The Sox must defend their World Series title without leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury, now a Yankee. But Boston was the only team to average five runs per game in 2013, and they still have stars in DH David Ortiz (30 HRs, 103 RBIs), 2B Dustin Pedroia (.301 average), and 1B Mike Napoli (23 HRs), and a potential star in rookie SS Xander Bogaerts. Run support is key for a pitching staff with question marks. Lefty Jon Lester was in Cy Young form by the playoffs, but Clay Buchholz missed time last year with shoulder problems, and John Lackey and Jake Peavy have long injury histories.
Tampa is one of only two teams with 90-plus wins each of the past four seasons. (Texas is the other.) With improving young talent, they're on pace for another strong year. The offense is led by slugging 3B Evan Longoria (32 HRs, 88 RBIs) and do-it-all utilityman Ben Zobrist. The Rays are counting on improvement from rising star OF Wil Myers.
The big question is what they'll do with ace David Price, as the lefty is due for a hefty pay raise Tampa can't afford. If he's traded, the Rays will need talented-but-erratic young arms Matt Moore (17–4, 3.29 ERA) and Chris Archer (9–7, 3.22 ERA) to step up alongside the steady Alex Cobb.
No team added more talent this off-season than the Yankees. But no team lost more talent either. The Bronx Bombers spent big to bring in C Brian McCann, speedster Jacoby Ellsbury, and OF Carlos Beltran (24 HRs, .296 average). SS Derek Jeter enters his final season coming off a series of injuries, and 1B Mark Teixeira must produce with star 2B Robinson Cano now in Seattle.
Pitching will be the key. The Yanks signed Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka and will rely on lefty CC Sabathia, coming off a poor 2013, 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda, and talented but inconsistent Ivan Nova. New closer David Robertson leads a thin bullpen.
Even with 3B Manny Machado questionable for the start of the season due to a knee injury, the O's still have home run king Chris Davis (53 HRs), All-Stars Adam Jones (33 HRs, 108 RBIs) and J.J. Hardy, and have added power hitter Nelson Cruz (27 HRs for Texas). But Baltimore's rotation had the fourth-worst ERA in baseball last year (4.57).
They bring back All-Star Chris Tillman and will count on a couple of high-risk free agents: Ubaldo Jimenez can dominate when he's on, and Suk-min Yoon is making the leap from Korea. The wild card is Kevin Gausman, a top prospect who had a rocky first stint in the bigs.
Toronto re-stocked with star power last year, but it didn't pay off. SS Jose Reyes missed a chunk of 2013 with an ankle injury, and at age 30 he could be slowing down. Power hitters Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion got little help from 3B Brett Lawrie, who had a second straight down year. The Jays hope new C Dioner Navarro's 2013 power surge (career-high 13 HRs as the Cubs' backup) was for real.
Pitching is the problem. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, a 2012 Cy Young winner with the Mets, had his ERA jump from 2.73 to 4.21. Aside from Dickey, injury-prone Brandon Morrow, and lefty Mark Buehrle, there's little talent on this staff.
Photos: RICK OSENTOSKI/USA TODAY SPORTS (PEDROIA), TOM DIPACE (LONGORIA), GREG M. COOPER/USA TODAY SPORTS (SABATHIA), MARK GOLDMAN/ICON SMI (JONES), HANNAH FOSLIEN/GETTY IMAGES (DICKEY)