Maddon, Friedman love playing in AL East

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Manager Joe Maddon has always harped on his belief that playing in the American League East has benefitted the Rays, and this spring his message is no different.

"I really believe that good competition always brings out the best in us," Maddon said. "Every time you play an American League East team -- it's always been that way, but more so now. The competition on a nightly basis is going to be extreme. It is wide open.

"Obviously you talk about what the Blue Jays did, with getting the vast number of players from the Marlins. I really like what Boston's done. You look at a lot of the gamers that they've picked up, plus their bullpen is really good. One thing about this division that stands out to me is the bullpens. The bullpens are thick, they're all very good. Everybody is talking about the Yankees' age; whatever, these guys are still really good, and Baltimore believes that [it] can win. Every night it's going to be that way, and that's half of your season, basically, where you're playing within your own division. It is wide open, but I feel very strongly about what we're going to be able to do also."

Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman also addressed the benefits of playing in the AL East.

"It allows us to play in more of a playoff-type atmosphere than you can do in the regular season elsewhere and keeps our guys sharp," said Friedman. "It's incredibly tough. In our opinion, it's the toughest division in all of professional sports."