What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I'm a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
2011 was supposed to be a step back for the Tampa Bay Rays, and they ended up sneaking into the playoffs on the final day of the season. In 2012 though, the Rays were expected to contend after bringing back nearly their entire 2011 squad. What they didn't bring back, they upgraded, most notably bringing in Carlos Pena to replace Casey Kotchman at first base and Luke Scott to replace Johnny Damon as designated hitter. Well, all of the Rays' tweaks ended up working. Tampa Bay led the AL East wire to wire, and won the first championship in team history by defeating the Milwaukee Brewers in the World Series.
Tampa Bay dominated in 2012 in the same way that they've been doing it over the past few years: young talent meshing extremely well together with the few veterans on the roster, and a savant for a manager keeping everything together perfectly. Manager Joe Maddon took the Rays to the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons, winning his third division title in the process. His team was led by AL Rookie of the Year Matt Moore, who the Rays inked to a long extension shortly after the 2011 season ended. Moore performed extremely well for the Rays, winning 14 games with a 2.84 ERA and 192 strikeouts in 199 innings.
Moore wasn't the only stud in Tampa Bay's rotation. 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson followed up that performance with a solid one of his own, winning 16 games with a 3.21 ERA in 201 innings. And then there's James Shields, one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. Shields broke out of his relative anonymity among casual fans in 2012, as he won 22 games with a 2.97 ERA in 234 innings. He was the runner up in the AL Cy Young award race to Felix Hernandez of the Mariners. I almost forgot to mention David Price, who won 15 while striking out 221 in 217 innings.
Offensively, Tampa Bay's success can be attributed mainly to one player: superstar Evan Longoria, who won the AL MVP award after a .995 OPS season that saw him belt 34 homers and drive in 117 runs. Longoria also won a Gold Glove at third base for the Rays, and did it for the low cost of $4.5 million. That extension has worked out pretty well, huh? Second baseman Ben Zobrist finally got recognition for his amazing defense, winning a Gold Glove and holding his own offensively with an .808 OPS. Carlos Pena's return to Florida was a smashing success, as he smashed 41 homers and OPSed .874 for the year.
The outfield was anchored by Desmond Jennings, who made a huge splash during his rookie debut last season. Jennings' full season debut went even better, as he stole 43 bases and hit 18 homers for the Rays in left field. Jennings' success rubbed off on center fielder BJ Upton, who Tampa Bay was actually trying to deal last season. Upton went 30/30 on the season (31 homers, 39 steals), and set himself up for a huge payday this offseason.
The Rays have been touted as a team on the rise for a few years now, and in 2012, they were finally able to fulfill their potential and win the brass ring. They'll look to repeat in 2013, with the only starters hitting free agency being Upton and Pena. The Rays are here, and they're going to be dangerous for awhile, even past their 2012 World Championship.
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