MLB PREVIEW: 2014 TAMPA BAY RAYS
February 27, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
There are several mysteries in the world today and one of them is the Tampa Bay Rays. How do they keep winning with a low budget and a ballpark that lacks atmosphere? Joe Madden should be named the Manager of the Year every time the award is handed out for what he has been able to accomplish.
This franchise wins 90 plus games per season and yet most fans in the Tampa-St. Petersburg find other things to do (TB ranked last in MLB attendance). Despite all the negatives, the Rays seem to relish the challenges of playing in the American League East.
STARTING PITCHING: Some believe the Rays had the best rotation in baseball last year and it all begins with left-hander David Price. Price’s name keeps coming up in trade talks but for right now he is staying put. Price won only 10 games in 27 starts and his velocity dropped from 95.5 to 93.5 mph. Price showed he is still able to dominate opposing hitters after shutting down Texas in the Rays one game playoff. Joining Price will be Matt Moore who went 17-4 with an ERA of 3.29 but ended the season with a tender elbow. Alex Cobb returns after holding opponents to a .624 OPS when he threw his change-up. Cobb went 11-3 with an ERA of 2.76 in 22 starts. Jeremy Hellickson had only 11 quality starts in 31 games as he struggled with control of his fastball. Hellickson threw his change-up way too much (30.6%). Rounding out the rotation may be Chris Archer who has a good slider and is looking to develop a third pitch. Right-hander Jake Odorizzi is ready to make a move to the rotation after making stops in the big leagues over the last two seasons. If he can find more command on his fastball, he will stay with Tampa for good. Tampa fans will eventually see Alex Colome and Taylor Guerrieri. Both are coming back from injuries.
RELIEF PITCHING: The Rays will need to find a new closer after Fernando Rodney left via free-agency. Hard throwing Joel Peralta may be the leading candidate after appearing in 80 games last season and had a strike-out rate of 9.34 per nine-innings. Other candidates include left-hander Jake McGee, Heath Bell or Juan Carlos Ovideo. McGee can hit 98 mph on the radar gun but is basically a one pitch pitcher. Bell hasn’t been the same since he signed a $27 million dollar deal with the Marlins in 2011.
INFIELD: Former Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan is a solid receiver who is a patient hitter (189 career walks). Hanigan threw out 15 of 33 base-stealers in 2013. Hanigan may be penciled in the #2 spot in the line-up. In the back-up role, the Rays will go with Jose Lobaton or Jose Molina. 1B James Loney, 2B Ben Zobrist, 3B Evan Longoria and SS Yunel Escobar may form the best defensive infield in baseball. All four were Gold Glove finalists in 2013. Rays pitchers can feel confident good things will happen when opponents hit the baseball on the ground. This group can hit too. Loney hit .299 against right and left handed pitchers….Zobrist has ranked third in MLB since 2009 in the WAR ranking (32.9)….Escobar has become a better hitter because he now puts a bat on the ball…..Longoria hit 32 HR’s and drove in 88. If Longoria can cut down on his strikeouts, he will be considered a MVP candidate like he was in 2012.
OUTFIELD: AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers is on the verge of becoming a star. In 98 games, Myers hit 13 HR’s, hit .362 with 17 extra-base hits in September. Joining Myers will be another rising star in Desmond Jennings. Jennings struggled at times but still managed to hit 14 HR’s and stole 20 bases. Once Jennings becomes more comfortable in the field, the Rays believe he will start to hit much better. David DeJesus isn’t the same player he was when he scored 101 runs in Kansas City in 2007. He does play great defense and is selfless. DeJesus will put the ball in play and is a positive player in the clubhouse. Joining Myers, Jennings and DeJesus will be left-handed hitter Matt Joyce. Joyce may not be the answer in the long term since he is only a .194 career hitter.
PREDICTION: The front office seems to know when to make the right deals and Manager Joe Madden is a patient man who keeps things loose when things appear to be going wrong. Madden knows how to delegate authority and has the trust of his staff and vice-versa. Pitching Coach Jim Hickey has become one of the best in baseball because he keeps it simple. There’s no doubt the Rays will be in the hunt again in 2014.
2nd AL East.