It's been a rough start to the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. Anemic offense has been the theme of the first two weeks of the season, which shows in the Rays' 5-9 last-place record.
But of course, it's still very early, and anything can happen in the next 149 games. Life in the AL East is never easy, however, as the Rays have plenty obstacles to overcome in duration of the season if they want to be crowned division champs in October.
Without further adieu, here are the four biggest barriers for the Rays standing in the way of a division title.
The Rays have their work cut out for them this year, as they compete in what is maybe the toughest divisions in all of sports.
The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles are all potential playoff teams in 2013. Each one of them is a definite threat to a division title, but the Rays have a good enough team to compete with all four of these talented clubs.
There are a few things we've learned about Tampa Bay's competitors after the first two weeks of the season. If one thing's for sure, the Yankees are no team to overlook. Despite having a huge chunk of their roster out with injury, the Yanks stand at a surprising 8-5, as they've been finding ways to win ballgames while on the mend.
Once they get the rest of their team back—which includes Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Michael Pineda—they should be very dangerous.
The Red Sox didn't come into the season with high expectations at all, but they have started off the season very strongly with a first-place 10-4 record. Boston's rotation was supposed to be the team's main weak spot, but has shockingly been outstanding thus far. The Red Sox' rotation has been by far the best in the division and probably the best in the American League, posting a 2.30 ERA and a 3.45 FIP.
The Orioles have began to prove that their 2012 success was not a fluke. They've played solid baseball and appear to have a pretty well-rounded team. The O's are a team to watch out for if Chris Davis continues to put up big-time numbers at the DH spot.
As for Blue Jays, it's been a disappointing start for them. As bad as they look right now, they're a team that can turn things around quickly with that star-studded roster. Jose Reyes' ankle injury, however, will be a big blow for them until he returns after the All-Star break.
Matt Joyce is one of a number of Rays hitters who have got off to a slow start in 2013
The Rays' offense has been flat-out awful in the first two weeks of the regular season. With a wOBA of .277 and a wRC+ of 77, they are currently the worst hitting team in the American League.
Outside of Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Kelly Johnson, who've all had solid starts to the year, nobody in the lineup has given the Rays any kind of significant production offensively.
Lack of power is one of the main issues for Tampa Bay, as it's posted just a .113 ISO. Another major concern is the how much runners the Rays are stranding on base. They've had a very tough time getting the man in, hitting just .192 with RISP.
Although the offense is very worrying for Rays fans at the moment, there is an optimistic way of looking at it: It will more than likely only get better from here.
Designated hitter Luke Scott has been out with a calf injury since spring training and has yet to play this season. Once he gets back, the lineup will surely be more potent with Scott in and Sam Fuld out.
As the season progresses, the Rays will also get a boost from their minor league system. Wil Myers should be terrific addition later in the year, and Brandon Guyer could also contribute.
DH Luke Scott has been out since the spring with a calf injury
In 2012, the injury bug was the largest barrier that stood in the way of a third division title for the Rays. Evan Longoria's hamstring tear highlighted a plethora of injuries suffered by a very banged-up ball club.
So far this season, the Rays have done a pretty good job avoiding the DL. Luke Scott is the only player who has missed any time at all this year due to injury.
For this team to function properly, the entire team is going to have to stay relatively healthy throughout the season. I don't see the Rays winning the division as a possibility if they're hit with injury issues again.
Tampa Bay has a handful of prospects who could be a key part of the team later this season.
Wil Myers, who is arguably baseball's top hitting prospect, may be the Rays' X-factor once he's called up to the majors. He appears to be about ready for The Show, but it's possible he won't make his MLB debut until July due to financial reasons.
Whenever he is called up, his immediate impact will be crucial, especially with the lineup as weak as it is.
Outfielder Brandon Guyer and middle infielders Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham are other position player prospects who could all see big league action this year. All three have the potential to bolster both the Rays' offensive and defensive depth down the stretch.
The Rays have probably more pitchers on the verge of breaking into the majors this season than they do hitters. Chris Archer—the organization's top upper-level pitching prospect—looks to be ready to take over a spot in the rotation once the time comes. This time, he'll likely stay there for good.
The development of these Triple-A prospects will definitely come to play in this year's pennant race. They Rays might need as many minor league contributions as they can get in order to win the AL East.