Rays need Longoria, Myers to lead offensive attack
Starting rotation, Rodney also must step up to give Tampa Bay a chance in playoffs
CLEVELAND -- Boston claimed the American League East early this season, but Tampa Bay still controlled its destiny down the stretch. The Rays simply had to put to work the old baseball cliché by taking it one day at a time.
Once the 162-game season reached its end, the Rays found themselves tied with the Rangers for the second AL Wild Card spot. Notorious for never finding an easy route to their destination, the Rays found themselves in a position of having to beat their old playoff nemesis, the Rangers, to advance to the AL Wild Card game.
Tampa Bay prevailed Monday night with a 5-2 win in Arlington. Now the Rays have a fresh start in Wednesday's AL Wild Card Game against the Indians in Cleveland.
Here are the three keys for the Rays to make a run through the coming postseason:
Evan Longoria and Wil Myers
Though the Rays have other offensive weapons, these two fuel the potency of their attack.
Longoria is unquestionably the toughest out on the team, and he's even tougher when others are hitting around him -- such as Myers and Ben Zobrist -- and can give him some protection. Longoria has been healthy all season. In addition, he has always been a streaky player and, on the bright side for the Rays, he ended the season on a high note.
Meanwhile, Myers is a wild card. The 22-year-old is the odds-on favorite to be the AL Rookie of the Year. He has added a fresh component to the lineup that includes power, consistency and fearlessness. He doesn't appear to be afraid of the postseason. If he can maintain that approach, watch out.
Heading into the season, most questioned how the Rays were going to deal with the loss of James Shields, particularly when it came to the staff filling the veteran right-hander's yearly 200-plus innings.
Overall, the starting staff did a nice job of filling that void, particularly considering the fact they were without David Price, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb for prolonged chunks of the season. Fortunately for the Rays, the missing did not overlap for long.
However, towards the end of the season most of the starting staff -- save for Cobb -- began to experience difficulties pitching deep into the games. As a result, the bullpen began to get taxed more. This would have been more of a problem had the Rays not been able to expand their roster to fill up their bullpen.
Under the rules governing the playoffs, that expanded roster that Joe Maddon so enjoyed during September must be pared from 37 to 25. That means that any short night by any of the starters could potentially be costly by tiring out the bullpen.
Price's complete-game effort against the Rangers Monday night could be a precursor for good things to come for the Rays this October.
Nobody ever thought that Fernando Rodney could repeat the results he put on the board during his record-setting 2012 season. Though the numbers were far from '12 -- and Rodney did provide far more excitement during the '13 season -- the Rays' closer still came away with 37 saves.
In Rodney's defense, the Rays had an odd season in which save situations did not roll around in a manner that allowed Rodney to find consistency. He often sat for several days before having the opportunity to perform. Not being able to find his rhythm after the prolonged idle periods were undoubtedly a detriment to Rodney's success.
Rodney must get in a groove in order for the Rays to dodge elimination. If he comes up short at the end, it won't matter how well the starters pitch.