At long last Spring Training is done, and the regular season is just around the corner! Even though our small market team was able to end its Grapefruit League season with a winning record, it’s going to take a lot for the Tampa Bay Rays to end the regular season with a plus .500 record, or make it to the postseason if you prefer. And while Spring Training can offer some insight into what could be expected, certain quantifiables lay in the wake… Quantifiables that can only be fleshed out during the regular season.
With this in mind, consider this to be an experiment of sorts. Several questions/quantifiables that cannot not be answered by the team’s spring performance follow. My intention is to revisit these questions at the end of the season in order to see where to proverbial dominoes may have landed.
1. How well will Kevin Cash manage the team?
Despite his 754-705 record with Tampa Bay, former manager Joe Maddon was not free of criticism. Maddon averaged over 137 different lineups over the past five seasons; a strategy that lent a feeling of instability to many players on the roster. Moreover, Maddon had a penchant for the unconventional which could be viewed both in a positive and negative light.
There seems to be a good amount of organization-wide support of Cash, however, the true test of the rookie manager will begin Monday afternoon at 3:10 pm.
2. How will the starting rotation fare throughout the season?
The dreaded injury bug bit Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly and Alex Colome pretty hard during Spring Training, leaving the trio to start the season on the disabled list. The good news: Tampa Bay posted a combined 3.12 ERA and 2.44 FIP during Spring Training, while racking up a healthy 239 strikeouts and only allowing 89 free passes (2.69 K/BB) without the above mentioned hurlers. Yet those numbers tend to be skewed because of the nature of preseason baseball.
Will the front four pitchers — including Erasmo Ramirez, who pitched well Saturday — be able to keep the team afloat during the first month of play, then throughout the season?
3. What about the relievers?
Grant Balfour, Jeff Beliveau, Brad Boxberger, Ernesto Frieri, Steve Geltz, Kevin Jepsen and Kirby Yates have a tall task ahead of them, especially with Jake McGee on the shelf for the first month of play. With the exceptions of Balfour and a couple of players who are no longer on the team, the bullpen was pretty solid in 2014. In an ideal world, Jepsen would be able to post similar numbers to his 2014 campaign, and both Frieri and Balfour will bounce back from their last season regression.
4. Will the new and improved offense be more productive in 2015?
Even with the roster turnover, the both PECOTA and Steamer projected Tampa Bay to be an improved team.
They averaged close to five runs per game during the spring, and that’s encouraging. The Rays were also a much better team on the base paths, grounding into the fewest number of double plays in the American League (9) and swiping 24 bags (in 28 attempts, an 86% success rate). A quick and smart base running team is a good team — just ask the 2014 Royals. Even so, Spring Training isn’t wholly indicative of what to expect in the regular season.
5. Will the offseason moves reignite the Rays sense of urgency and swagger past the honeymoon period?
Evan Longoria seems to think so, at least in the short-term:
Guys are kind of more, I don’t know if intense is the word, it just seems like there’s a little bit more purpose to everybody’s work this year, Longoria told Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times). That’s not to say that wasn’t there last year, it’s just whether it’s the new front office, whether it’s the new coaching staff, sometimes some guys feel like, and, myself — I feel the same way, you kind of have some proving to do.
Whatever the case, the outside expectations placed upon the Rays have been lowered by the major media outlets who were (are?) truly confounded by the direction Matt Silverman took the team during the offseason. Suffice it to say, this is the perfect opportunity for the team to exceed those expectations, however great they may be, while quietly defy the critics who think Kevin Cash’s boys will be irrelevant in 2015.
- Erasmo Ramirez looked really good Saturday afternoon, slashing 3.2 IP/2 H/1 ER/7 K (6 swinging)/0 BB on 58 pitches (42 strikes, 72% K/BB). He focused on three pitches — fastball, change-up, and slider — all which looked good. Ramirez’s off-speed stuff had a lot of movement on both sides of the plate, and he wasn’t afraid to challenge the Tigers’ batters with fastballs in the zone.
- “Once we get to Miami I’m sure we’ll see them all,” said Kevin Cash on the subject of the starting rotation going into the second series against the Marlins (with an emphasis on Matt Andriese and Erasmo Ramirez). Cash may have shown his hand, telling Neil Solondz that Matt Andriese will be available out of the bullpen in the first couple of games, implying Ramirez would be starting in the fourth game of the season
- Matt Silverman told the media Drew Smyly’s live batting practice went well, and he will be on a somewhat accelerated schedule based on how he responds. Smyly should be back in April.
- I wrote previously of Alex Cobb’s slowed progression after incurring tendinitis in his right forearm. Cobb said there isn’t a concern of a more significant injury, rather the training staff is taking a slower pace to ultimately ensure that the tendinitis is gone: “We’re just being smart.”