Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Rest of the East: Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay should have an interesting year. They are favorites by most to win a wildcard spot and come behind the Yankees in the AL East standings. There are two sides to every story. In this case, one is pitching and the other is offense.

The Rays starting pitching staff is loaded with ammo wherever you look. When your ace is James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson is your number three or four, you know that your pitching is deep. If Shields has a year remotely close to what he did last year, I can see him as a serious contender for a Cy Young award. David Price had an off year by his standards in 2011. He only won 12 games and pitched to a 3.49 ERA. Once considered the ace of the staff, Joe Maddon has made it known that James Shields will be starting opening day. Look for Hellickson to have some growing pains this year, but still win 11-13 games. His ERA will increase a tad because the league will have adjusted to his pitching. Matt Moore is the early favorite for ROY honors. The powerful lefty has an enormous upside that will be displayed in his first full year in the majors. A cup of coffee with the Rays last year, Moore won a game against the Yankees in late September and pitched seven shut-out innings against the Rangers in the first game of the ALDS. The bullpen is much like it was one year ago, which people believed would be marginal. They caught lightning in a bottle and had an overall good season as a group. Kyle Farnsworth was the biggest shock of them all. After frustrating Yankee fans while in the Bronx, Kyle pitched to a sparkling 2.18 ERA and racked up 25 saves. I don't see them having as dominant of a year in 2012, but it will be enough to garner one of the wildcards. The starting pitching for Tampa Bay is just too deep.

Longoria walking off the Yankees on the final day of the 2011
regular season to steal the wildcard from the Red Sox.
Offensively, the Rays need a miracle to keep up with the big boys of the east. Evan Longoria remains a staple in the lineup, and I firmly believe that he will bounce back, big time. B.J. Upton is what he is. He is a very streaky player who can be a true asset to an offense when he is on. Matt Joyce should put up solid numbers and will carry the offense at times. With the addition of Carlos Pena, expect many home runs but like Upton, a very streaky hitter.

The Rays remain one of the strongest defensive teams in baseball. Upton and Jennings play a good outfield. The infield however, is sparking and deserves a collective gold glove. Longoria and Pena are some of the best at their positions and the middle infielders also play great, regardless of who Joe Maddon runs out there.

The Rays have a strong starting rotation and their defense is outstanding. They also have a core group of hitters who will carry the team. Expect Tampa Bay to walk away with one of the wildcard spots, winning 93 games.

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