Can the Orioles' southernmost rivals find a way to score more runs in 2013?
2012 record: 90-72 (95-67 pythagorean record)
2012 record vs Orioles: 8-10
2013 PECOTA wins: 84.2
2012 was a "just-miss" year for the Rays, falling short of a playoff berth by just three wins, after hanging on the periphery of contention all season long. The biggest culprit was an inability to score enough runs to support their superb rotation, due largely to time missed by Evan Longoria and underperformance from the likes of Luke Scott and Carlos Pena.
The Rays' offseason defied expectations - sure, most expected them to add a bat, either by free agency or by trade from their surplus of pitching, but few expected the mega-trade of pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis for uber-prospect Wil Myers. The Rays' remaining moves tended to be tinkering around the edges, signing Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar and James Loney. The question for the team, which lost Upton and Pena, as well as super-sub Jeff Keppinger, to free agency, is whether their offense can meaningfully increase their production behind a rotation that may be just a tad weaker without Shields (though the development of prospects Alex Cobb and Matt Moore may negate that loss).
Joe Maddon is a notorious lineup tinkerer, and the Rays will certainly make proper use of roleplayers like Sam Fuld, Ryan Roberts and Sean Rodriguez to squeeze every last ounce of run production from the hitters already on their roster. But looking at that roster top to bottom, it's not unreasonable to expect that Longoria and Ben Zobrist may still be the only players capable of OPSing above an .800 clip. Unless Myers impacts the big club this year (which is still an unknown), this team's overall runs scored/runs allowed profile may look an awful lot like last year's.
Given that last year's club played to a 95-win Pythag record, it surprises me that PECOTA is calling this year's Rays an 85-win club. PECOTA must be really upset about the losses of Shields and Upton. I wouldn't be surprised to see this team take a small step back this year, and my own prediction is on the lines of 85-89 wins. Some good breakout hitting seasons, from Myers or others, would keep the team right in the thick of things. The Orioles won a lot of close games against the Rays in order to tick off ten wins against them (six of the Orioles' ten wins against the Rays were by one run); scoring more runs against the Rays' rotation will be critical to repeating that clip.
Rays probable hitters: ( * indicates players new to the team for 2013)
Matt Joyce - LF
Desmond Jennings - CF
Ben Zobrist - RF
Evan Longoria - 3B
Yunel Escobar - SS *
Ryan Roberts - 2B
James Loney - 1B *
Jose Molina - C
Luke Scott - DH
Rays probable rotation: