ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — 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 postseason 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 honors 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.