BOSTON -- Red Sox manager Terry Francona said his team is dealing with tougher competition as it looks to repeat as American League champion.
Asked before Saturday night's game against the Rays if the AL East is better throughout, Francona said, "I think the American League's deeper.
"I haven't even seen the rest of the league, but I think it's deeper. I don't have a good reason yet why, but teams look like they're better. We've seen some really good pitching ... Tampa Bay, some of these guys that were kids aren't kids anymore, and now they're getting some pitching, so it's a tough division.
"Toronto's record, whatever it is right now ... we just saw three of the best pitchers you're going to see all year, and we see them a lot; and they've had their way with us, so it's not very easy."
Talking about Tampa Bay, the opponent this weekend and last, Boston's skipper sees a team playing with more confidence.
"I would think they should be," he said. "That's probably a natural progression -- you start winning some games, you should feel better about yourself.
"I wish they didn't. I mean I'd love to see them come in here and not do that, but I think they're starting to experience some success, so they probably do feel good about themselves."
Mike Shalin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.