For the past few seasons, the AL East has arguably been the best division in all of baseball. Since 2008, the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays have all been strong contenders for the division crown and three of the best teams in the sport.
Until this season, only two of them at most would be able to make it to the postseason. However, now that there will be a one-game playoff to determine each wild-card winner, all three of these teams could get into the playoffs.
Furthermore, the Blue Jays have improved a lot this offseason, and there is a good chance that they could really be in the mix for a postseason spot of their own. With this being said, this division race will be very tough and competitive for all four teams. It will take a lot for each of them to come out on top.
Despite the competitive division, the Yankees are the clear-cut favorites. Their starting rotation is certainly in better shape now than it was in 2011, but the lineup is aging, and at some point, closer Mariano Rivera will deteriorate in what will probably be his final season in the major leagues.
While the Yankees do have an improved pitching staff, it's still not the same as that of the Rays, who have arguably the best all-around young pitching rotation in baseball. The Rays' lineup is also young, but has several proven players who can lead the way.
The only big question for the Rays is their bullpen. But if the starters give six, seven or even eight innings a game and they get a decent amount of run support, there won't be much for the bullpen to do. As a result, the Rays should have just as much of a chance to win the AL East as the Yankees.
As for the Orioles, their lineup will be relatively solid, but there are way too many questions in their pitching staff to even think that there is a chance they do not finish in a distant fifth place.
Here are five reasons why the Rays will surprise many people and win the AL East this year.