Originally posted on Baseball Prospectus  |  Last updated 4/6/12
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The Rays enter the 2012 season from a different starting point than any other year. Even after winning the American League East in 2008, they were viewed as a team that could not repeat. When they did it again in 2010, the focus shifted on the gutting of talent on the roster as free agents went off to higher paying pastures. This year, more pundits than ever have pegged the Rays anywhere from a wildcard winner to the World Series Champion to which owner Stuart Sternberg has one thing to say - "everyone needs to come to their senses." 

Joe Maddon is a bit more comfortable with those expectations and suggested the team needs to embrace them despite the injury challenges that have presented themselves this spring while Sternberg is not quite there yet. "Look at the lineup the Yankees are rolling out there today and look at ours.....everyone needs to come to their senses a bit." Sternberg prefers the underdog status the team has had the last few seasons and would like to take those lofty expectations being laid upon the team and knock them down a bit with a stick to be at his comfort level. Throughout this competitive run for the team, Sternberg's goal has been to be playing competitive baseball in September and that remains his goal for 2012. 

The team likes where the roster is at after the additions of offensive threats in Carlos Pena and Luke Scott but that does not mean that Maddon will be any less creative with the lineup for every game. Maddon often receives criticism in the local media markets for his ever-changing lineup machinations, but that practice will not be ending any time soon as Maddon continues to look for the best matchups and edge to produce as well as prevent runs.  A good example of this would be Luke Scott. Even though he was one of the two big free agent signings by the team this off-season, he is not in the opening day lineup because Maddon wanted to be sensisitve to Scott's continuing rehab from shoulder surgery as well as avoid a tough matchup against CC Sabathia. Instead, Elliot Johnson is in the lineup playing second base while Jeff Keppinger fills the unlikely role of Designated Hitter for the first time in his playing career. Of the two players, Johnson is the superior defender which justifies him in the field over Keppinger while Keppinger hitting fourth is due to his high contact profile. 

The team has sold out the first two games of the series and hopes that the attendance will end its three-year slide this season. Winning has not cured all ills as everyone predicted when Sternberg and the ownership first took over the team and the stadium saga continues to loom large over this team, particularly in the shadow of the Miami Marlins and their new stadium three hours to the southeast. Expectations are high for the standings, for the attendance, and for the post-season as everyone watches closely to see which parties answer the call over the next six months. 

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