Wide-open AL East should provide great baseball

Many are outraged because Major League Baseball’s opening day is not a national holiday. This means only one thing—America’s pastime is back. All 30 teams will look to avoid the injury bug and, while they will all aim to perform at playoff contention quality, some will struggle just to keep their head above water. Once the most envied division in baseball, the American League East has undergone several changes, shifting power to make a more balanced division. Though the New York Yankees have the most championships in North American professional sports, they are not the same team that they were 15 years ago. The Boston Red Sox have a plethora of new faces to replace the older talent that either left the team in free agency or retired. The Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays added new young talent—along with much improved management—to actually become contenders. The Tampa Bay Rays have dealt away major talent for new youngsters and cap room, a strategy that hasn’t panned out … yet.

The most visible change in the division is at the shortstop position for the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers will be without Derek Jeter for the first time since 1995, leaving Didi Gregorius with big shoes to fill. In addition, the Yankees’ pitching leaves much to be desired—seemingly half the balls that come from a Yankees pitcher hit the dirt before crossing home plate.

The Yankees aces have shown signs of aging as well—CC Sabathia’s arm looks like it will fall off any day now. While the Yankees have new talent from the farm system and older talent to help bridge the gap, it may take a few seasons for the Yankees to become legitimate contenders again.

Moving on to Boston, the Red Sox also face the task of bridging the gap between veterans and young talent. The Sox are hard to predict; they either play really well or really poorly. They will look to go from worst-to-first this season. There are questions about new players, like if outfielder Mookie Betts can be productive at the plate. With no real ace on the pitching staff, it’s hard to see the Sox mustering a division win in 2015.

In the great white north, the Blue Jays really solidified their farm system and added veterans during the offseason to make a solid team. Aside from early pitching woes, the Jays look offensively and defensively sharp. Even with nagging injuries to stars like outfielder Jose Bautista, veterans like catcher Russell Martin and outfielder Michael Saunders should help to produce wins. Playoff contention is, for once, not out of reach, but the Jays will have to work for it.

The Orioles have oodles of raw talent. While the O’s may have lost power in outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, they have plenty of talent to rely on with third baseman Manny Machado and outfielder Chris Davis. Along with a veteran pitching staff, solid hitting and sound fielding skills, the Orioles can win this division if they stay healthy.

Last and probably least comes Tampa. Aside from a fine, young pitching staff, there are concerns across the board for the Rays. Much of Tampa’s offensive talent has been plagued with injuries early on. The departure of star pitcher David Price and manager Joe Maddon hurt the team in both on-field performance and overall mentality. If given just a few years to figure out their offense and to develop a relationship with new manager Kevin Cash, the Rays could bounce right back to be contenders again—just not this year.

With warm weather finally here, it’s time to anxiously bite our fingernails to see what surprises baseball has up its sleeve for 2015.