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Rays enter their season flooded with more questions than answers

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Questions. We have questions.

The Tampa Bay Rays? The Rays, on the other hand, have answers. At least, they hope they have answers.

The Rays, 80-82 in an injury-plagued season a year ago, will attempt to contend for the AL East title this year. But that might be easier said than done. A lot of people seem to be picking the Toronto Blue Jays to win the division, and if not them the Boston Red Sox, and if not them the New York Yankees.

For the Rays, the season will depend largely on players bouncing back from off-seasons a year ago. That’s not new for the Rays, who have always treated players like stocks. When a player has struggled for a year, and his price is down, the Rays are charmed by him.

So here we go. The top 18 questions, one to ponder each half inning:

  1.  Will there be an ace on the staff this year? Last year, Chris Archer finished only 12-13. Granted, a pitcher’s record is but a piece of the puzzle, but someone has to win games, especially with questions about the bullpen.
  2. How much time will closer Brad Boxberger miss? Last year, Boxberger led the American League in saves. However, he lost 10 times and blew six saves, so hearts stopped when he was on the mound.
  3. Will the new offensive-minded Rays be less effective at run prevention than they’re used to being?
  4. Can gold-glove center fielder Kevin Kiermaier repeat his defensive success from a year ago?
  5. Will first baseman Logan Morrison rebound from a season where he hit only .225.
  6. Can Brad Miller stave off a wild arm to be the defensive shortstop the Rays need?
  7. Can right fielder Steven Souza rebound from hitting .215?
  8. Can third baseman Evan Longoria return to being one of the top three third basemen in the America League? And where has his power gone?
  9. Can Desmond Jennings stay healthy?
  10. Will second baseman Logan Forsythe follow up on a decent season or will he return to what he was in 2013 and 2014?
  11. Can Hank Conger be a competent catcher after a year in which he hit .178 and threw out only one of 38 base-runners?
  12. Will Matt Moore regain the luster he had as a young pitcher?
  13. Will Erasmo Ramirez, a find as a starter last year, translate to getting meaningful outs from the bullpen?
  14. Can Steve Pearce, the other first baseman, rebound from hitting .218 last year?
  15. Will Kevin Cash learn from his admitted shortcomings in his first season?
  16. How will the catching split work between Conger and Curt Casali?
  17. Who’s going to win all the games? The threesome of Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Matt Moore were a combined 24-26 last year.
  18. Might the Rays celebrate more this year? Last year, they had only three walk-off wins.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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