Tampa Bay Rays: Will This Finally Be the Year They Win a Title?
Usually—especially in recent years—predicting in June which team will win the World Series is a pretty tough task. A lot of things can change from now until October, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that the Tampa Bay Rays have just as good a shot as anybody in the league.
In my opinion, the 2012 Rays are at least as good a ballclub as any of their past playoff teams—the 2008 Rays, the 2010 Rays and last year's team. I also believe that the only thing that had got in the way of back-to-back pennants was the ALDS hump the Rays have failed to overcome for two straight years.
So, why will the Rays get over the hill in 2012? The answer starts on the roster, which is definitely an improvement from last year's.
They have all the great starting pitching they had last season, plus Matt Moore, who seems to be on the right track after a rough start to the year. The rotation depth is even deeper than it was in 2011, as the Rays have three legitimate backup pitchers (Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Wade Davis) who can effectively replace anybody in their starting five when needed.
Then there's the bullpen, which is probably a tad better than last year's as well. They have arguably baseball's best closer in Fernando Rodney, and all the components to a successful bullpen. Statistically, they may not be one on the best pens, but they get the job done when it counts as well as any of them.
The lineup was the biggest concern for the Rays entering the season, but when healthy, it's actually pretty good. The Rays have shown that they have the ability to win ballgames without Evan Longoria, Luke Scott, B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings, Jeff Keppinger, Jose Lobaton and Matt Joyce—who have all spent time on the DL this season—which is pretty much their whole lineup besides Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena. With them, I think it's clear they can beat anybody.
The fact that the Rays are 40-32 in baseball's toughest division, have had probably the hardest schedule in baseball thus far and have been hit by more injuries than anyone makes it clear that this team is capable of doing anything.
Not only have these numerous injuries hurt the Rays' offense, but they've also affected every other aspect of their game—defense, baserunning and even pitching. If the Rays aren't near 100-percent healthy by the time October arrives, this likely won't be their year.
Therefore, my answer to the question is quite simple: If healthy by the time the postseason comes, 2012 will finally be the year the Rays win a title.
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