The Tampa Bay Rays had a very successful 2013 season, especially given the fact that they are one of baseball’s lowest budget teams. The Rays finished in second place in the AL East with a record of 92-71, earning one of the two American League Wild Card spots. This would be quite an impressive season for a team in any division, but is especially remarkable given the fact that the AL East is arguably the most competitive in the MLB. To really put it into perspective, the New York Yankees finished in fourth place with a record of 85-77.
The Rays’ 2013 club was known more for its balanced roster than its superstar players. The team featured a solid lineup, a balanced starting rotation, a deep bullpen, and a superb defense. They battled through September to earn one of the coveted Wild Card spots, and defeated the Cleveland Indians to move on to the ALDS against the eventual World Champion Boston Red Sox. The Rays seemed to have a ton of momentum going into the series, and looked as though they could make a solid push in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the team fizzled out against a strong opponent in the divisional round, allowing 26 runs and losing three out of four games.
The Rays made a few changes this offseason, landing Ryan Hanigan and Heath Bell in a three-team trade, as well as signing closer Grant Balfour. In general, however, this season’s squad looks pretty similar to last year’s. There is little doubt that the Rays are going to be playoff contenders this season, but the difference between being a playoff contender and a World Series contender will come down to how well the team’s key players perform.
Best case scenario
The best case scenario for the Rays this season is finishing the job that they have come so close to finishing since 2008. This team is hungry for a World Series Championship. Since they changed names and moved away from being the laughing stock of the American League East, the Rays have had a lot of success. They have reached the playoffs four times, won two division titles, and reached a World Series. However, the ultimate goal of winning it all has still not been reached, and this season’s team has all the makings of a team that could go all the way.
Most important Rays
The Rays offense needs to be anchored by their star third-baseman, Evan Longoria. Longoria, a three-time All-Star, has been the face of the Rays organization since his rookie season in 2008. The third-baseman brings power and the ability to knock in runs to a lineup that needs this kind of hitter. The Rays scored 700 runs last season, ranking them eleventh in the league. Although this is by no means horrible, scoring runs has been the closest thing to an Achilles heel for this team. There are going to be games where the pitching is not going to be as strong as usual, and the Rays need to count on Longoria to drive in runs and come up clutch with runners is scoring position.
As far as pitching goes, the Rays’ Number 2 and Number 3 starting pitchers, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore, take the role for most important Rays. Many would automatically think of David Price for this role (more on him later), but I would argue that a starting rotation is based upon much more than its ace. Cobb and Moore both had very successful 2013 seasons, and most managers would love the chance to have such strong starters follow the ace of the rotation. Cobb finished 2013 with a record of 11-3 and an ERA of 2.76. Moore finished at an impressive 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA. These two guys are going to make the difference as the season drags on, and will be especially crucial in the postseason. Having an ace as good as David Price is certainly great, but there is always the chance of injury, and he can only help the club once every five games. If the Rays were able to get great seasons out of the top three guys in their rotation, they would certainly be one of the most feared teams going into the playoffs.
Potential breakout players
2013 American League Rookie of the Year, Wil Myers, has the potential to break out as one of the league’s biggest stars this year. In his first season in the majors, he played in 88 games and hit .293 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI’s. This season, Myers will be given the chance to play a complete season, which will certainly give a big boost to his already impressive numbers. By nearly doubling the amount of games that he played in 2013, this kid has a good chance at hitting over 20 homers and knocking in 100 runs. By putting him back-to-back with Longoria in the lineup, this duo has the potential to be one of the most feared 3-4 combinations in baseball. If both of these players live up to expectations, it could be just the push the Rays need to become a more dominant offense.
In only his second major league season, and his first as a legitimate member of the starting rotation, Chris Archer, put up some pretty good numbers. The 25-year-old pitcher went 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA, which is quite impressive given his experience and slot in the rotation. He also improved as the season went on, posting a 2.85 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in starts from July 1 forward. Archer will likely be the Number 4 man in the starting rotation for 2014, and has the potential to really add to an already intimidating group of pitchers. If Archer continues to get better as he gains more major league experience, the Rays are looking at arguably the best starting rotation in the majors.
Worst case scenario
Given the competition within the AL East and the American League in general, there is a chance that the Rays do not reach the playoffs. Given the strength of the Boston Red Sox and the recent additions to the New York Yankees, winning the division or even reaching second place is no guarantee. I am nearly certain that the Rays will finish above .500, but even if they were to win 90 games, they could be on the outside looking in come October.
Areas of concern
The Rays’ 2014 roster is remarkably well balanced. One could fairly argue that this is a team without any areas of legitimate concern. The most likely of any possible problems that the Rays could face this season would be run production. In order to win, this team is going to have to be able to score more than a couple of runs per game. This means that in addition to the big bats at the top of the lineup, the bottom half is going to have to do their fair share to prevent opposing pitchers from breezing through innings.
Who needs to bounce back from a down 2014?
David Price has been considered to be one of the league’s best starting pitchers since his breakout season in 2010. His elite status became official in 2012 when he won the American League Cy Young Award. He was elected to three straight All-Star games from 2010-2012, and everyone expected him to be just as stellar last season. Price’s 2013 numbers were pretty good, but not up to the standards of a bona fide major league ace. Due to a disabled list stint that lasted from mid-May through early July, Price managed just 27 starts, posting a record of 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA. He had his lowest numbers in wins, innings pitched, and strikeouts since 2009, which was his first season in the Rays’ starting rotation. His ERA was also considerably higher than the 2.56 he posted in the previous season, and the 2.72 he posted in his Cy Young season.
This will likely be Price’s last season with the Rays, regardless of the fact that he would like to stay. The Rays simply do not have the budget room to sign him to the contract he deserves when he becomes a free agent after this season. If Price wants to bring a championship to Tampa, and wants a big contract following this season, he is going to need to prove to everybody that he is not only the best pitcher on this team, but also one of the best in the entire league.
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