When compared to some of their historic rivals, the Rays are still a veritable rookie in Major League Baseball, having entered the league in 1998. Since then, they have been a remarkably consistent club, for good and bad. For the first decade or so of their existence they missed the playoffs each year, and were certainly one of the lesser teams in the American League East.
But since 2008, they have experienced a pretty remarkable turnaround. Over the last six seasons, they have made the playoffs four times, missing them just twice; a mark of success that any team would envy.
However, in that time period they have made just one trip to the World Series, and lost. After losing out in the American League Division Series to the Boston Red Sox this year, they’ll enter 2014 still looking for their first championship in team history.
What are the chances they will succeed?
Odds To Win 2014 World Series: 18/1
Key #1: Dominant pitching
One of the main reasons why the Rays have been good for so long is their pitching. The team is renowned in the Major Leagues thanks to their penchant for finding and developing top pitching prospects, as they seem to have a never ending stock of great young pitchers.
The Rays start from a good position going into 2014, with the entirety of their effective starting rotation poised to return. The lone caveat is potentially their ace David Price, who is headed into arbitration and free agency in 2015. If the Rays think they may lose him as they have other high priced talents, they may try to deal him for a return.
But Price may decide to stay with the Rays and if he does, they are likely to continue their run as one of the best pitching teams in baseball.
Key #2: Hang on to key free agents
One of the reasons the Rays have so much respect around the league is that they do what they do despite working with one of the lowest team payrolls in the Majors. They also play in arguably the worst stadium in the bigs, the domed Tropicana Field.
They have also shown great resiliency in developing more great players as older ones leave in free agency to play in bigger markets, for more money. Once again, the Rays face the possibility of losing some key players to free agency this year. Catcher Jose Molina and first basemen James Loney are both entering the market and the Rays would do well to keep them both if at all possible.
Key #3: Better hitting
The Rays were undone by a lack of offense in the playoffs, with a team batting average of .225 in the series against the Red Sox. If they can return to the playoffs, they’ll need to improve on that mark quite a bit.
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