A.L. East preview: Masters of the universe

The term “foregone conclusion” comes to mind.

Year in and year out, some of the best baseball in the league comes from this division, but the A.L. East has a chance to take it to another level this season — namely, the Boston Red Sox and its flawless assortment of high-profile players. It’s a good thing I’m not biased.

1. Boston Red Sox (162-0)

It is impossible, at this point, to account for all the unpredictable intangibles that may come up over the course of an entire 162-game season. All we can do is rely on the facts. And the fact is, it is a near-certainty that the 2007 Boston Red Sox will field the greatest athletic team in the history of mankind.

Consider the potent 1-2 combination at the heart of the lineup. David Ortiz is probably going to hit about 85 home runs this season — maybe more, depending on how many of his at-bats come in the bottom of the ninth inning — and is expected to approach Hack Wilson’s single-season RBI record by the All-Star break.

Meanwhile, the utterly ridiculous Manny Ramirez is expected to become the first MLB player since Ted Williams to surpass the .400 mark, all while winning his first Gold Glove, driving in 177 runs and hitting a career-high 62 homers. Ramirez will assume, of course, that he has broken Roger Maris’ single-season record and will hold a celebration for himself.

But the BoSox lineup doesn’t end with Ortiz and Ramirez. For all you fantasy-baseball nuts out there, pencil in Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew for about 380 walks apiece. Give or take. Coco Crisp will rebound with a historic year, stealing a record 151 bases, and start his own brand of delicious children’s cereal that, like the General Mills classic Kix, will be both kid-tested and mother-approved.

Many have expressed concerns about young prospect Dustin Pedroia, but let’s be honest — he’s clearly established himself as the best second baseman in the game today.

When it comes to the pitching staff, the discussion has to start with Dice-K Matsusaka — mainly because he’s a mortal lock to toss 400 strikeouts this year. Maybe even 500. With a 34-0 record, he’ll sail to his first of seven consecutive Cy Young Awards. And for those of you who think me foolish for predicting the distant future, I told you before: I’m only basing these expectations on the facts.

But he won’t be alone — the entire pitching staff will be nearly as dominant. Even the most modest scientific projections suggest that Boston’s staff will throw about 21 no-hitters this season. Obviously, since it would be a shock to everyone to see this team lose even a single game this season, defense has to be a part of the equation as well — which is just fine and dandy, since the Red Sox are not expected to make a single error in the field.

The question is not “Will the Sox win the World Series?” but “What National League opponent will be completely annihilated in a four-game bloodbath this October?”

2. New York Yankees (93-69)

The battle for second place begins here. Judas Iscariot, the clean-shaven little snake that patrols center field at Yankee Stadium, declared that the Yankees were, in no uncertain terms, the best team in baseball this year. While he didn’t guarantee a World Series title, you can read between the lines.

However, when making his totally unbiased prediction, he forgot one key piece of information: God hates Alex Rodriguez. When the reckoning comes, don’t be surprised if flesh-eating bugs tear A-Rod’s face off. But I’m getting off topic; God’s intense hatred for Rodriguez is neither here nor there. We’re talking about the entire Yankees team here — and that includes all the cheaters, not just A-Rod.

While the addition of Doug Mientkiewicz is certain to have opponents shaking in their boots, the Yanks still have some major questions to answer, particularly on the mound. Namely: What the hell is Carl Pavano doing here? The lineup is an on-base machine from one through eight?but excuse me if I’m not enamored with the Pettitte/Pavano/Kei Igawa/Jeff Karstens group. Also, Joe Torre is starting to smell funny.

3. Toronto Blue Jays (82-80)

OK, who here in the audience today believes that B.J. Ryan is going to duplicate his 2006 performance and catapult the Jays into the postseason? Put your hand down, B.J. Ryan’s mother. You don’t count.

Anyone else? OK then. In another division, this lineup might scare people. But this is the A.L. East. This is Boston and New York’s division, which means that you can’t have Gregg Zaun and Royce Clayton as prominent members of your lineup and still hope to compete with the big boys. And the fact that the team only has one good starter — Roy Halladay, who might be the best right-hander in the league not named Dice-K — only reinforces my earlier declaration: You’re not competing in this division. Go to the N.L. West; you’d do well there.

4. Tampa Bay Devil Rays (71-91)

This is that cute little spunky team that everyone would be rooting for, if only the casual fan were aware that there was a professional baseball team in Tampa Bay.

One thing that can’t help but surround such a moribund franchise is eternal optimism. As the old Spanish proverb goes, hope dies last. Chronicle Asst. Sports Editor Tony Pepperoni is in a fantasy baseball league in which Rocco Baldelli was an early pick, while Barry Bonds was never selected. That’s optimism for you. But don’t get fooled. As cute and hard working as these D-Rays are, there will be no escape until they move to a real city, with an average population younger than 55.

But Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir are pretty freakin’ sweet.

5. Baltimore Orioles (66-96)

Now why was I being so pessimistic about the Devil Rays? I should have been congratulatory. So let’s go back for a sec.

Congratulations, D-Rays! You’re better than one of your crappy division rivals!

That’s better. Now on to Baltimore. The Orioles’ perpetual craptitude begs the question: Why does Peter Angelos still have a job? He’s like the Matt Millen of baseball. When one of your key free-agent signings is Jaret Wright, and the season-ending injury to Kris Benson is actually a bad thing, you’re in trouble.

On the plus side, at least Cal Ripken Jr. played in 2,632 consecutive games.