AL East Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Will David Price and the Rays be able to celebrate a championship before he skips town?
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Ben Whitehead
Contributing Writer

We continue our look at each of Boston’s AL East opponents with the third part of the four-part AL East Preview series. We will break down their 2014 roster (to this point), project where they will finish in the standings and also how the Sox stack up against them.

Today, we hone in on the Wild Card winners from 2013, the Tampa Bay Rays, who finished 92-71 in the regular season – 5.5 games behind the Red Sox in the East. The Sox went 12-7 against Tampa, which pretty much makes up the difference between the two teams. Boston and Tampa Bay have quite the history between each other and it was no different last season. John Lackey was the center of controversy after allegedly intentionally hitting Matt Joyce, who had flipped his bat after crushing a homer.

The two clubs met in the postseason, with the Sox winning 3-1 in the Division Series. David Ortiz hit a home run off David Price, who didn’t like Ortiz posing after the hit. Ortiz was staring the ball down making sure it wrapped around Pesky’s Pole – watching whether or not it stayed fair or went foul. Regardless, Price was unhappy and let his frustration know postgame.

Now we turn to 2014 and see what this season has in store for the Rays. Once again, Tampa Bay boasts a strong pitching staff with Price and Matt Moore at the top of the rotation. They also signed Grant Balfour to shore up the closer’s role. James Loney returns to first base and much of the 2013 squad is intact for this season.

Here’s a look at the projected starters for the Rays going into the spring:

C – Jose Lobaton
1B – James Loney
2B – Ben Zobrist
3B – Evan Longoria
SS – Yunel Escobar
LF – David DeJesus
CF – Desmond Jennings
RF – Wil Myers
DH – Sean Rodriguez

And the projected starting pitchers:

David Price
Matt Moore
Alex Cobb
Jeremy Hellickson
Chris Archer

Evan Longoria is due for a big season and the supporting cast of Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings and Yunel Escobar could prove dangerous for opposing pitchers. Myers, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, had a brain fart in Boston, but has proven his rise to the Majors is warranted. No matter what, manager Joe Maddon always finds ways to bring out the best in his players and have them in contention.

This team is built to do good things again and it may be the last hurrah for Price in Tampa Bay. If the Rays are out of contention early – and don’t expect them to be – Price could be traded at the deadline to get some value in return. If the Rays are in contention, they will ride Price to the finish in hopes of the club’s first World Championship.

We won’t go that far with our prediction, but we do feel the Rays could finish first or second, again, in the East. Boston, historically, struggles with the Rays, but had a solid season against Tampa, as aforementioned. There’s not much changing between the two clubs, player wise, so the season series should be competitive once again.

It will all come down to the pitching staffs, and top to bottom the Sox are much better. Price and Moore are scary good, but the remaining three (or four) pitchers don’t matchup with the Sox 3-5 guys. We’ll take the Red Sox in the season series, 11-8. And the Rays will finish with a respectable 95 wins, finishing with a 95-67 total record.

Combined with our previous three previews of the Blue Jays and Orioles, that certainly puts the Rays well ahead of their division foes. Here’s how the standings stack up now…

Rays 95-67
Orioles 84-78
Blue Jays 82-80
Red Sox (Record prediction tomorrow)
Yankees (Preview tomorrow)

Find out where Red Sox Life thinks the Yankees will finish with our final preview of AL East rivals tomorrow. We’ll round out the series by giving a full preview of the new-look Bronx Bombers and a prediction of where we think the Sox will finish in the standings.

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