A winter that has dragged on far too long came to a figurative end Monday when the Red Sox returned to work. If the boys of summer are playing, those snow banks out by the mall have got to be close to melting. Right?

Opening day in Baltimore, even though it was a 2-1 loss to the Orioles, was a sure sign that we’ve almost made it through one of the snowiest, coldest winters ever. And this wasn’t any old “lid lifter.” This was the start of a championship defense for the boys from Boston.

That championship will be properly celebrated Tuesday at the White House, and Friday at Fenway when the rings are handed out. What we saw Monday was the first step toward turning the page and putting the confetti behind a team that will try to forge its own identity in the months ahead.

It was also a reminder that the Sox play in what is unquestionably the best division in baseball. We’ve been saying it for years, but in 2014 the American League East may have truly hit its peak. Which means it will be tougher than ever for the Red Sox to win it all.

Let’s begin in Baltimore. The Orioles sat out the early season free-agent frenzy, and fans by the inner harbor thought the O’s “window of opportunity” was closing before their eyes. That was before Dan Duquette jumped in with a couple of late-winter moves, adding Ubaldo Jimenez to the top of the rotation and Nelson Cruz to the middle of the lineup.

The Orioles have one of the best lineups in the game, even with talented, young third baseman Manny Machado on the disabled list.

In New York, the Yankees spent nearly half a billion dollars to become relevant again. Catcher Brian McCann was one of the most sought-after free agents in the game, and will work with an improved staff – thanks to the addition of Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka and the return of hard-throwing Michael Pineda.

Likewise, there should be plenty of offense, even after the loss of Robinson Cano, led by Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the lineup.

One of the biggest surprises in the division was the move the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t make. David Price is back on the mound, meaning Joe Maddon’s team once again has one of the best pitching staffs in the game. Rookie of the Year Wil Myers joins Evan Longoria as the 1-2 punch the lineup will be built around for years. And the bullpen looks strong. Again.

The Blue Jays didn’t add much to the roster this offseason, hoping that another year will bring the rewards from the blockbuster moves they made after 2012.

Last year, Toronto was the trendy pick to win the division and make a deep playoff run. Now, many are picking the Blue Jays near the bottom of the pack.

That’s not because the Jays are a weak team. In fact, they’d probably be favored in half of the divisions in baseball. Just not the AL East.

This is a division that has sent two teams to the postseason in each of the past seven years. For 13 straight years the division winner has won at least 95 games. So, the Sox will have to be at their best to survive the grind that began on Monday in Baltimore.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.