen last season was the first in big league history to strike out at least 30 percent of batters faced last season and they are adding RHP Adam Ottavino, 33, a top-notch setup guy with the Rockies last season. Ottavino, a New York native with an improved slider, struck out 120 batters in 77 2/3 innings last season. ... The Yankees rotation added LHP James Paxton, 30, in a trade from Seattle and re-signed 36-year-old LHP J.A. Happ, who was 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA for the Yankees in 11 starts down the stretch in 2018. Paxton had a no-hitter versus Toronto last season and had 11 wins with a 3.76 ERA. ... The Yankees need consistent pitching from RHP Luis Severino, who had a 1.98 ERA for the first three months of 2018 and 5.67 after July 1. ... RHP Masahiro Tanaka got a win in the AL Division Series against the Red Sox, but he is a candidate for a bounceback season. ... LHP CC Sabathia is 38. He pitched well last season, but can he do it again? ... The bullpen is one of the best with LHPs Aroldis Chapman and Zach Britton and RHPs Chad Green and Dellin Betances.

TAMPA BAY: The Rays have three rotation locks going into camp: LHP Blake Snell and RHPs Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow. ... Snell, 26, was the AL Cy Young Award winner last season. His goal this year is to cut down on walks and increase his innings from 180 2/3 to 200. He had a 21-5 record with a league-leading 1.89 ERA with 221 strikeouts and 64 walks. ... Morton, 35, has a resurging career and signed with the Rays after having ERAs of 3.62 and 3.13 in the last two seasons for the Astros. He’s known as a clubhouse leader and the Rays think signing Morton will be a key to their contending. ... Glasnow, 25, acquired from Pittsburgh in July for RHP Chris Archer, had 64 strikeouts and 19 walks in his 11 starts for Tampa Bay. ... The rest of the rotation depends on performances in spring training. The Rays could use their “opener” philosophy in one or two of the remaining rotation spots. The pitchers that are candidates for the rotation/bullpen include Jalen Beeks, Jake Faria, William Font (acquired from Oakland) and Ryan Yarborough.

TORONTO: The strength of the Blue Jays rotation depends on the comebacks of two top-of-the-rotation pitchers, RHPs Marcus Stroman and Sanchez. ... Stroman battled shoulder injuries last year and was limited to 19 starts with an ERA of 5.54 and a 1.47 WHIP. In 2017, Stroman, 27, was one of the best in the AL with a 3.09 ERA. ... Sanchez, 26, who led the American League with a 3.00 ERA, has struggled with injuries (blisters and fingernails) the last two years, and this is a make-or-break year for him. ... The third pitcher in the rotation is LHP Ryan Borucki, 24, who had a 3.87 ERA last season as a rookie and went at least six innings in six of his last seven starts. ... The No. 4 starter, RHP Matt Shoemaker, a former Angel, had a 3.88 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 160 innings in 2016, but struggled with right forearm injuries in 2017 and 2018. ... The leading candidate for No. 5 is LHP Clayton Richard, 35, who played with San Diego last season and had a 5.33 ERA with a ground-ball rate of 60 percent.