2017 MLB season preview: The best reason to watch every AL East team

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Thursday March 23rd, 2017

As Opening Day approaches, the one thing every team can count on for the long season ahead is hope, whether to make the postseason this year or to build toward a brighter future in days ahead. Yet no matter how competitive they are, all 30 teams will have at least one reason for their fans to stay interested for the next six months. Before the season kicks off, SI.com will explore the best reason to watch each team in 2017, starting with the AL East clubs on Thursday, March 23 and continuing with the AL Central (March 24), AL West (March 27), NL East (March 28), NL Central (March 29) and NL West (March 30). 

Baltimore Orioles: The Manny Machado Show

Whether he's at the plate or at the hot corner, Machado is simply one of those players you can't take your eyes off of. Last year, he hit a career-high 37 homers (up from 35 the year before) and served as a human highlight film at third base—routinely making spectacular plays by charging to barehand grounders or backhanding and then throwing from foul territory. For good measure, he more than held his own in 45 games at shortstop, his natural position. The scary thing is that at 24 years old, Machado may still be getting better.

Boston Red Sox: Setting Sale with a formidable staff

Even with David Ortiz's retirement, there's no shortage of reasons to watch the defending AL East champions. Their rotation features a pair of AL Cy Young Award winners (reigning honoree Rick Porcello and 2012 recipient David Price), and they offer strong candidates for AL MVP (rightfielder Mookie Betts) and Rookie of the Year (leftfielder Andrew Benintendi). That said, the arrival of Sale in a blockbuster off-season trade with the White Sox offers something new. Sale will be pitching for a contender for the first time since 2012, and the side-arming southpaw will be battling to avoid the first-year struggles that have plagued Porcello, Price and many other hurlers upon arriving in Boston. He's finished in the top-six of AL Cy Young voting for five straight years; a sixth would help ensure the Red Sox return to October.

New York Yankees: The Baby Bombers power a Bronx revival

The Yankees have transformed their lineup from one weighted down by aging stars to an exciting group of potential cornerstone pieces. The most promising pair are 24-year-olds Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird. Despite not arriving for good until early August, Sanchez took over the starting catching job and nearly won AL Rookie of the Year honors by launching 20 homers in 53 games last season. Bird, a first baseman, hit 11 homers in just 46 games in late 2015 and is back after missing all of last year due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Add in 6'7" outfielder Aaron Judge, the versatile Tyler Austin and perhaps even top prospect Clint Frazier, and New York appears to be laying the foundation of its next championship club.

Tampa Bay Rays: Kevin Kiermaier's Spider-Man impression

The Rays are at a low point, coming off a 68–94 season that marks their worst record since they exorcized the Devil from their name after the 2007 campaign. Still, Tampa Bay has a solid foundation in its rotation and secured a piece of its future this month by signing Kiermaier to a six-year, $53.5 million extension. The wall-scaling–27-year-old centerfielder is perhaps the game's most entertaining fly chaser and one of its most valuable, according to defensive metrics: He has led all outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved (81) and Ultimate Zone Rating (60) over the past three seasons. He's even provided solid offensive contributions (105 OPS+) as well.

Toronto Blue Jays: Marcus Stroman is worth shouting about

Stroman's first full season in the rotation was not a stellar one, as he finished with a 4.37 ERA and 3.71 FIP with 7.3 strikeouts per nine, but he was much stronger in the second half (3.68 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 8.4 strikeouts per nine) than the first. This year has already gotten off to a strong start, as he earned MVP honors at the World Baseball Classic by tossing six no-hit innings in Team USA's finals win over Puerto Rico. The pint-sized–26-year-old righty still has the talent to be a frontline starter, and he brings a special energy to the mound every time he pitches that can both electrify fans and teammates and help move baseball into a more exciting era.

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