With less than a week until the Rays’ Opening Day, there’s nothing better than the promise of a new season and a fresh start.
2012 witnessed its highs and lows for the Rays. Third baseman Evan Longoria played in only 74 games due to a hamstring injury, designated hitter Luke Scott did meet expectations after coming back from season-ending shoulder surgery in 2011, and outfielder Sam Fuld also missed much of the season due to wrist surgery. To cap it all off, the Rays failed to clinch a postseason bearth after rallying in the final stretch of late September.
But it’s a new year and a new season, so who says the Rays can’t go all the way in 2013? Jon Morosi of Fox Sports seems to think that the Rays will struggle in 2013 as he made his 2013 season predictions earlier this week. With starting pitcher James Shields and center fielder B.J. Upton no longer on the Rays’ roster, Morosi feels that their absences will be too hard to replace. Ouch. Morosi just killed a lot of fans’ dreams with that prediction, but is he right?
Morosi believes that if Desmond Jennings can effectively make the transition from left field to center field and thrive at the plate then Jennings will fill the void Upton left. Also, Morosi called out pitchers Jeff Niemann and Alex Cobb, saying that their performances have a huge impact on how the pitching staff will remain successful without leader James Shields.
Niemann missed the majority of the 2012 season after fracturing his right fibula, only to be placed on the disabled list again in September with an inflamed shoulder. While Niemann appears healthy this spring and currently has a 3.86 ERA with 14 K’s, he is still competing with righty Roberto Hernandez for the fifth spot in the Rays’ starting rotation. Alex Cobb was not in the pitching rotation full-time last season but is expected to pitch fourth in the rotation for the Rays in 2013. He did serve as a starter for 23 games while Niemann was recovering from his fibula fracture. The Rays have grown confident in Cobb’s abilities while watching him flourish in spring training with a 2.81 ERA, delivering 28 strikeouts.
Despite Morosi’s comments, Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci is confident in the Rays’ pitching staff and is even predicting that the Rays will make it to the World Series but lose to the Washington Nationals. According to Verducci, the arm of Cy Young Award winner David Price will lead Tampa Bay to their great postseason run. Verducci also credits much success to the “Rays Way” of developing their pitching staff. David Price is featured on the regional cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated and is one of six players chosen to be on the cover, including former Rays pitcher James Shields. Some fans are already making predictions of their own and saying that Price’s appearance on the cover is jinxing any chances the Rays have of earning a World Series appearance.
But while Morosi’s comments have also stirred the pot, even making Rays fans get defensive on Twitter, he also raised a question that everyone has been asking during the entire offseason: Will Longoria be healthy in 2013? It’s obvious that Longoria’s deadly combination of stellar offense and defense transforms the Rays from being a good team to being a great team. He has remained healthy during spring training and assured everyone that he feels ready for the regular season. The Rays have continued to take precautionary measures with him during the spring, but his increasingly growing number of innings played during these final games of spring training prove that Longoria is right on track. A .381 average and 12 RBIs in 15 spring training games also help argue that Longo is prepared for the season. But only time will tell if Longoria can escape the hamstring troubles he suffered from last season and remain in the lineup everyday.
With his predictions, Jon Morosi raised some interesting ideas that every Rays fan has already considered during this offseason, but to go so far as to say that the Rays will not make it to the playoffs in 2013, well that’s just extreme. Even if they cannot clinch a division title, fingers crossed they do, the Rays have what it takes to earn one of the Wild Card slots and play in October. Tom Verducci thinks the Rays are capable of doing a lot more than just that, although we all like to think the Rays will win the World Series if they are in it. Who knows what will happen, but maybe Morosi needs to watch the footage from Game 162 in 2011 and remember that you never say never about the Tampa Bay Rays.