Tonight I’ll preview one of the teams that will content for the divisional crown — the Rays.
Offense: The Rays had one of the game’s best offenses in 2009. They hit .263-.343-.439 last year. The 803 total runs they scored isn’t as high as the Yankees but their lineup remains largely unchanged heading into the new season.
Tampa Bay is led largely by All-Star 3B Evan Longoria, along with Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist, who emerged in a good way last year. Finally, entering into his final season before what’s sure to be a bidding war that includes the Yankees, CF Carl Crawford rounds up the potent lineup for the Rays.
Defense: Tampa’s defense is one of the best in the AL, if not the majors. They saved 69.5 runs defensively last season, with Longoria and Crawford rated as the two best defensive players at their position over the last two years. Who can’t forget Crawford’s catch in the All Star game last year in St. Louis?
Pitching: The Rays have the game’s best young rotation. Jamie Shields is 28, and he’s followed by Matt Garza (26), Jeff Niemann (27), David Price (24), and Wade Davis (24). Those five will combine to make about $9.5M in 2010.
The biggest move of Tampa’s offseason was landing a bonafide closer in Rafael Soriano. After burning through Troy Percival and Jason Isringhausen, manager Joe Maddon went with a closer by committee approach that saw J.P. Howell getting the majority of the saves and save opportunities last season. This season they will rank on top with the Yankees and Red Sox and their 9th inning is pretty much locked up now.
Outlook: The Rays have mastered the concept of player development and building from within, which is the only way they can compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox. With talk of a reduced payroll in 2011 and Pena, Crawford, Soriano, Burrell, and Balfour all set to become free agents after the season, this is probably the last hurrah for this Rays’ team as presently constructed. This current team is very, very good and could easily win 90 games and make a run at the division crowd.
Third place, 92-70.