The Tampa Bay Rays were on the brink of winning the World Series a couple of years ago, but their team has drastically changed. Blake Snell, Kevin Kiermaier, and Joey Wendle departed from the Rays. Even if the key cogs from the 2020 World Series are gone, the Rays' front office knows how to formulate a 25-man active roster to compete for the World Series.

The pitching and defense will be Tampa Bay's main factors, so that it will start with Shane McClanahan and Drew Rasmussen. These pitchers will jumpstart their success in the tough AL East and must rely on that immensely. Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena must be higher than All-Star players if they want to go deep into the postseason.

Keeping the score low and stealing it at the end will be the springboard for Tampa Bay, as the three reasons for their dark horse journey of claiming the 2023 World Series starts here.

Wander Franco will be a top MVP candidate

Wander Franco had a down year in 2022 by his standards. He played for only half the season by contributing six homers, 33 RBI, and a batting average of .277. That is far from his capabilities, and it is paramount for him to become one of the best shortstops in baseball. The elite plate discipline is his primary asset of Franco as it will result in a plethora of opportunities for him to put the ball in play.

Jeff McNeil and Luis Arraez are two of the best contact hitters in baseball, and Wander Franco will be in that category this season. Franco's low strikeout rate and stellar baseball IQ are rare attributes, which is the recipe for an MVP campaign. His power is still not incredible, but getting close to that 20 HR plateau will be a massive help to an MVP-caliber season for Wander Franco.

Rays own best AL starting rotation

Shane McClanahan was one of the best pitchers in the AL last year, but his numbers plummeted in the latter part of their campaign. He still finished in sixth place in the AL Cy Young race, so it would be fantastic if he would be top three. The New York Yankees, Houston Astros, and Cleveland Guardians have remarkable guys on their rotation, but the Rays are not a staple in this conversation.

Tyler Glasnow has one of the highest strikeout rates in the MLB, but he will miss the early juncture of the season. Jeffrey Springs had the second-highest WAR in the team in 2022, so he must continue that excellent play for Tampa Bay. Moreover, Zach Eflin will be elevated to a starting rotation spot compared to his previous stint with the Philadelphia Phillies. These names must ascend to a higher level to become World Series contenders. 

Players like Brandon Lowe and Manuel Margot struggled in 2022, so they must raise their production in 2023 to contend for a World Series crown. A franchise like the Rays, which relies on a low payroll, will need everything to go their way to compete with the big market teams.

Despite the struggles mentioned from last year, they still won over 80 games, so reaching the 100-win mark is plausible for the Rays. One must remember that their farm system is also excellent, so someone like Taj Bradley or Curtis Mead can break out in 2023 as well. The Rays will be fun to watch, whether they win it all or not.