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Powerhouse Red Sox should hold off Yankees, Rays in AL East

Mookie Betts connects on a solo home run during a Boston Red Sox exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves on March 16.

A look at every team in the American League East and their 2019 predicted order of finish.

1. BOSTON RED SOX

2018 | 108-54, 1st in East

Last year in playoffs | 2018

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The loss of 42-save closer Craig Kimbrel and hard-throwing setup man Joe Kelly left holes in a bullpen that is probably the only question mark on a defending World Series-champion team that has one of the best rotations in baseball and a lethal lineup led by reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts, who had 32 homers, 80 RBIs and a 1.078 OPS last season, and J.D. Martinez, who had 43 homers, a league-leading 130 RBIs and a 1.031 OPS. The return of gritty veteran second baseman Dustin Pedroia from knee surgery should provide an emotional boost.

2. NEW YORK YANKEES

2018 | 100-62, 2nd in East

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Last year in playoffs | 2018

Injuries to ace Luis Severino, who will miss April because of rotator-cuff soreness, and veteran CC Sabathia, who is recovering from right-knee surgery, could force the Yankees to open with youngsters Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German, who have combined to make 18 big league starts, in the rotation. Veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, limited by injuries to 66 games the past two seasons, replaces the injured Didi Gregorious (elbow surgery) in a potent Giancarlo Stanton-led lineup that led the major leagues with 267 homers last season.

3. TAMPA BAY RAYS

2018 | 90-72, 3rd in East

Last year in playoffs | 2013

Manager Kevin Cash, who last season made liberal use of the “opener,” a reliever who starts the game, throws one or two innings and is replaced by a long man, plans to begin the year with a three-man rotation of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow and two openers. He just might have the bullpen depth to pull it off again. Most of the lineup, with the exception of center fielder Kevin Kiermaier and infielder Daniel Robertson, has turned over, but there are promising young hitters in Austin Meadows and Yandy Diaz.

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4. TORONTO BLUE JAYS

2018 | 73-89, 4th in East

Last year in playoffs | 2016

A rib-cage strain will push the big-league debut of 20-year-old Vladimir Guerrero, one of the top power-hitting prospects in baseball, to at least late April, giving the Blue Jays a convenient excuse for delaying the slugger’s start date and pushing his eventual free agency back by a year. The lineup does not appear potent, but if Toronto gets bounce-back years from injury plagued veteran right-handers Matt Shoemaker and Clay Buchholz, the rotation could be good. Kevin Pillar is one of the game’s better defensive center fielders.

5. BALTIMORE ORIOLES

2018 | 47-115, 5th in East

Last year in playoffs | 2016

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Things can’t get much worse for the Orioles, who in 2018 posted the club’s worst record since it moved from St. Louis to Baltimore in 1954. Or can they? First baseman Chris Davis, who has four years and $92-million left on his contract, must rebound from a rock-bottom season in which he batted .168 with a .539 OPS, 16 homers, 49 RBIs and 192 strikeouts. Slugger Mark Trumbo, who had season-ending knee surgery last August and is only three years removed from a 47-homer, 108-RBI season in 2016, needs to stay healthy.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

@MikeDiGiovanna


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