Every year, it is the same story. Plenty of people count the Rays out, but then they wind up right in the thick of things until the very end.The Rays have found their way to an incredible run the past six years, especially when you consider their budgetary constraints. But there has always been something missing: their first World Series title. They made in 2008 and lost, and they have not even been to the ALCS since. They have experienced so much success, but it all pales in comparison to how much fans think they could have achieved. It keeps the Rays a good story instead of the team everyone fears, and that has to change. Will 2014 finally be the year that the Rays return to the World Series and bring their first championship home to Tampa Bay?
What is funny about the 2014 Rays is that they will be awfully similar to the 2013 incarnation. The one big thing we are waiting for is whether David Price gets traded–and while such a trade could be a franchise-changer in the right way, it would certainly give the Rays’ 2014 hopes a major hit. But there are so many ways in which this team will be better. The catcher position has gotten a facelift thanks to Ryan Hanigan, and he will provide improved offense and helps the Rays’ young pitchers get the most of their ability. Wil Myers is set for his first full season, and David DeJesus will spend his first entire season with the Rays. Evan Longoria is coming off his most healthy year in far too long, and after he slumped in the second half, his durability should be back and he should be the player we know and love all season. Ben Zobrist is coming off something of a down year, but expect his power to come back in earnest and him to get back to being one of the Rays’ best hitters and one of the best second baseman in the game. And that’s just on offense.
Whether Price remains in town or not, another year of development will be huge for the Rays’ young staff. Matt Moore is coming off an All-Star season and 2014 could be the year his release point finally clicks, turning him into the ace we know he can be. Alex Cobb pitched even better last year, and if he pitches at that level for a full season, opposing teams will be in trouble. Jeremy Hellickson showed good signs in a lost season, and 2014 will see him come back with a vengeance. Chris Archer was great as a mostly two-pitch pitcher as a rookie, and as he integrates his changeup more into his arsenal, he could be even harder to hit. Then there is Jake Odorizzi, who broke through midway through the season and is primed to be the Rays’ latest standout rookie. The Rays’ rotation features rising arm after rising arm, and is scary how much potential exists in every single pitcher. Set for even more improvement, though, is the bullpen.
The bullpen was the Rays’ biggest weakness in 2013, with Fernando Rodney proving unreliable for much of the year, and Jake McGee and Joel Peralta having extended periods of struggles. But this offseason, the Rays went on a mission to change that. The Rays brought on two veteran pitchers with closer experience in Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo. Both haven’t been their usual selves in a couple of seasons, but both retain electric stuff and there is no better place for a pitcher to find himself than Tampa Bay. Less pressure will be on Peralta and McGee, and the Rays will have Torres on board for the whole season after his outstanding rookie year. Add in Mark Lowe, who was signed to a minor league deal, and the Rays have their most talented bullpen in years. But despite all the talent they have, the Rays are still interested in Grant Balfour, looking for any way they can to make their team even better.
The Rays strengths have always been starting pitching and defense. But now the offense is one bat away from being its best in years and the bullpen is primed for a resurgence after a rough 2013. The Rays didn’t have enough to get by the Boston Red Sox in 2013. This team, however, could be a different story. THe talent is there, perhaps as noticeably as ever before. Let’s see just how far this Rays team can go.