While the starting pitching staff is scary good, problems existed last season when it came to everyday players hitting for average. Among projected regulars, only Matt Joyce (.277) and Ben Zobrist (.269) hit above .260. They should get more out of LF Desmond Jennings and SS Sean Rodriguez and it is quite possible DH Luke Scott (.220, 9, 22) will bounce back after a terrible year in Baltimore. Evan Longoria was hurt when the season started and he is much more than a .244 hitter.
Jennings (.259, 10, 25, 20 SB in 65 games) is the team's brightest position player prospect and is expected to play CF if BJ Upton leaves as a free agent after the season. Upton (.243, 23, 81) has produced and become a good defensive CF, but there have been questions about his attitude and whether Tampa Bay is in his future. Longoria (.244, 31, 99) remains the team's best hitter and is likely to get his average up. Zobrist (.269, 20, 91) was the best all around player last season, finally finding a home at 2B. Carlos Pena (.225, 28, 80) comes back after a year with the Cubs and Joyce (.277, 19, 75) will be the everyday RF. Rodriguez (.223, 8, 36) will likely get the bulk of the time at SS with some help from Reid Brignac. After trading catchers Kelly Shoppach and John Jaso, they will use veteran backup Jose Molina (.281, 3, 15 in 55 games for Toronto) as their everyday catcher.
The main reason Tampa Bay will win a lot of games is their starting pitching. James Shields (16-12, 2.82, 11 CG, 4 SHO) was arguably the second best pitcher in the AL last season. David Price (12-13, 3.49, 218 K) and AL ROY Jeremy Hellickson (13-10, 2.95) give the team a solid 1-3. Rookie Matt Moore (1-0, 1.89, 3G, 1 GS) has as much if not more talent than the other three pitchers and is expected to burst on the scene. He shutout the Yankees for 5 innings in his only regular season start and dazzled the Rangers in game one of the ALDS, the only game the Rays won in the series. Wade Davis (11-10, 4.45, 29 GS) and Jeff Niemann (11-7, 4.06, 23 GS) battle for the 5th spot with it being likely that Niemann will pitch in the bullpen. He profiles better as a reliever than Davis with the ability to pitch in late innings if necessary.
Kyle Farnsworth (5-1, 2.18, 25 SV) will enter his second season as the team's closer. He has struggled in big spots in the past, but was solid last year for Tampa Bay. Jose Peralta (3-4, 2.93, 6 SV in 71 games) will be the primary set-up man with some help from Niemann and Fernando Rodney (3-5, 4.50 in 39 games with the Angels), who once had 37 saves for the Tigers. JP Howell (2-3, 6.16, 46) will help out if he is healthy and Jake McGee (5-2, 4.50, 37) has a chance to be a very good pitcher.
Overall, I think the Rays will get themselves back to the postseason, especially with the expanded postseason format. Vegas puts their O/U at 87, and I predict they will be over at 90-72, 3rd place in the AL East. This would put them one game behind what they did in 2011, when they won 91 but good enough to play in the one game playoff against the other Wild Card team.