Will the AL East race be wide open this year?

In the 2000 season, the New York Yankees won the American League East with 87 victories. Every year since then - all 12 of them, starting in 2001 - the East champ won at least 95 games. The East champ won 97 or more in seven of those seasons.

Since 2001, the AL East winner has averaged 98 wins.

But will that change this season? Could this be a year when the East champ, due to the balance in a division where five teams all could be pretty good, wins fewer than 90 games again?

It seems possible and there are also some predictions that all five clubs could finish .500 or better. If that happened, would the division champ’s wins total be down with so many games against four other winning clubs?

Toronto is certainly the winner of the offseason in this division and maybe in the entire sport. They’ll have Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera to bat atop their lineup and a new-look rotation where former ace Ricky Romero gets dropped to the fifth slot.

Some think Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey will not pitch as well in the American League East as they did in the National League and Romero is coming off a year with an ERA of 5.77.

But Toronto is the popular pick to win the East, although the Blue Jays haven’t even been to the playoffs since winning back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993. They look good on paper, but let’s see what it will look like on the field.

Toronto’s projected rotation:
R.A. Dickey
Brandon Morrow
Mark Buehrle
Josh Johnson
Ricky Romero

While Yankee haters keep predicting that age will lead to their demise, New York keeps winning. Orioles fans, I know you hate to admit it, but this club has won 103, 95, 97 and 95 games the last four years. That doesn’t look like a team in decline.

Yet they are counting on several aging veterans, including Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. At some point, this group will show their age, but will this be that year?

I still like their rotation and Robinson Cano is playing for his next contract this year. I’ll believe Rivera’s performance is falling off only when I actually see it.

New York’s projected rotation:
CC Sabathia
Hiroki Kuroda
Andy Pettitte
Phil Hughes
Ivan Nova

A lot of fans think the Red Sox, after a 69-93 season, will be the division doormat again. But a return to form of Jon Lester, a full season of Jacoby Ellsbury and good seasons from newcomers Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and Shane Victorino could put Boston back in business.

Boston’s projected rotation:
Jon Lester
Ryan Dempster
Clay Buchholz
Felix Doubront
John Lackey

Tampa Bay will likely be good again. Evan Longoria’s injury last season was a real blow to an already suspect offense. But the Rays made that big deal with Kansas City and Wil Myers could help at some point this season. This club always seems stocked with pitchers and has a strong one-two punch in the GM and manager department.

Tampa Bay’s projected rotation:
David Price
Jeremy Hellickson
Matt Moore
Alex Cobb
Jeff Niemann

Some said the Orioles’ improvement last year was a result of the East being down. That just wasn’t true. Three clubs from the division won 90 or more in 2012. That is three of five while the rest of baseball saw six of 25 other teams win 90 or more. While three AL East clubs won 90 or better last year, the rest of the AL featured two teams to do that and just four did in the entire National League.

What is your take?: Is the AL East still a beast? Is it possible that all five clubs finish at .500 or better? What is your predicted order of finish? Which club has the best starting five?

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