Rays could surprise in 2008

April 1, 2008 at 7:38 am 4 comments

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The Rays have always been a bad team. Well, let’s be honest, an awful team. They have never won more than 70 games in a single season. They have been the butt end of what seems like every joke in baseball and they have finished last place every year except for one. Now, it is time for the Rays to turn their franchise and some heads around.

The Rays have done an incredible job of building this team from within and using that same drafted talent to acquire the missing pieces. They traded away all the “problem” players this offseason for the pieces that they were missing. They got a Gold Glove caliber shortstop in Jason Bartlett and a starting pitcher with #1 stuff in Matt Garza who will slot nicely into the 3rd spot of the rotation.

The Rays now have a decent bullpen due to trades and free agency. They added the veteran Troy Percival via free agency and the club has already the affects of his clubhouse leadership. They added Dan Wheeler last season before the trade deadline and they added Al Reyes as an invite to Spring Training guy. The bullpen now has some depth and a good look in the setup and closer spots for the first time in a long time.

We know what the drafted talent has brought the Rays. They have Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine, Jonny Gomes, Rocco Baldelli (let’s pray he recovers), and many other contributors that have led to trades and ones that will be called up in the near future.

The Rays now have a defense that will make the pitchers comfortable putting the ball in play. Akinori Iwamura looks like a Gold Glover and Jason Bartlett should be one. The outfield defense is stellar and once Evan Longoria gets called up he is a Gold Glave candidate (think David Wright clone) and that gives the Rays 4-5 potential Gold Glovers with Aki, Bartlett, Longoria, Crawford, and Pena.

The Rays should have a lineup that will look like this (and stay close to this) for most of the season once top prospect Evan Longoria is called up.

1. Iwamura – 2B
2. Crawford – LF
3. Pena – 1B
4. Upton – CF
5. Longoria – 3B
6. Floyd – DH
7. Gomes – RF
8. Navarro – C
9. Bartlett – SS

The rotation and pen once ace Scott Kazmir returns will look like this:

1. Kazmir – LHP
2. Shields – RHP
3. Garza – RHP
4. Sonnanstine – RHP
5. Jackson/Hammel – RHP

CL – Percival
SU – Reyes
SU – Wheeler

Not too bad. The only worry about those line-ups are the 6-8 guys in the order. They are guys who are hit-or-miss. Floyd is slowing, Gomes is streaky but has 30+ homer ability and draws walks but swings and misses way too much (he reminds me of Rob Deer), and Navarro was possibly the worst offensive player in the first half of 2007 but turned in a very good 2nd half and the Rays are praying that the real Navarro is the one that showed up in the 2nd half of 2007.

The rotation has ability in the 4 and 5 spots but it looks to me that Jackson and Hammel are AAAA players. Sonnanstine is a strike throwing machine that gets by by throwing about 6 different pitches from 2 or 3 different arm slots. But how long will major league hitters be fooled?

The Rays end the season with 19 of their final 26 games against the Yankees (6 – 3 home/3 away), Red Sox (6 – 3 home/3 away), Tigers (4 away), and Blue Jays (3 away). The Rays could be serious spoilers for some playoff hopefuls.

If all things click with this 2008 Rays club they could be a big surprise. Odds are they will win between 73 and 80 games with an outside shot at 88 (predicted by PECOTA) but be warned, the Rays have built a team that is on the rise.

One last thing, a bold prediction that has been siting in my vault since 2006, the Rays will win the 2010 World Series. More on that later.

-Jonathan C. Mitchell

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Paul B  |  April 1, 2008 at 9:02 am

    I agree, the Rays are definately headed in the right direction. Don’t you think that something should be done about the MLB playoffs. I know the season is long and everything, but I really think that they need to balance out the divisions and add a couple of teams to the playoffs. That way the fans of teams like the Rays get to experience that playoff-type atmosphere at the end of the season. They could compete if there were six playoff spots, but I just don’t see it happening with only four.

    Reply
  • 2. Jonathan C. Mitchell  |  April 1, 2008 at 9:30 am

    I actually like the fact there are only 4 playoff spots. 6 would be nice but then the first round bye would become a problem with too much time off (like the Rockies last season). 8 is way too many but it would eliminate the bye week but that’s what I hate about the NBA, 16 of the 30 teams make the playoffs. More than half. I honestly like it the way it is but if it changed to 6 I wouldn’t mind either. You have to beat the best to be the best. Thanks for the comment Paul, keep ’em coming.

    Reply
  • 3. Charlie Nehl  |  April 2, 2008 at 10:00 am

    I think it’s safe to say that the Orioles are hands down the worst team in all of baseball this season. That young talent for the Rays is starting to hit its stride.

    Reply
  • 4. Jonathan C. Mitchell  |  April 2, 2008 at 10:11 am

    I would say the Giants are the worst team but I think the Orioles will finish with a worse record due to the teams in the division pounding them.

    Reply

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