Yes, maybe they will be better. The Rays' starting rotation, led by steady James Shields, could be superior to last year's -- should be, actually -- assuming Matt Garza makes another leap (he will) and David Price fulfills some of his promise (he will, too). Pat Burrell gives them a much-needed righthanded-hitting power/OBP guy in the middle of the order. Evan Longoria is a franchise pillar in his first full year. B.J. Upton should only get better. Underrated Matt Joyce will bring more pop from the outfield. And on it goes.
If they have a major weakness entering the season, it's their bullpen. I refuse to believe Grant Balfour is going to come close to repeating last season's ridiculous 1.54 ERA and 0.891 WHIP, and the Isringhausen/Percival closer experiment is going to end with one midseason retirement, maybe two. But J.P. Howell is legit, the Rays have several promising young arms who rate a notch or two below Price, and it's not a stretch to imagine a kid like Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis making a meaningful contribution before the summer is through.
Maybe Mazz was onto something yesterday, picking the Rays to win the division. I'm not ready to agree . . . yet. My head is still with the Sox, and my heart knows to fear the Yankees. I'm sticking with Tampa in third.
So: Think they'll make me regret it?
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.