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Wander Franco slides during a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins. Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

Our Tampa Bay Rays are back again.

The question on everyone's minds: How will they fare a year after winning the AL East for the first time in years and ousting the Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros in the playoffs before losing the World Series to the Dodgers in Game 6?

  • If history serves: After finishing 2008 with 97 wins and 65 losses and a World Series appearance (we see you, Philly), the Rays took a step back the following year, finishing third and missing the playoffs.
  • This year's team has a bunch of questions marks, and that should make for a fun season. Almost always does.

Here's what the experts are thinking:

  • The Tampa Bay Times' John Romano: "It may not be the classic model of five starters combining for 750 innings or more — the way the Dodgers, Yankees, Padres and Nationals will likely do it — and the Rays are not making any top-10 lists of MLB rotations, but don’t be shocked to see Tampa Bay in a familiar place come September."
  • FiveThirtyEight predicts they'll finish with a 88-74 record and have a 51% chance of making the playoffs, a 21% chance of winning the division, and a 4% of winning the World Series.
  • 30 of ESPN's 37 baseball experts picked the Yankees to win the AL East, with just 3 going for the Rays. "While the Yankees certainly face formidable competition from the Rays, the upstart Blue Jays and potentially the Red Sox, I think their top-tier talent will win out," wrote Joon Lee.

If you're thinking about going to a game, the Rays fall on the higher end of the pack in terms of COVID-era capacity — and they do play in the MLB's only fully enclosed stadium:

Expand chart
Data: Axios research; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

Go deeper

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Apr 1, 2021 - Sports

America's pastime returns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Baseball is back, America. After a 60-game season in 2020, this year's complete 162-game schedule begins this afternoon in the Bronx.

Driving the news: MLB saw just 17 positive tests out of 72,751 conducted (0.02%) last Friday. But five Nationals are currently in quarantine due to a positive test — a reminder of how fragile any sense of stability will be.

Updated 46 mins ago - Axios Twin Cities

Police: Officer who shot Daunte Wright accidentally pulled gun instead of taser

The officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, outside Minneapolis Sunday appeared to have inadvertently pulled out her gun instead of a taser, police said.

Driving the news: "This appears to me, from what I viewed in the officer's reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright," Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon told reporters Monday.

2 hours ago - World

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to hold strategic Iran talks on Tuesday

Jake Sullivan. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty

Top national security officials from the U.S. and Israel will convene virtually on Tuesday for a second round of strategic talks on Iran, three Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The talks come two days after an explosion at an Iranian nuclear facility that experts consider a likely act of Israeli sabotage, and one day before the U.S. resumes indirect nuclear talks in Vienna over a return to the 2015 nuclear deal — a prospect that has raised anxiety levels in Jerusalem.