Orioles, Rays embrace heightened expectations

The Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles embrace heightened

expectations that accompany success within the rugged AL East,

which again figures to be one of the most balanced divisions in


The teams begin the season Tuesday at Tropicana Field, each

brimming with confidence and eager to set the tone for achieving a

goal of playing deep into October.

”We feel we have a group that is capable of getting to the

playoffs, playing the last game of the year and winning it,” Rays

third baseman Evan Longoria said Monday.

”You should never run away from expectations,” Tampa Bay

manager Joe Maddon echoed. ”We don’t believe it’s hyperbole. We

really think it can be done.”

So do the Orioles, who stopped a string of 14 consecutive losing

seasons by winning 93 games and beating Texas in the AL wild-card

game last fall.

One of the challenges this year is to prove their run, which

ended with a loss to the AL East champion Yankees in Game 5 of the

divisional series, wasn’t a fluke.

”We went through a heck of journey together last year. We’ve

got a lot of people that know what the journey is about, and know

what’s expected,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said.

”It seems like an eternity since we started spring training,”

Showalter added. ”But it doesn’t seem like an eternity since we

finished in New York last year. I think that’s good.”

AL Cy Young Award winner David Price (20-5, 2.56 ERA in 2012)

will make his second career opening day start for the pitching-rich

Rays, who have the third-best regular season record in baseball

over the past five years behind the Yankees and Philadelphia

Phillies. The Orioles will counter with Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.43),

who welcomes the opportunity to help Baltimore get ”off on the

right foot.”

A strong April could be one of the keys to getting back to the


”Everybody knows the division is going to be tough the whole

year, so you want to get off to a good start. … The Rays are a

good team with a good staff, and I hope we can grind out some

wins,” Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said.

”It’s more important to get off to a good start in general just

to build yourself some momentum,” center fielder Adam Jones


”The schedule is not going to change. We’re going to play our

division a lot and I’m sure in September, we’re going to be

heavy-loaded with playing them again,” he said. ”We’ve all got to

play the same schedule. It’s just a matter of who’s going to come

out on top.”

Despite playing a significant portion of 2012 without Longoria,

a three-time All-Star who was sidelined three months with a

partially torn left hamstring, the Rays won at least 90 games for

the fourth time in five years and finished third in the division

behind the Yankees and Orioles.

But after making a surprising run to the World Series in 2008

and returning to the playoffs twice over the next four years,

anything short of playing deep into October is a bitter

disappointment in Tampa Bay.

Maddon expects a solid pitching staff led by Price and closer

Fernando Rodney to again fuel a strong bid for the division title.

He also believes the offense and defense could be more efficient

with the addition of infielders James Loney, Kelly Johnson and

Yunel Escobar.

”Our goal is not to be watching everybody else play at the end

of the year,” Maddon said.

”That’s our mindset. We never count ourselves out. We continue

to plug on,” Price added. ”Nobody really envisions us being there

at the end of the year, but we all do. We don’t care about how much

guys are getting paid, who we’re playing. … We have one common

goal – get to the last game of the season and win it.”