Blue Jays look to get season started right in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays are launching another season with expectations of playing into October. The Toronto Blue Jays have to escape the AL East cellar before reviving talk of playoff aspirations. The division rivals open the season Monday at Tropicana Field, with David Price and R.A. Dickey taking the mound in a matchup of 2012 Cy Young Award winners.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays are launching another season with expectations of playing into October. The Toronto Blue Jays have to escape the AL East cellar before reviving talk of playoff aspirations.

The division rivals open the season Monday at Tropicana Field, with David Price and R.A. Dickey taking the mound in a matchup of 2012 Cy Young Award winners.

The Rays are coming off a year in which they won 92 games and made the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons.

The Blue Jays would just as soon forget 2013, when they battled injuries and finished in last place after being a popular preseason pick to contend for a championship.

Toronto failed to bolster its starting pitching this winter and returns with essentially the same lineup as a year ago, yet Dickey thinks the results will be better.

“I think the heartbeat is a lot different this year. I think, one, we’re very comfortable. If I had a word to describe what (spring training) has been, it’s been comfortable. Guys really know that this is a big year for us collectively,” said Dickey, who was 14-13 with a 4.21 ERA last season.

“We’re kind of getting a mulligan this year,” the knuckleballer added. “Last year, a lot of things went wrong. This year, we’re pretty much all healthy. … We’re in a much different place.”

Only the Yankees, Cardinals and Phillies have earned as many post-season berths as the Rays over the past six seasons. And after hiking one of baseball’s lowest payrolls above $80 million to keep most of last year’s roster intact, Tampa Bay anticipates another strong run.

Price was 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA in 2013 after winning AL Cy Young honours two years ago, but he went 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA in 18 starts following the first stint of his career on the disabled list.

The 28-year-old lefty was the subject of trade speculation much of the winter before agreeing to a $14 million, one-year contract to continue anchoring one of the AL’s strongest rotations.

The Rays, often overshadowed in the AL East by the big-spending Yankees and Red Sox, don’t shy away from taking about how good they believe they can be.

“To be honest with you, I thought last year we had more expectations going into the season than we do this year — only because the Red Sox won the World Series and the Yankees have made some pretty big acquisitions. So, that kind of puts us in the shadows again,” third baseman Evan Longoria said.

“There are a lot of expectations from within this team,” he added. “But from an overall perspective, we’ll probably be picked down the ladder a little bit more this year … which is perfectly fine with me because I think we’ve proven time in and time out that if you believe the right things and play the right way, then the rest will take care of itself.”

Toronto pursued free agent Ervin Santana in hopes of improving its rotation, but the right-hander wound up signing with Atlanta.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays offence has a chance to be potent if a lineup featuring Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera and off-season acquisition Dioner Navarro can stay healthy.

Dickey, who had a solid spring, hopes to revert to the form that helped him capture the NL Cy Young Award with the Mets two years ago.

“I feel prepared,” Dickey said. “I feel confident.”

Besides not trading Price, the Rays re-signed first baseman James Loney, acquired free-agent closer Grant Balfour and traded for catcher Ryan Hanigan, reliever Heath Bell and utilityman Logan Forsythe.

Longoria is confident the manoeuvring has made the Rays better. Still, he stops short of predicting another playoff berth.

“Even when we were the favourites, I would say maybe we are on paper,” the three-time All-Star said.

“We should have that underdog mentality.”

The teams set their rosters Sunday, with the Rays placing injured pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Juan Carlos Oviedo and shortstop Tim Beckham on the 15-day disabled list.

The Blue Jays put closer Casey Janssen on the DL due to a strain in his left abdominal area and lower back. Backup catcher Erik Kratz was recalled from Triple-A Buffalo.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Whistle Stop Cafe east of Mirror is open for sit-down dining in defiance of health restrictions that owner Christopher Scott says are unfair to restaurants and other small businesses.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Whistle Stop Cafe owner’s legal battle continues

Government stopped closure order legal action but Public Health Act breach still a live issue

Parts of Three Mile Bend will be closed next week as crews work in the area. (Photo courtesy City of Red Deer)
Three Mile Bend walking path closed temporarily

Parts of the Three Mile Bend walking trail will be closed next… Continue reading

RCMP seized a substantial amount of stolen property last week. (Photo courtesy of Innisfail RCMP)
RCMP charge six suspects after ‘substantial’ amount of stolen property seized

Innisfail RCMP recovered a large amount of stolen property after arresting six… Continue reading

Pharmacist Aamir Hussain, owner of Shoppers Drug Mart in Clearview Market Square, said he expects vaccine to be available to eligible seniors next week at his store. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Red Deer pharmacies prepare to be part of COVID-19 immunization plan

Seniors have already been calling to book appointments

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Butter and sourdough bread is shown at a house in Vernon, B.C. on Wednesday, February 24, 2021. A Quebec dairy farmers' group is calling on milk producers to stop feeding palm oil or its derivatives to livestock as controversy churns over how these supplements affect the consistency of butter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jesse Johnston
Dairy farmers lobby asks members to stop using palm oil in feed after ‘buttergate’

A dairy producers’ lobbying group is asking farmers to consider alternatives to… Continue reading

A new report says Canada’s small businesses now collectively owe more than $135 billion as they struggle to survive the pandemic, a staggering amount experts say could hurt the country’s economic recovery. (Photo by The Canadian Press)
Canadian small businesses rack up $135 billion in debt to survive pandemic: Report

TORONTO — Canada’s small businesses have collectively taken on $135 billion in… Continue reading

A Loblaws store is seen in Montreal on March 9, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Loblaw ready to call on pharmacists, supply chain to help COVID-19 vaccine rollout

BRAMPTON, Ont. — Loblaw Companies Ltd. says its ready to play a… Continue reading

Imperial Oil logo as seen at the company's annual meeting in Calgary, Friday, April 29, 2016.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Imperial Oil reports one-billion-barrel drop in bitumen reserves at end of 2020

CALGARY — Imperial Oil Ltd. is cutting one billion barrels from its… Continue reading

Justice Minister David Lametti responds to a question during a news conference about training for judges Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Justice Minister David Lametti proposes permanent justice reforms in wake of pandemic

OTTAWA — The COVID-19 pandemic appears set to force a modernization of… Continue reading

Justice Minister David Lametti during a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday Nov. 26, 2020. Lametti says he will seek parliamentary approval to remove a Quebec judge from the bench after the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the judge’s appeal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Justice minister to seek judge’s removal after Supreme Court declines to hear appeal

OTTAWA — Justice Minister David Lametti says he will seek parliamentary approval… Continue reading

Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Art McDonald is seen during an interview with The Canadian Press in Ottawa, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is reeling after news defence chief… Continue reading

William Sandeson arrives at provincial court in Halifax on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. Canada’s top court has declined to hear a Crown appeal of an overturned murder conviction in the case of a former Nova Scotia medical student. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Supreme Court declines to hear Crown appeal of overturned N.S. murder conviction

Canada’s top court has declined to hear an appeal from the Crown… Continue reading

Most Read