BOSTON (CBS) - The 2015 Major League Baseball season gets underway this week, and while each American League East team lost their fair share of familiar faces (Jon Lester, Joe Maddon), there's also some new additions that could make the division race very interesting and more up-for-grabs than ever before.
For each team, there is one key storyline that will define them as the season goes along:
1) Will Lack Of A #1 Pitcher Come Back To Bite The Red Sox?
The Red Sox acquired big names in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez in the offseason, but none of the big names the Sox acquired or signed were an ace pitcher. Having lost out to the Chicago Cubs in trying to get Jon Lester back in a Red Sox uniform, the Sox were able to acquire former Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley, former Sox pitcher Justin Masterson, and traded outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Detroit Tigers for Rick Porcello.
However, none of the starters the Sox acquired are clear-cut number ones. The Sox have had talks with Philadelphia about trading for Cole Hamels, but so far no dice. The offense, which ranked near the bottom of the league in runs scored in 2014, made enough acquisitions in the offseason to be one of the top producing teams in the bigs, so starting pitching remains their biggest concern.
2) Can Masahiro Tanaka Stay Healthy For The Yankees?
If the Yankees want to compete this year, they're going to need a healthy Masahiro Tanaka to lead the staff. The Japan native started in 18 games in 2014 before tearing the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right throwing elbow in July. But the injury didn't require Tommy John surgery, as he was able to make two more starts at the end of September. In total, Tanaka went 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in his debut season.
CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda cannot be relied on to stay healthy, so the Yankees are going to need Tanaka at something close to full strength in order to compete in this tight division. If Tanaka re-injures the same elbow this season, the Yankees are in deep trouble.
3) With Joe Maddon Gone, How Will Kevin Cash Fare In First Season As Rays Manager?
The Tampa Bay Rays didn't have the best offseason, especially after manager Joe Maddon opted out of his contract to go coach the Chicago Cubs.
But the organization always prides itself on young talent, so it'd be foolish to count them out this early. Tampa hired former Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash to take over the squad as he makes his managerial debut in 2015. After his playing career, Cash was hired by Terry Francona in Cleveland and he served as their bullpen coach for two seasons, but how he fares as a manager is anyone's guess. Cash may struggle while adjusting to life as manager.However, the recent trend in baseball is hiring former catchers as managers, with Mike Matheny, Mike Redmond, Brad Ausmus and Joe Girardi to name a few -- they've all had some level of success.Some may think that since the loss of Maddon the Rays are in disarray. But as a matter of fact, the Rays may be the most balanced AL East team in terms of offense and pitching. The good thing for Cash is he has pieces to work with like pitchers Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Drew Smyly, as well as hitters Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, and talented prospect Steven Souza. Don't be surprised if the Rays are making a run for the playoffs in the end.
4) Can Chris Davis Make A Comeback For The Orioles?
Remember that season in 2013 where Chris Davis had a .286 batting average with 53 home runs and 138 RBI? Well, his numbers dropped off in 2014 faster than Usain Bolt running the 100-meter dash. Davis batted .196 with 26 home runs and 72 RBI in 2014. In addition, Davis was suspended 25 games last year for the use of amphetamines. Though Davis struggled throughout the entire season, the Orioles still managed to finish in first place in the AL East with 96 wins.
However, the Orioles lost key batters Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis to free agency, as well as relief pitcher Andrew Miller. For the Orioles to be competitive this season, they need Chris Davis to be a big part of it. In order for Davis to pull a comeback, it does not have to be the same exact numbers he pulled off in 2013, but it has to be numbers substantially better than last season -- especially after losing a hitter like Cruz. The Orioles need a power bat in the lineup to rely on. If Davis puts in another dreadful season, it will not only possibly sink his career, but also sink his team's chances of winning the division.
5) Will Drew Hutchison Be Able To Lead The Blue Jays Staff After Loss Of Marcus Stroman?
The Blue Jays made a surplus of moves in the offseason, most notably signing Russell Martin and trading for Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson. Already having a stacked offense with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes, the Blue Jays did not do much to improve their pitching. Even worse, the Blue Jays will be without pitcher Marcus Stroman (expected to be the No. 1 starter) for the entire season after he tore his ACL during fielding drills, leaving a giant hole in the rotation.
The Blue Jays announced that 24-year-old Drew Hutchison will be the Opening Day starter when the Blue Jays take on the Yankees in New York. Hutchison went 11-13 with a 4.58 ERA and 184 strikeouts last season. With aging pitchers R.A Dickey and Mark Buehrle following behind, Hutchison will be relied on tremendously to lead the rotation and be the ace of the staff. The Blue Jays have enough offense to provide run support. The team just needs their pitching staff, especially Drew Hutchison, to step up this year in order to end Major League Baseball's longest active playoff drought (21 years).
What storylines will you be paying attention to this season in the American League East?
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