The Tampa Bay Rays stole the headlines early in Spring Training with several surprising moves including dealing away Jake Odorizzi and Steven Souza while designating Corey Dickerson for assignment before trading him, too.
The Rays were the epitome of average last year, winning 80-games. They made some moves to push towards the wild card last year and fell short. Over the offseason, Tampa Bay made moves to cut costs off what was already the lowest payroll in the sport.
It’s back to rebuilding for Tampa Bay. The team has no real expectations in the AL East, but could be a surprise team. They still have depth in the rotation, an athletic outfield and a few other interesting pieces.
2017 Record: 80-82
2017 Moneyline Record: -6.50 Units
2017 Over/Under Total Record: 78-81-3
Current World Series Odds: +15500
Current Odds To Win AL: +7700
Current Odds To Win AL East: +2150
Regular Season Win Total: 74.5
The Rays have been a team built around its pitching. Even when finishing at or near the top of the AL East, Tampa Bay did so with a strong pitching staff and just enough offense.
In 2017, Tampa Bay got plenty of pop, ranking sixth in baseball with 228 home runs. While the homers were a nice change of pace, the Rays still finished with only 694 runs scored, the second fewest in the American League.
Much of the power from the 2017 club is gone as Tampa Bay is taking a new approach to try and score in 2018. They’ve dealt away Dickerson, Souza and Evan Longoria. They let Logan Morrison walk. Between those four, that’s 115 home runs out of the lineup.
Without Souza and Dickerson, that opens the outfield for Mallex Smith and the newly acquired Carlos Gomez. Gomez will hit for a bit of power, but both he and Smith add more speed to the mix. Denard Span will also factor into the outfield along with defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier.
On the dirt, the Rays go around the horn with C.J. Cron, Brad Miller, Adeiny Hechavarria and Matt Duffy. Again, defense looks improved. Cron lost his spot with the Angels after they added Shohei Ohtani and will get a chance to establish himself with the Rays.
Behind the plate, the Rays have veteran backstop Wilson Ramos who at 30 will be one of the elder statesmen along with Span and Gomez.
There’s no question the offense will take a step back in power. A healthy Miller could help add some thump. Gomez, Cron and Ramos could each hit 20, too, but the 30-40 homer bats are gone from the order meaning the speed of Smith, Kiermaier and Gomez will need to factor in manufacturing runs.
The added speed will also need to come into play on the defensive end in run prevention. The pitching has a better defense behind them in 2018 than in 2017 which could help Chris Archer and company.
Archer was just 10-12 with a 4.07 ERA in 2017, leaving him with a 101 ERA+. He’s the ace of the staff, but those numbers are close to what you’d expect from a mid-rotation arm. Some of that is luck and some defense behind him. He had a 3.40 FIP and 11.1 strikeouts per nine. His walk rate was reasonable, too, meaning he got unlucky on balls in play. With better defense, that luck should turn.
While Archer could improve, can the rotation itself improve? With Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi both gone, that could be difficult. The Rays will have to find their 322.2 innings somewhere else.
Tampa Bay is always developing more arms. Both Blake Snell and Jake Faria had some success last year. Both will be penciled into the 2018 rotation. Brett Honeywell, the team’s top prospect, was supposed to factor in, too, but will now miss all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery.
That leaves an opening for the likes of Nathan Eovaldi, Matt Andriese, and others to take the final spot.
As for the bullpen, Alex Colome remains the closer despite plenty of offseason trade speculation. Colome saved 47 games in 2017 and pitched to a 3.24 ERA. After him, Sergio Romo is back as a veteran presence. Daniel Hudson is one of the pieces the team got back for Dickerson and he’s got a nice live arm.
The Rays are one of the best teams at exceeding expectations and winning without the benefit of household names. They’re a development organization able to find useful pieces and exploit their talents.
In the end, this could be a team that surprises some people who are down on the club after their recent sell-offs, but they play in a tough division and are a considerable underdog with more than their share of questions, particularly on offense.
|Baltimore Orioles||Baltimore, Maryland||Oriole Park at Camden Yards|
|Boston Red Sox||Boston, Massachusetts||Fenway Park|
|New York Yankees||New York City, New York||Yankee Stadium|
|Tampa Bay Rays||St. Petersburg, Florida||Tropicana Field|
|Toronto Blue Jays||Toronto, Ontario||Rogers Centre|
|CENTRAL||Chicago White Sox||Chicago, Illinois||Guaranteed Rate Field|
|Cleveland Indians||Cleveland, Ohio||Progressive Field|
|Detroit Tigers||Detroit, Michigan||Comerica Park|
|Kansas City Royals||Kansas City, Missouri||Kauffman Stadium|
|Minnesota Twins||Minneapolis, Minnesota||Target Field|
|WEST||Houston Astros||Houston, Texas||Minute Maid Park|
|Los Angeles Angels||Anaheim, California||Angel Stadium|
|Oakland Athletics||Oakland, California||Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum|
|Seattle Mariners||Seattle, Washington||Safeco Field|
|Texas Rangers||Arlington, Texas||Globe Life Park in Arlington|
|EAST||Atlanta Braves||Atlanta, Georgia||SunTrust Park|
|Miami Marlins||Miami, Florida||Marlins Park|
|New York Mets||New York City, New York||Citi Field|
|Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||Citizens Bank Park|
|Washington Nationals||Washington, D.C.||Nationals Park|
|CENTRAL||Chicago Cubs||Chicago, Illinois||Wrigley Field|
|Cincinnati Reds||Cincinnati, Ohio||Great American Ball Park|
|Milwaukee Brewers||Milwaukee, Wisconsin||Miller Park|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania||PNC Park|
|St. Louis Cardinals||St. Louis, Missouri||Busch Stadium|
|WEST||Arizona Diamondbacks||Phoenix, Arizona||Chase Field|
|Colorado Rockies||Denver, Colorado||Coors Field|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||Los Angeles, California||Dodger Stadium|
|San Diego Padres||San Diego, California||Petco Park|
|San Francisco Giants||San Francisco, California||AT&T Park|
March 29-April 1: vs Boston Red Sox
April 2-4: at New York Yankees
April 5-8: at Boston Red Sox
April 9-11: at Chicago White Sox
April 13-15: vs Philadelphia Phillies
April 16-18: vs Texas Rangers
April 20-23: vs Minnesota Twins
April 24-26: at Baltimore Orioles
April 27-29: at Boston Red Sox
April 30-May 3: at Detroit Tigers
Tampa Bay plays in a tough division and will have a real test as they start the season. Tampa Bay opens hosting the Red Sox and then will immediately take a road trip to New York and Boston, playing their first nine games against the favorites in the AL East.
From there, the schedule eases up for the Rays with series against the White Sox, Phillies, Rangers, Orioles and Tigers throughout April.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of their early season schedule is the number of games head-to-head against the Sox in April. They play Boston in three separate series, playing 10 games against them by April 29.
After a cost-cutting offseason depleted the team’s talent pool, the Rays will be more than challenged early. If, however, the team can get through the first nine contests at or around .500, they could have a solid first month, but that’s a lot to ask.
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