On April 3, every team in Major League Baseball has the same chance of taking home a division title and ultimately a World Series championship.
While one can assume that a team like the Washington Nationals won't have a snowball's chance of winning its division, there is always a team like the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays that seemingly comes out of nowhere and takes the world by surprise.
The Rays are not nearly as under the radar as they have been in years previous, but after missing the playoffs last year, maybe people have been writing the Rays off as possible one-year wonders, with Stuart Sternberg promising to slash the payroll from an all-time high of around $74 million to the much more Ray-esque figure of less than $60 million.
With the impending free agency of both Carl Crawford and Carlos Peña, it has become an almost do-or-die year for these Rays.
Even though the Red Sox added John Lackey and Adrian Beltre, while the Yankees traded for Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez, it would be unwise to count out the ball team from St. Pete.
Here are five compelling reasons why you shouldn't count the Rays out of the AL East race this year.
Players like Evan Longoria, David Price, Jeff Niemann, and Ben Zobrist will have another year of Major League experience to bring to the team.
If Longoria continues his rise to superstardom, Zobrist proves that last season wasn't a fluke, and both Price and Niemann take reasonable steps forward, the Rays could use this young core to propel them to the top of the AL East standings in 2010.
For the first time since the Rays can remember, they have a dominant pitcher at the back end of the bullpen.
For the past couple seasons, the Rays have not had the clear-cut closer that a lot of the elite teams have had.
In 2008, the Rays won a lot of games despite what then-closer Troy Percival could do, while last year, it took J.P. Howell about half the year to lock down the closer's role, and he wore down quite a bit at the end of the season.
Rafael Soriano doesn't come to the Rays without any questions marks, the biggest question being his health. If Señor Smoke stays healthy for the entire year, Tampa Bay could shore up one of its biggest weaknesses from last season, as the bullpen blew 22 saves, which was tied for the third most in the American League.
This past offseason, manager Joe Maddon and company decided to go in a different direction at hitting coach.
Steve Henderson was with the Rays for five years. He was the team's inaugural hitting coach in 1998 and spent the last four seasons in the same position. But after a season in which the Rays underperformed with men in scoring position, the team decided to move on.
To try to remedy this problem, the Rays hired Derek Shelton. Shelton spent the last five years holding the same position with the Cleveland Indians.
While it is only spring training, the Rays have looked to be employing a much different approach at the plate. They look more confident with men on base and have been shortening their swings with two strikes.
If the Rays are able to carry this into the regular season, look for an offense more resembling the potent 2008 version than last year's less clutch-hitting bunch.
While the Red Sox and Yankees look like they could have dominant rotations on paper, upon closer inspection, both teams could have a glaring question mark.
The Yankees have a few questions in the middle of the rotation. While Javier Vazquez looks to have been a steal for the Bombers, a closer look at his stats while pitching in the AL show a different story.
In four years pitching in the American League, Javy had a 4.52 ERA. His last trip with the Yankees was even worse, as he compiled a 4.91 ERA in 198 innings of work.
There is no question of Vazquez's durability, but his performance may not be the greatest.
A.J. Burnett may also be in line for a regression. Burnett pitched over 200 innings for only the fourth time in his eight-year career as a starter. While it is possible that Burnett has moved on from his injury-plagued past, chances are that A.J. misses a few starts at some point this season
The Red Sox, with their $82.5 million acquisition of John Lackey, look to have an improved rotation over the group that they trotted out last season.
Lackey could be make or break for the Red Sox. Over the past two seasons, Lackey has only averaged around 170 innings a year, which is down from his career average of 216.
He was brought to the Sox with hopes of sharing the co-ace role with Josh Beckett, but a lot will be riding on the oft-injured elbow of Lackey in 2010.
Daisuke Matsuzaka is another pitcher that could give the Sox some trouble this year. When he was first signed, he was envisioned as the possible ace of the future for this team. However, some control issues and injuries have not allowed the Japanese import to help Boston.
As of now, Dice-K is expected to miss the first couple weeks of the season.
While the Rays don't have the same questions of starting pitching health that the Red Sox have, their questions lay within the progress of this young pitching staff.
If former No. 1 overall pick David Price and last year's ace Jeff Niemann are able to take a couple steps forward, the Rays could have one of the most potent staffs in the American League.
Imagine if James Shields, Niemann, Matt Garza, Price, and rookie Wade Davis are able to even take small steps forward from last year. While it isn't likely that all five will pitch out of their minds, if they do, this could be the scariest one through five in the American League.
What do you think? Are the Rays going to be able to recapture the magic of 2008, or are the Rays destined to spend another year playing golf come October?
As always, feel free to share your breakdown of this year's AL East race.