Although the season preview series has looked at all members of the Rays active roster, there's one other thing that should be considered when looking forward to the start of the year. As the title to this article suggests, the Rays schedule in the first month could well serve as a knife to the back. Take a look at the series lying ahead:
4/6-4/8 vs NYY
4/10-4/12 @ DET
4/13-4/16 @ BOS
4/17-4/19 @ TOR
4/20-4/22 vs MIN
4/24-4/26 vs LAA
4/27-4/29 vs TEX
For those of you too lazy to do the math, this comes to 19 out of the 22 games being against the basically indisputable top six teams in the league. The Rays will have a total of two rest days during this span. Their opposition, according to PECOTA, is aggregately projected to be on the level of an 86 win ball club, or, if you prefer Cool Standings, an 87 win ball club. That's pretty staggering.
In addition to being just plain good, these teams also have juggernaut offenses. Last season, Paul Konerko and Alex Gordon were the only two hitters in the AL who weren't on one of the above teams or the Rays to break the .350 wOBA mark. There were 29 other hitters who pulled off the feat, all of whom can be found on one of said teams. Don't expect the Rays pitching+defense combination to be limiting the opposition to a couple runs with regularity.
David Price is particularly screwed over by this sequence. His schedule out of the gates? New York, Boston, Toronto, LA, and Texas. Last year, these teams averaged a whopping 4.94 runs per game, compared to the MLB average of 4.28. Note that this is before the addition of the best hitter in baseball.
In summary, any Rays fans would do well to follow Douglas Adams's immortal advice: "Don't Panic". If the Rays end the stretch 9-13, it's nothing to be concerned about. If David Price's ERA (and even his FIP) is in the neighborhood of 4.5, rest assured it'll come down when he's pitted against the bat-less lineups in the northwest. And above all else, make sure you enjoy the month; even if the Rays don't end every game like Friday's thriller, it sure as hell beats the off-season.