With a respectable off-season, a perceived weaker division, and a fully fit Evan Longoria, the Rays will once again look to begin the season in a strong manner, similar to that of 2012, and they can expect certain elements to fall into place for that to come together.
By the end of April 2012, the Tampa Bay Rays sat at 15-8, having swept the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins. Two starting pitchers, David Price and James Shields, had each picked up four wins, and the team topped the AL East. A solid start turned into a 90 win season, and whilst the team just missed out on a postseason berth, such a start will certainly have boosted morale.
The Rays were 8-10 against division rivals Baltimore Orioles in 2012, and it is unlikely the O’s repeat their success. However, just as unlikely is a repeat of their win% in one-run games, of which they went 7-0 against Tampa Bay last season. Flip three of these results, and Tampa takes the series 11-7. As the pair kick off their respective seasons against one another, it will remain interesting to see how they line-up.
The Rays’ 41-31 record within the division was bolstered by a remarkable 14-4 stretch against the Toronto Blue Jays, and as they head into a month that includes 14 divisional clashes, Tampa will look to take heart from last season’s record.
Whilst daunting, Joe Maddon will aim to make a statement in the middle of the month, during a run of ten days on the road, which sees his team travel to the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and the Orioles. Combined with the visit of the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox to Tropicana Field before May, the Rays could be looking at a successful month.
Even going .500 in divisional clashes to open the season, Tampa Bay would likely take both the series against Cleveland and Chicago, and will definitely be out to equal their 15 win mark set a year ago. If Longoria can maintain the blistering form he has shown through the spring, combined with the solidity expected to be provided by a strong rotation, it could be even better!