The moment that Tampa Bay Rays’ fans have been waiting for has finally arrived. At 4:10 PM ET, the Rays will play their home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays. There has been a lot of anticipation leading up to the 2014 season, and players from last year’s squad are surely ready to start with a clean slate. After losing in the ALDS last season, there is no question that the months have dragged on a bit since October, but the Rays’ shot at redemption is finally here.
Major League Baseball differs from the other main professional sports leagues in that its regular season is truly a marathon. The NFL features 16 regular season games, while the NHL and NBA each have 82. Players in the MLB go through a grueling season of 162 games, with very few days off. Needless to say, this already lengthy season can feel like an eternity if a team is playing poorly.
With this in mind, the Rays need to get the season started on a positive note. Although many people will dismiss a poor performance in the beginning of the season by saying, “It’s still early”, this is not a great way at looking at things. With the combination of an extremely competitive AL East and a long list of contenders for the two AL Wild Card spots, every game counts. Only a one-game playoff separated the Texas Rangers from competing in the Wild Card game instead of the Rays last season. That means that any one game in the 162-game season that the team should have, could have, or almost won would have been enough of a difference to send them to the postseason.
The Rays seem to be in as good of a position as ever to have a really successful season. This is a deep roster with a lot of young talent and a lot of balance. On top of all of this, they have one of the MLB’s best managers in Joe Maddon, who will make sure that his team is playing at its full potential. There is, however, always a chance of injuries and underperformance having a big impact on the way the season plays out.
Although the Rays’ organization is always very dedicated to investing in the future, there also appears to be a sort of win-now attitude amongst the players and front office. Many were shocked that the team did not decide to deal their ace, David Price, before the start of the season. Price is in the last year of his contract, and with little chance of him returning next year due to the team’s low budget, one would think that trading him may be worth more than him having him pitch for one more season. This is what leads me to believe that the Rays are very much interested in going for it all this season. I foresee the Rays being big players in the trade deadline midway through the season; the question is whether they will be buyers or sellers. If the team gets off to a great start, we may see the front office take a chance on the right player to really push them into elite status. If it appears that the competitive AL East is going to be too much for the young squad, there is a chance that the team could send Price to a contender for talented prospects.
The Rays now officially begin the long trek that is the MLB regular season. There is no doubt that the team appears to be prepared for the haul on paper, but we will soon see whether it translates into actual success.