The Rays entered 2012 with aspirations of not just a third straight trip to the postseason but their first World Series championship. They believed that the roster they had put together was the best in their history. They were adding Rookie of the Year favorite Matt Moore to an already incredible rotation of David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, and Alex Cobb. They were adding Luke Scott and a homecoming Carlos Pena to make their lineup as formidable as they had ever had in their history, led by Evan Longoria, who was finally healthy after being limited in 2012 by injuries. They ready to go for it and were confident that they were good enough to go all the way. Of course, though, nothing went as planned.
The starting rotation for the Rays in 2012 saw Niemann go down early, but wound up being among the best in baseball yet again thanks to a Cy Young season by David Price, a big second half by James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson’s near-repeat of his 2011 Rookie of the Year campaign, a strong season by Alex Cobb, an inconsistent but overall promising season by Moore, and a surprise contribution from Chris Archer. The bullpen was even better, with Fernando Rodney delivering a historic season with the dynamic trio of Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, and Wade Davis working in front of him and J.P. Howell and Burke Badenhop completing easily the best bullpen in baseball. The offense, though, completely fell apart. Everything was a dream in April with Longoria and Pena putting up huge seasons in the middle of the Rays lineup, but then Longoria got hurt again, not to return until August, and Pena fell apart. Even as Jeff Keppinger stepped up to deliver a huge season and B.J. Upton carried the team on his back for the last month and half of the year, injuries to Longoria, Scott, Matthew Joyce, Keppinger, and Desmond Jennings along with completely ineptitude at the shortstop position until Ben Zobrist moved there in August made the Rays one of the worst offensive teams in baseball. Even defensively, the Rays infield defense was their worst since 2007, with Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriguez, and the countless waiver-claimed utility players that the Rays acquired failing to make enough of the routine plays, costing the Rays far too often in the middle of the year. At the end of the year, the excellence of the Rays’ pitching to go along with strong finishes by the offense and defense led to a third straight 90-win season. However, as the season came to a close, the Rays could only contemplate what could have been. They missed the 2012 Postseason and let everything they had achieved and all the perseverance they had exhibited go to waste.
What did the Rays learn from 2012? They saw firsthand that although pitching reigns supreme, it couldn’t compensate for the other gaping holes in their ballclub. They realized that although signing hitters off the scrapheap was always going to be a critical piece of the way they ran their ballclub, they had to take the chances necessary for them to significantly improve their offense and not let their pitching go for nought. They showed an understanding of both of those things in one foul swoop when they acquired a package of prospects headlined by top outfield prospect Wil Myers from the Kansas City Royals for James Shields and Wade Davis. The Rays have plenty more to do before they’re ready for a promising 2013 MLB season. They have to find themselves a designated hitter and a couple more arms for the bullpen. They have to come up with a plan to keep Evan Longoria healthy and figure out the pitchers who will be in their starting rotation. But now, as 2013 begins, all the potential is there for the Rays to finally live up to their potential and deliver the championship that has eluded them in the first 15 years of their history. They have the ability to make 2013 the season that 2012 could not be. Despite all the positives, 2012 was a major letdown for the Rays and their fans. 2013, though, has every chance to be a completely different story.