Rays fans, the wait is finally over. After six long and grueling months, the agony of the offseason no longer exists. Baseball has returned, and the Rays are welcoming it back with their season opener against the Baltimore Orioles in front of a sold out crowd at Tropicana Field.
Here’s a look at the Rays and their competition:
After making their first playoff appearance since 1997, the Orioles capped off a spectacular season in 2012 by beating AL rivals the Texas Rangers in the American League wild card game. Unfortunately, the Rays fell short of making it to the playoffs in 2012, but with a new season and high hopes, both the Rays and O’s are looking to be playoff contenders in the AL East in 2013.
The Rays’ David Price, who won the Cy Young Award this offseason, will take the mound against Baltimore’s Jason Hammel. Spending most of the 2012 season on the DL with a knee injury, Hammel is pitching the first Opening Day start of his career. Last season he finished 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA, delivering 113 strikeouts and allowing 45 runs in 20 games. Hammel was drafted by the Devil Rays in 2002 and pitched in Tampa Bay from 2006-2008.
David Price looks to continue the momentum from last season, as he became the first Rays pitcher to reach 20 wins, finishing the season with a 20-5 record and league best 2.54 ERA. With James Shields in Kansas City, Price is the new leader of the Rays’ starting rotation.
Baltimore’s lineup is strengthened by leftfielder Nate McLouth, who emerged as a key player for the Orioles in 2012 after being picked up mid-season, Adam Jones and Chris Davis, who both hit over 30 homers last season, and third baseman Manny Machado, who hit .346 in 20 games in 2012. Outfielder Nick Markakis, who battled a disc herniation in his neck during spring training, is ready to bat leadoff today.
The Rays’ addition of players during the offseason, such as infielders Yunel Escobar, James Loney, and Kelly Johnson, will bolster their defense. As the backbone of the Rays’ lineup, Evan Longoria, is returning this season after missing 85 games in 2012, due to a hamstring injury. If Longoria stays healthy, the All-Star third baseman will likely lead the Rays to another season of 90 plus wins. Desmond Jennings is expected to emerge as an important component of the Rays’ offense, while also filling the gap in center field after B.J. Upton left to free agency.
Adam Jones, CF
Matt Wieters, C
Chris Davis, 1B
J. J. Hardy, SS
Jason Hammel, RHP