The Tampa Bay Rays had a typical quiet off-season, as they don’t have the money to be flashy or newsworthy but you wouldn’t know it from the way this team competes.
Through utilizing high draft picks after years of losing as the Devil Rays, the franchise has built a team that is a force to be reckoned with. The Rays have proven this by playing in the postseason three of the last four years and ironically it all happened the day the word devil came off their jerseys.
The youngsters have a few years under their belts now, including losing to the Phillies in the 2008 World Series and evidently they are hungry to get back there after watching them fight their way into October last season.
The Rays have made the AL East a three-team race and have certainly earned the respect of the Red Sox and Yankees, as well as being now considered one of the élite teams in baseball.
So, will 2012 lead to another postseason berth for Tampa Bay?
Let’s take a look…
The Rays starting rotation features young and electric arms that only look to be getting better. In 2011 the starting five held batters to a .234 and averaged a 1.24 WHIP, which was second best in all of baseball in both categories. Expect James Shields and David Price to be bigger studs this season, as neither of the two has even peaked yet. Following them is Jeremy Hellickson who had a great rookie campaign last year, making 29 starts, and finishing 13-10, with a 2.95 ERA and pitching just shy of 190 total innings. After Hellickson comes Wade Davis and Jeff Neimann who won a combined 22 games, as the duo is one of the more solid four and five in baseball. The real buzz everyone is watching is 22-year-old Matt Moore who is one of the most promising pitching prospects.
In my opinion the Rays batting line-up will be better this season, and that they are getting undervalued. Led by homegrown star Evan Longoria who at just 26-years old is already deemed one of the best hitters in baseball. The Rays need big seasons at the plate from BJ Upton who hopefully can stop free swinging at everything. And I like that they brought back Carlos Pena, who played for the Cubs last season, as he should bring some added power. They need solid performances from Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and xxx. Also, expect big things from rookie Desmond Jennings who finally provides the team with the everyday leadoff hitter they have needed.
The biggest strength that the Rays hitters have is speed, as they stole the second most bases in baseball in 2011 with 155 in total. Nothing irritates or agitates an opposing team more than pesky base runners, as it can be a game changer. The Rays should focus on stealing bases more successfully this Spring, as they also got caught 62 times last year.
Even with all the incredible homegrown players the Rays have developed, the reality is they are still so young and the franchise lacks the big time veterans that older and richer clubs have in the mix. Yes, the Rays have signed veterans but most were never that great to begin with. Last season the Rays did get a leader in Johnny Damon but he is gone. I do like the recent acquisition of veteran catcher Jose Molina because he can help the pitchers big time but he is not the vocal presence or seasoned Rays lifer that the team is in dire need for to lift them up during tougher stretches.
The Rays slacking or lacking fan base is just mind-boggling. I wonder where all the baseball fans that bitch and moan about how teams spend too much money and buy championships are when it comes to the Rays. This is the team that they should be rooting for, as the Rays represent everything that the Yankees and Red Sox are not. So, where are these fans when their dream team needs them? Granted, the Rays play in Tropicana Field, which is a literally dump and should be called Tropicana Dome because it is as far from a field as you can get. The Rays players have openly taken notice to this, and what really makes the knife go in deeper is that when the Yankees and Red Sox are in town, their fans seem to miraculously find their way to the Trop in droves. MLB is not going to rally for this team to get the new stadium it deserves, which is ridiculous considering that the crappy Marlins got a new home, name and uniform for stinking. Maybe the Rays would hit better at home if they had fans cheering them on; hey there is a reason that pro athletes always thank their fans first after all successes.
PLAYER(s)/GAME-CHANGERS TO WATCH:
1) BJ Upton has landed in this category for the last three seasons. The reason is Upton has not played up to his potential, which is evident just by watching him. Upton is a natural ballplayer, with
2) Everyone will be watching 22-year-old pitcher Matt Moore, who dominated in Double A and Triple A posting a 12-3 record, with a 1.92 ERA, striking out 210 batters, in 155 innings pitched. Last September, in his Major League debut Moore struck out 11 Yankees in just five innings. That one start earned Moore a second start, which happened to be ALDS Game One vs. the Rangers in Arlington. Moore pitched seven innings of two-hit ball, fanning six Rangers and walking just two. He threw 98 pitches in total and 62 were strikes. That warranted the promising lefty an upgrade to phenom status, so seeing where Moore goes from here should be fascinating.
3) Under-the radar rookie Desmond Jennings is entering his first full season in the majors this season and he looks to be that spark the Rays have lacked for in the leadoff spot. Jennings hit 10 homers, nine doubles and four singles in the 247 at-bats he had in 2011. He also stole 10 bases, knocked in 25 RBIs, drew 31 walks and his 65 strikeouts while not ideal are pretty standard for a rookie. Desmond is about to break out as a star, but when still remains the question because the answer to will he all points to yes. My guess is Desmond will have many star-like moments in 2012, and hit full stardom in 2013. Still, keep a close eye on this young man.
The Rays are in it to win it, and look for them to be in the postseason again in 2012.
It will be tough for them to get around the Yankees and Red Sox to win the AL East, but the Wild Card or the extra one could easily be theirs for the taking.
The Rays have a lot of heart and manager Joe Maddon’s unusual moves seem to be more genius with each passing season.
This team has experienced the big stage enough times to be dangerous, and after watching them fight their way into October last season you know that this team plays to win.
Still, the lack of money doesn’t allow the Rays to improve in ways the Red Sox and Yankees can without blinking an eye. So, what you see is what you get in Tampa Bay but that reality has been enough before and I don’t see why it couldn’t be again in 2012.
- Luke Scott calls Red Sox fans ‘arrogant, ruthless, vulgar’ trouble-makers (sports.yahoo.com)
- Tampa Bay Rays Would Benefit Most from Potential Wild Card Expansion (bleacherreport.com)
- You: Tampa Bay Rays Season Preview Part 1 Ben Zobrist (sportsviews.com)
- It Ain’t Baseball ’til There’s A Damn Screw Up ………… (tophatal.wordpress.com)
- MLB Adds Seconds Wild Card: How It Greatly Affects the Boston Red Sox (bleacherreport.com)
- Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon Signs Three-Year Extension (rantsports.com)