Rays will be last team standing in '14

"If it were that easy, nobody would ever lose," Maddon says. "I mean, if you just had to believe in a ritual and then do it all the time, who would ever lose?"

So he has set the bar. Eat last. Celebrate last. Shower in confetti last. And his team is on board.

"We've had the 90-win seasons," says pitcher Alex Cobb. "And yeah, that's cool. It showcases that we've had successful seasons. But that's not our goal. We're tired of just making it into the playoffs, and having people say, 'Yeah, they'll make it to the playoffs and we'll see what goes on then.' We need to establish ourselves as a top-of-the-league, team-to-beat franchise.

"And there's no reason," Cobb says, "that we can't do that. There's not one spot that I look up and down our lineup and say, 'We need to address that. We need something at the All-Star break to fix that.'"

Barring health calamities they can't control, he might be right. But picking a World Series winner is more complex than that. So why the Rays? Here's why:

The process

I've been in the predictions business for way too long now. It's a bad line of work. It's an annual invitation to look like a knucklehead, no matter how carefully you think these predictions through. So most likely, this means the Rays are doomed. That's how these picks usually work out, anyhow. Sorry.

But the first rule of the predictions business is: You have to pick somebody. So just for the record, here are 10 teams I easily could have doomed instead of the Rays:

• Red Sox: Deep. Loaded. Committed. Immersed in the pursuit of winning.

• Dodgers: As talented as any team in the sport. With a payroll to prove it.

• Cardinals: They could go to the World Series and win it every year.

• Nationals: I picked them last year. How'd that work out?

• Tigers: More star power than any team in the game. October is made for Justin Verlander/ Max Scherzer/ Anibal Sanchez.

• Yankees: Derek Jeter's life is scripted by Broadway. Imagine the final act.

• Orioles: Don't laugh. Very possibly the best lineup in baseball.

• Royals: There isn't a projection I've seen that agrees. But why do I keep feeling like this is their time?

• A's: Would have felt better about this pick six weeks ago.

• Braves: What I just said.

I also kicked around the Giants, Rangers, Angels and Reds. So that's half the teams in baseball that made it into the conversation. I could have doomed any of them. But if Joe Maddon doesn't believe in jinxes, neither do I. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

So why did the Rays separate themselves from that distinguished pack? Read on.

This Price is right

David Price knew he was gone. He told me himself that, on a scale of 1 to 100, he thought the chances he'd still be a Ray this spring were "probably a 5 -- or below." Well, we should have taken the over.

So when Price wound up back in this uniform, it almost felt, to his team, like it was meant to be. That something special was supposed to happen.

"We loved seeing his locker back here Opening Day," says outfielder David DeJesus. "That's a once-in-a-lifetime type of pitcher."

With Price back, his front office geared up to win, bulking up the payroll to a franchise-record $80 million. And that's a clear sign, DeJesus says, that "they're expecting big things from us. And we're expecting big things from ourselves."

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