Matt MooreThis was set up to possibly be the finest season in Tampa Bay Rays history. The franchise went all-in for its first World Series title when it decided not to trade ace David Price this offseason in a minor surprise. The Rays looked like legitimate contenders because of their rotation, considered one of the best in baseball.

Here is what the rotation was projected as: Price, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson. Very strong. Now, however, it’s a mess, and Tampa Bay’s chances of even winning the AL East for the first time since 2010 appear much more difficult.

In the spring, the Rays lost Hellickson to an elbow injury. He might not be back with the big club until early June. If there was one starter Tampa Bay could afford to lose, it was likely Hellickson, as he had a team-high 5.17 ERA in 2013. The Rays plugged in youngster Jake Odorizzi for Hellickson, and all seemed OK.

Then on Sunday, the Rays had to put Cobb on the disabled list with a left oblique strain. He’s probably going to miss four to six weeks, and those oblique injuries can linger all season. Cobb was terrific last year at 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA in 22 starts. He was 1-1 with a 1.89 ERA in 2014.

The crushing loss was of Moore, a Cy Young candidate. The lefty was diagnosed last week with a partially torn UCL in his left elbow. Moore hoped to pitch through it, but the inevitable news came Tuesday that he would need season-ending Tommy John surgery. Moore was an All-Star last season, when he was 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA (2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two starts against the Red Sox). He had a 2.70 ERA in his first two starts this season.

Now the Rays’ rotation behind Price and Archer is a very questionable trio of Odorizzi, Cesar Ramos and retread Erik Bedard. The rotation issues weren’t limited to the big league staff, either. Alex Colome, one of the team’s top pitching prospects, is out until late May on a 50-game PED suspension. He likely would be in the majors otherwise.

Tampa Bay doesn’t have the finances to go out and find a good starter on the market – a trade for the Chicago Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija, for example. The Rays will have to make do with in-house candidates and hope the rest of the AL East continues to struggle until Cobb and Hellickson are back. The offense hasn’t done its part much yet (they’re 26th in runs). Evan Longoria is off to a strong start, but 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers is struggling, as is shortstop Yunel Escobar (.191).

The Rays currently are +175 favorites to win the division at Bovada, but that’s more a case of the Red Sox getting off to a slow start. Tampa Bay and Boston are co-13/2 favorites to win the AL pennant. The Red Sox meet the Rays for the first time at the end of this month.

Tampa Bay hosts the New York Yankees in a four-game set this weekend, and the games Thursday and Friday will have Live Betting at the book, as will the Red Sox’s Sunday night matchup against the Baltimore Orioles.