Based upon how the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster looks on paper, there appears to be a good chance that they will be playing in October. However, it has been proven time and time again that the best teams on paper do not always end up performing up to expectations. Underperformance and injuries are both to be expected over the course of a 162-game season. The difference between the Rays and other teams with good-looking rosters is that the Rays’ strength comes from their depth, rather than a team filled with some individual superstars. In order to make the playoffs this season, the Rays need to play to their strengths, and overcome any obstacles that may present themselves.
One factor that will make or break the Rays over the course of the 2014 season is the performance of their starting rotation. From the looks of it, the Rays may have one of the best rotations in the majors. It is absolutely crucial that their starting pitchers live up to the hype. This is not a team that is going to score a bunch of runs every game. The Rays’ starting pitchers cannot allow too many runs, and have to focus on pitching as deeply into games as possible. The Rays bullpen is also very strong, but Joe Maddon would certainly prefer to see his relievers pitch as little as possible. Relievers that are forced to pitch in almost every game fatigue quickly and become less effective. The Rays will look to David Price to take a leadership role among a relatively young starting rotation. Price needs to lead by example, and make sure that his fellow starters are always trying to improve themselves.
Another key factor in the Rays’ quest to make the playoffs will be the amount of runs their offense can put on the scoreboard. There is almost no question that Evan Longoria and Wil Myers will be the team’s most consistent offensive performers, but they cannot do it on their own. Veterans like Ben Zobrist and David DeJesus need to be forces in this offense that can knock in runs, and provide support to their pitchers. No single hitter in the Rays’ lineup needs to necessarily have a huge statistical year to make this happen. The Rays do not need someone to bat .350 or hit 30 homeruns (although no one would be complaining). Runs can be scored in all sorts of ways, including a sacrifice fly or a fielder’s choice. The most important thing will be the hitters’ capability to knock in runs when it counts.
The final factor that will determine whether or not the Tampa Bay Rays will make the postseason actually has nothing to do with them. The Rays are a part of perhaps the best division in baseball. Other than possibly the Toronto Blue Jays, there is not a single team in that division that does not have a decent chance at playing in the postseason. How these teams perform will have a huge impact on where the Rays end up in the division at the end of the season. We could be looking at a scenario, like the NL Central last season, in which the team in third place finishes with 90 wins. Fortunately, the new Wild Card system allows three teams from the same division to make the playoffs. However, there are also a lot of good teams within the other divisions in the American League, making it unlikely that both Wild Card teams will come from the AL East.
If all goes well, the Rays have a really good shot at making the playoffs this year. It should be an interesting and exciting season, with plenty of ups and downs. These factors, plus a little bit of luck, will ultimately determine whether the Rays have a good season or a great one.