The common rationale for an Orioles decline is that they were a statistical anomaly in 2012 based on unsustainable records in extra-inning (16-2) and one-run games (29-9).
"That's all you hear and that's fine. The only way to change people's minds is to prove differently. We did that last year," Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth said. "It takes more than one season to change people's perceptions. But I don't think anybody in here really cares about that being said. Matter of fact, I think people kind of like it."
"There is no reason we can't be [better]. But I think we also realize that just because you made the playoffs last year doesn't automatically qualify us this year," McLouth said. "I don't think anybody will fall into that trap. It is hard to make the playoffs. But we definitely, absolutely have the potential to be better."
The Rays could be improved, too, especially given their dominant young pitching. But they may feel the absence of innings-eater James Shields, who was dealt to the Kansas City Royals. The Yankees' Achilles' heel could be injuries, with a core of veterans starting on the DL: Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Phil Hughes.
"We've been through [injuries] ever since I have been here and our guys have done a really good job of taking advantage of opportunities and making the best of it," Girardi said. "The division could really come down to that. Whose players step up when someone does go down that they are counting on, and who handles the injuries the best."
It's become trendy to drop the Yankees from the top to the bottom of the East given their MASH unit. History, though, says that's a dicey prediction. The Yankees last finished below third place in 1992, when current Orioles manager Buck Showalter was in his first year as a big league skipper. They haven't finished in last since 1990.
Showalter, for one, isn't buying the imminent demise of the Bronx Bombers.
"A lot of those injuries are [going to last only] two weeks into the season. They're going to be right there. It's 162 games," Showalter said. "A lot of those guys are going to be back just around the corner. To me, it's a given that they're going to be good."
The Yankees aren't the only ones dealing with injuries and/or advancing age. The Red Sox dumped several of their expensive stars in an in-season purge last year, which resulted in their first last-place finish since 1992. They haven't finished at the bottom of the standings in consecutive seasons since 1929-1930.
Boston reloaded in the offseason, acquiring Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Joel Hanrahan and others. But whether the Red Sox climb out of the basement depends on the health of stars such as David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia.
"I've been fortunate to play against some of the best players of this generation," said the Blue Jays' Lind, who is in his eighth big league season. "And to try and take down the Yankees and the Red Sox is special. I don't know what that tastes like yet. But hopefully this will be it."
Will the Yankees and Red Sox be the bottom two teams in the standings for the first time since 1966? Is it worth considering that potentially shocking developing in 2013?
"Not really," said 37-year-old Rays setup man Joel Peralta. "You can't count out those guys, People say, 'Well, they've gotten older.' Well sometimes when you get older you get better. Look at me. I got older and I got better the last couple years with experience. So you cannot count those guys out. Definitely not.'"
The bottom line is that the American League East is wide open.
It's possible that the division sends just one team to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Or that all five clubs finish .500 or better, something that has occurred just once in the current divisional format — by the 2005 National League East.
"I think you can make a case for every team in the division," McLouth said. "It is going to be an exciting summer."