TAMPA BAY RAYS (AL East)
2013 record: 92-71 (second, 5.5 GB)
Projected 2014: 88.5
World Series odds: 12/1
Key additions: David DeJesus, Grant Balfour
X factor: Wil Myers
Projected starting lineup: Infield: C – R. Hanigan/J.Molina; 1B – J. Loney; 2B – B. Zobrist; 3B – E. Longoria; SS – Y. Escobar. Outfield: LF – D. DeJesus; CF – D. Jennings; RF W. Myers
Designated hitter: M. Joyce.
Starting rotation: D. Price, M. Moore, A. Cobb, C. Archer, J. Odorissi.
Closer: G. Balfour
Having just assessed St. Louis, we come to the American League’s version of the Cardinals – the Rays.
Tampa Bay, year in and year out under manager Joe Maddon, has been right in the thick of the best division in baseball – the AL East. And this season shouldn’t be any different. Last year the Rays again made the postseason by beating Texas in a one game playoff.
No conversation about the Rays should start without first mentioning third baseman Evan Longoria, unless you’re talking Maddon. Since 2006 he’s won 704 games (.522 win pct) two AL Manager of the Year Awards (2008, 2011) and made the Rays a regular in postseason play.
Maddon’s best attribute is his easy going manner and bringing fun to the clubhouse. The Rays made their mark by constantly being a foil to both the Red Sox and Yankees. For years Boston and New York fans would head to Tampa Bay and make those games a home field for them. Not so anymore.
Now to Longoria, the AL’s answer to Troy Tulowitzki for the NL’s Colorado Rockies. When he’s healthy and in the lineup, Tampa Bay wins. Without him, they just are not the same team.
Management signed Longo to a long term contract in his early 20’s and he’s become the face of the franchise. From him, the Rays built a foundation that like the Cardinals really has no weaknesses in any category.
The LVH SuperBook projects Tampa Bay for 88.5 wins in the East, which would probably put them second again in the division. That means another trip to the playoffs and battling the world champion Red Sox and likely the Yankees for the top spot – apologies to Baltimore and Toronto.
While Longoria (31 homers, 88 RBI) leads the Tampa Bay offense, pitching starts with David Price who when right could be the best lefthander outside of Clayton Kershaw.
Price (3.33 ERA, 151 strikeouts) anchors arguably the best starting rotation in the AL. Behind him are Matt Moore (17 wins), Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Jake Odorissi, the latter just off a very good outing this spring against the Red Sox.
Grant Balfour is back for his second stint with the Rays, now as the sole closer and not “closer by committee” as he was the first time around.
Offensively the Rays have a potential superstar in Wil Myers (.293 BA, 13 HR, 53 RBI in just 88 games) and a dynamic outfielder in Desmond Jennings who made B.J. Upton expendable. Ben Zobrist (.354 OBP, 168 hits) can play every position.
David DeJesus comes over from Kansas City where he was steady, but not the spectacular player the Royals wanted. Here in Tampa, he doesn’t have be “the man” which should settle him into a nice situation. Same for first baseman James Loney (.299) who had a nice bounce back year for TB after the Dodgers let him go.
Bottom line: The Rays could go at least 5-2 to start the season, with four home games against last place Toronto and three with Texas, who have been decimated by injuries to their starting rotation. After that it’s nine straight on the road against Kansas City, Cincinnati and Baltimore before the Yankees come to town.
On deck: Texas Rangers
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].