AL East: Rays Poised to Take Control of Division

In 2012, the Tampa Bay Rays went searching for their third-consecutive trip to the playoffs, but came up just shy. Their 2012 record of 90-72 was good enough for only third in the AL East and third in the AL Wild Card. Although the Rays missed out on a third consecutive playoff trip, making postseason this year would mean the franchise, in only its 16th year of existence, would have made it to October 3 of the past 4 seasons, an impressive accomplishment for such a young organization. In order to accomplish this feat, the Rays will have to overcome the departures of SP James Shields and OF BJ Upton.

If there is any area where the Rays have a wealth of talent, it’s in their pitching. Tampa Bay was able to post the lowest team ERA in baseball last season, led by their ace the reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price. Price posted a 20-5 mark last year, confounding hitters and leading to a 2.54 ERA. Though he will not have Shields to back him up in the rotation this year, the rest of the staff are no slouches. Starting pitchers Jeremy Hellickson (who was the 2011 Rookie of the Year), Matt Moore (only 23 and throws fireballs), Alex Cobb (another young pitching star), and Jeff Niemann all either produced double-digit wins last season or have in previous seasons.

On the offensive side, the Rays will need promising prospect, outfielder Desmond Jennings to step in and fill the void at the top of the order and in center field left by BJ Upton’s move to Atlanta. Jennings’s stats last year were on par with Upton’s and he has the tools to be a 20 home run/40 stolen base type player. Star veteran third baseman Evan Longoria will need to produce at his typical levels in order to produce runs in support of the stellar Tampa Bay pitching staff.

Expect to see few, if any, major roster moves during the upcoming season unless things really go south for the Rays. Tampa Bay will not want to heavily alter the winning formula they’ve created over the past few years. One addition we might see early in the year, however, is the call up of the talented young prospect OF Wil Myers. The Rays acquired Myers in the trade that sent Shields to the Kansas City Royals and he has shown tremendous potential in Minor League play. Many scouts feel he is ready to be called up and, with the Rays lineup having the potential to be fairly anemic when it comes to producing runs, Myers may be called up as early as June.

With the uncertainty surrounding the lineups of perennial division favorites the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, we seem primed this year to establish a new reigning dynasty of the AL East. Tampa Bay’s young and deep pitching staff will be tough to beat when in top form. Each pitcher in the rotation has the potential for double-digit wins. Couple that with what a possible breakout year for Desmond Jennings, as well as the steady all-star caliber production of Evan Longoria, and the Rays are early favorites to win the AL East. Projected 2013 Record: 95-67.

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