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American League East forecast 2014

Tampa Bay Rays starter Chris Archer follows through

Tampa Bay Rays starter Chris Archer follows through on a warmup pitch before a spring training game against the Yankees in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, March 9, 2014. Credit: AP / Kathy Willens


Manager: Joe Maddon, ninth season, 677-620, .522

GM: Andrew Friedman, ninth season

2013: Second (92-71); def. Cleveland in wild-card game; lost ALDS to Boston, 3-1

Is GM Andrew Friedman really that smart? Could Joe Maddon really be having that much fun? And what do the small-market Rays know about beating the odds that the rest of us don't?

For yet another season, Tampa Bay gets to play David against the Goliaths of the AL East -- and it's a role the Rays have enjoyed for a while now. But don't call them an underdog. Maybe they don't spend the cash of their division rivals, and are stuck with the sport's worst ballpark, but this team has talent. Evan Longoria is an MVP candidate, Wil Myers is a slugger on the rise heading into his first full season and Ben Zobrist is the Swiss army knife, a versatile defender and run producer all in one.

Don't forget the seemingly endless supply of young pitching. Only in Tampa Bay could David Price, at the age 28, be considered the sage veteran of a rotation that includes Alex Cobb (26) and Chris Archer (25) and Matt Moore (24). Remember, Price missed six weeks last season with triceps tendinitis and still logged 186 innings with a 3.33 ERA. He's also a free agent after the 2015 season, so Price is reaching a pivotal point in his Rays career -- when he'll either be traded like James Shields or signed to an extension like Longoria.

In the bullpen, the Rays picked up Grant Balfour to replace Fernando Rodney at closer -- evidently they found his medicals fine after the Orioles did not -- and Heath Bell has been added as well.

Coming off a 92-win season, the Rays will be gunning to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five years -- since losing to the Phillies in the 2009 World Series. Their task gets more difficult this year in a division that only got stronger with the Yankees spending nearly $500 million to reload this winter.

But as the Rays see it, the greater the odds, the better they like their chances.


Manager: Buck Showalter, fifth season, 281-262, .517

GM: Dan Duquette, third season

2013: Tie-third (85-77)

Outlook: The AL East's most dangerous lineup could be in Baltimore, with Chris Davis the main power source on a team with pop at every position. But do the Orioles have the pitching to keep up? Signing Ubaldo Jimenez should help, and Johan Santana could be called on if he's healthy by June 1.


Manager: Joe Girardi, seventh season, 564-408, .580

GM: Brian Cashman, 15th season

2013: Tie-third (85-77)

Outlook: Remember when staying under the $189-million luxury threshold was a goal for the Yankees? Me neither. Hal Steinbrenner bought some solid reinforcements for his aging team, and Masahiro Tanaka has looked like the real deal this spring. But it will be a disappointment if Derek Jeter struggles in his farewell season.


Manager: John Farrell, second season, 97-65, .599

GM: Ben Cherington, third season

2013: First (97-65); def. Tampa in ALDS, 3-2; def. Detroit in ALCS, 4-2; def. St. Louis in WOrld Series, 4-2

Outlook: For a city wounded by terrorism, the retooled Red Sox provided some degree of happiness by winning their third World Series title in 10 years. But that special season will be tough to duplicate, especially in a division that will be even more competitive this year.


Manager: John Gibbons, seventh season, 379-393, .491

GM: Alex Anthopoulos, fifth season

2013: Fifth (74-88)

Outlook: With Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, the Blue Jays can pound other clubs into submission. It's just a matter of avoiding a beating themselves, and their rotation -- other than maybe R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle -- is suspect.


Best everyday lineup: Orioles

Best player: Evan Longoria

Best power hitter: Chris Davis

Best overall hitter: David Ortiz

Best in the clutch: Carlos Beltran

Best baserunner: Jacoby Ellsbury

Best infielder: Manny Machado

Best outfielder: Jacoby Ellsbury

Best catcher: Matt Wieters

Best starting pitcher: Jon Lester

Best reliever: Steve Delabar

Best closer: Koji Uehara

Best pitch: Masahiro Tanaka's split-fingered fastball

Manager: Joe Maddon

General manager: Andrew Friedman

Stadium: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

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