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Thursday, Dec 18, 2014
Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: It's forever from Opening Day until October

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ST. PETERSBURG — It's here. Opening Day, the one day in any Rays season when you can't talk about the empty seats.

Try us on Tuesday night.

It's a brand new ball season and who knows what it will hold.

Last season, it was made of 92 wins, plus two more in the postseason before it came up short.

It's Opening Day, a day when it's relatively insane to talk about going all the way.

Take the other day in Port Charlotte. David Price, after his last spring start (with the Rays? — oh, let's not go there anymore) was talking about winning the steadfastly treacherous AL East and securing the first two division-round playoff games for the Trop and …

First comes 162 games or regular season. Last season, it took 163.

Price smiled.

“It's forever,” he said.

And at the end of forever, a break here or there, a misplay, a bad at-bat, one bad pitch, and it can be over.

You can never get ahead of yourself.

It's forever, a baseball season.

The Red Sox are defending a world title. The Yankees kicked in nearly half a billion to get back on top. The Orioles have a crackling batting order. The Blue Jays, this afternoon's opponent, might actually overachieve one of these decades.

And there are the Rays.

“If we can stay healthy and do the things we're capable of, we have as good or better chance than any team in the league to win it all,” Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist said.

It's forever from now until then, but a few things have to happen to make another postseason.

Price needs to stay healthy and get back to his 2012 Cy Young form, wire to wire.

Alex Cobb needs to again show why he's one of the most underrated pitchers in the game.

Matt Moore, who won 17 times last season, needs to keep growing. So does Chris Archer.

Rays starters need to pitch deeper into games. Jeremy Hellickson, remember that when you get back.

The new Rays bullpen has to come through like other Rays bullpens.

The iron-armed Joel Peralta can't be pitching in 80 games, unless the last 10 are in the postseason.

Grant Balfour, the new closer, needs to return here with a vengeance. Maybe if he pretends that every batter is one of the Orioles doctors who flunked him on his physical …

Jake Odorizzi, the fifth starter, better be ready.

The Rays' lineup needs to cut down on strikeouts and work better at-bats. Guys like David DeJesus and Ryan Hanigan should help.

Evan Longoria might not need to play 161 games, like last season, but he'll need to anchor a potentially formidable 3-4 (or is it 4-5?) with Wil Myers, a rookie no more. The Rays could use 60 homers, 200 RBIs between these guys, even if it sounds greedy.

The spinning wheel at DH has to produce. How can it not be better than last season?

Desmond Jennings has to do better than a .246 average and a .334 on-base percentage.

James Loney needs to repeat his 2013. Zobrist needs to be Zobrist. Yunel Escobar needs to keep his mind right, as it was all last season. Yes, the infield is intact. It needs to catch and throw as well as it did last season. Hanigan should help behind the plate, too.

Surprise: It's about pitching and defense.

In 2013, the Red Sox ended the played-out Rays in the AL division series.

“We were a little exhausted and they felt pretty hungry,” Zobrist said. “I think we have to get to that point this year where we're the team to beat and we're hungry and nobody is going to be able to knock us off the podium.”

It's a long way from any podium.

First comes Opening Day, with forever to follow.

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