Opposite dugout: New era begins for dinged-up Rays against O's

rays-logo.jpgManager: Kevin Cash, first year
2014 record: 77-85
Who to watch (2014 stats): 3B Evan Longoria (.253/.320/.404, 22 HR, 91 RBIs); 1B James Loney (.290/.336/.380, 36 XBH, 69 RBIs); OF Kevin Kiermaier (.263/.315/.450, 10 HR, 35 RBIs); RHP Chris Archer (10-9, 3.33 ERA, 1.279 WHIP)
Season series vs. O's (2014): 7-12, 62 runs scored, 80 runs allowed

Pitching probables
April 6: RHP Chris Archer vs. RHP Chris Tillman, 3 p.m., MASN2
April 7: RHP Nathan Karns vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen, 7 p.m., MASN
April 8: RHP Jake Odorizzi vs. RHP Miguel Gonzalez, 7 p.m., MASN

Series breakdown
The Rays open the 2015 season at home against the Orioles after enduring an offseason of turnover - in the dugout and the front office, as well as on the field.

Longtime manager Joe Maddon, one of the faces of Tampa Bay's rise to prominence, left to become the Cubs skipper. General manager Andrew Friedman departed to become the Dodgers' top decision-maker.

In their place are former Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash, the youngest manager in the major leagues at 37, and Matt Silverman, who had served alongside Friedman as the club's president.

As for the on-field changes, infielders Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar, outfielders Wil Myers and Matt Joyce, and starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson were all shipped out. Zobrist led the Rays with a .749 OPS, a .354 OBP and 34 doubles while adding 52 RBIs last season.

The Rays go into 2015 with just four starting position players in place from last season - third baseman Evan Longoria, first baseman James Loney and outfielders Desmond Jennings and Kevin Kiermaier. Two former Nationals slide into the lineup with Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop and Steven Souza Jr. in right field. Former Padres backstop Rene Rivera takes over at catcher. Logan Forsythe takes over as the starting second baseman. John Jaso returns to the Rays for the first time since 2011, now as the club's designated hitter after posting a .796 OPS over the last three seasons with Seattle and Oakland.

The bullpen also has some new faces with former Angels relievers Ernesto Frieri and Kevin Jepsen, and former Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez.

The rotation could remain a strong group and is largely intact with Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Matt Moore. The problem is the majority of that group will start the season on the disabled list. Original opening day starter Cobb (right forearm tendinitis) and left-hander Smyly (left shoulder tendinitis) are both on the 15-day DL. Moore is on the 60-day DL, targeting a midseason return from Tommy John surgery. Fill-in swingman Alex Colome is also out with pneumonia.

On top of that, closer Jake McGee (elbow surgery) and infielder Nick Franklin (left oblique strain) are also on the DL.

So where does that leave the Rays pitching staff for the opening series against the defending American League East champions?

Archer is starting the opener for Cobb following a quality spring (1.69 ERA in 16 innings) and excellent final three-quarters of 2014 (8-7 with a 2.77 ERA over his last 24 starts). He had struggled to a 5.16 ERA over his first eight starts. The 26-year-old right-hander will oppose Orioles ace Chris Tillman today. Archer is 1-2 with a 5.76 ERA in five career appearances (four starts) against the Orioles.

Right-hander Nathan Karns moves into the rotation and will pitch the series' middle contest against left-hander Wei-Yin Chen. The 27-year-old Karns, acquired from the Nats in February 2014, went 2-2 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts with the Rays last year and 9-9 with a 5.08 ERA in 27 starts with Triple-A Durham last season.

The series finale pits the right-handed Odorizzi against right-hander Miguel Gonzalez. Odorizzi had an up-and-down 2014, going 11-13 with a 4.13 ERA. The 25-year-old had an especially hard time with the Orioles, going 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA in four starts.

So with all the change and all the injuries, the question most commonly asked is whether the Rays' time has now passed. Last season brought Tampa Bay's first losing record since 2007. From 2008-13, the Rays had five 90-win seasons, four playoff appearances and never won fewer than 84 contests under Maddon.

Can they do the same under Silverman and Cash? Will some of the new additions be able to support Longoria offensively the way Zobrist did? Can the club's pitching staff be just as good over a full season without David Price?

Those answers will slowly trickle in beginning today.

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