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2015 Tampa Bay Rays Will Go As Far As Their Pitching Takes Them

By Peter M. Gordon

Pitchers and catchers reported to camp last Friday, and start workouts on Monday. After one of the busiest off seasons in Tampa Bay Rays history, it’s the players the Rays didn’t trade that hold the key to their 2015 season.

The Rays ended the 2014 season with the best young rotation in baseball. The “core four” of Alex Cobb, 26, Chris Archer, 25, Drew Smyly, 25 and Jake Odorizzi, 24, all finished the season strongly. Smyly, acquired for ace David Price, may have pitched the best of all of them. A young staff that pitches well at the end of the year should improve the following year, and the Rays are looking forward to each of them taking a big step forward.

We know all about Cobb, who has been excellent each of the last two years. With some better luck on the health front, this could be the year that he establishes himself as a frontline starting pitcher. Don’t sleep on Chris Archer either. After tossing 194.2 innings in 2014, Archer looks primed to surpass the 200-frame mark this coming season and should give Cobb a run for his money.

Even Drew Smyly has been mentioned as a sleeper Cy Young candidate. The Rays acquired him seeing not only a dependable mid-rotation starter, but a pitcher who could continue developing and just maybe take a leap forward. Smyly showed flashes of doing just that as the Rays had him throw more high fastballs and use his cutter differently, and we will have to see what is ahead for him in 2015.

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The Rays will need a fifth starter for the first part of  the season. They have several strong candidates, including Alex Colome, Nate Karns, and some long-shots such as Burch Smith and Matt Andriese. One of these rookies should ably hold down the fifth spot until Matt Moore returns from Tommy John surgery mid-season. The relief corps, even with Jake McGee starting the season on the disabled list, looks to improve from a down 2014 as well.

The Rays will need a strong performance from their pitchers in order to contend in 2015. The  Rays expect their offense will be better this year. However, there are too many uncertainties about the offense (who plays shortstop? will anyone hit at least 30 home runs?) to feel confident that the offense can carry the team. If the pitching and defense are good enough, though, the Rays won’t need to score many runs.

The Tampa Bay Rays’ pitching has the talent. One of the great things about being a Rays fan is watching that talent develop. If the pitchers keep developing, the Rays will surprise a lot of people in the American League.

Next: Rays Place 9 Prospects on Fangraphs Top 200