Here we go! A month and-a-half (plus) of Spring Training have come to pass, and now we’re on the cusp of 162 meaningful games, in what could be the most successful season in the Rays (now) 16 year history — that is, if Sports Illustrated and ESPN’s predictions come to fruition.
I’ve been writing about all the moves Tampa Bay made in the offseason, and now it’s time to put the rubber to the road. If Spring Training was indicative of anything, it’s that not trading David Price, re-signing first baseman James Loney, acquiring free-agent closer Grant Balfour and trading for catcher Ryan Hanigan, reliever Heath Bell and utility-man Logan Forsythe may already be paying dividends. At 17-6-4, Tampa Bay walked away from Spring Training with their third Grapefruit League title in seven years. It bears mentioning: Tampa Bay went on to win the AL East the other two years (2008, 2010).
David Price has owned the Jays. The Rays ace has a 13-2 record and 2.45 ERA in 17 starts against Toronto since 2008 — including a complete-game shutout in 2010. And Price isn’t the only threat in the Rays’ rotation. Alex Cobb had the fourth-best ERA in the AL last year, among starters who threw at least 140 innings. Matt Moore had a dominant second half of last season, while Chris Archer finished third in AL rookie of the year voting behind Wil Myers.
RA Dickey: Dickey has been tough on the Rays in the past, slashing .164 OBA/.229 OBP/.291 SLG/.520 OPS and relinquishing only 12 extra base hits (seven doubles, a triple, and four home runs) in his last two seasons of work. Granted he hasn’t had the best spring, in the controlled conditions of the Trop I’d imagine he could be deadly. Key match-ups: Ryan Hanigan (1-3, 2B, RBI), Logan Forsythe (2-8, 2 2B, RBI), Yunel Escobar (3-14, 2 2B, RBI), Ben Zobrist (5-22, 3B, HR, RBI, 3 BB), Matt Joyce (4-26, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB).
Drew Hutchinson: A slim right-hander with an assortment of pitches and tons of pitchability, Hutchison is a mid-90’s throwing fastball pitcher with some release point problems. A caveat: he has deception and has shown to get batters out even when his best stuff isn’t there.
Mark Buehrle: Buehrle posted an 0-2 record against the Rays in 2013, with a 5.76 ERA and a .310 OBA. Tampa Bay has had plenty of success against the 35 year-old lefty, with nine Rays posting a +.250 BA against Buehrle. Key match-ups: Yunel Escobar (5-14, 2B, RBI, BB), Ryan Hanigan (2-8, BB), Desmond Jennings (6-12, RBI, 3 BB), James Loney (5-15, 2 2B), Evan Longoria (8-25, 2 2B, HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB), Jose Molina (10-34, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, 4 BB), Wil Myers (2-6, 3 RBI), Sean Rodriguez (2 2B, 2 RBI), Ben Zobrist (5-14, 2B, 2 RBI, BB).
Brandon Morrow: Morrow put together a 2-3 2013 season, with a 5.69 ERA in 10 starts with the Blue Jays. A handful of Rays have posted decent numbers against the 29 year-old, right-handed fastball/slider/changeup pitcher. Key match-ups: David DeJesus (4-9, 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB), Desmond Jennings (7-13, 2B, 4 HR, 4 RBI, 4 BB), Matt Joyce (6-24, 2 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB), Jose Molina (3-11, 2 RBI), Sean Rodriguez (5-14, 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 5 BB).
- Baseball in Montreal? Hmph… “You’d think that surely there must come a point,” writes Andrew Stoeten of The Score, “when there is only so much sentimentality that one can stomach, but this afternoon’s matchup between the Jays and the Mets here was yet another tremendous feel-good exercise — especially with the 1994 Expos in the house, and 50,000 fans, bringing the stunning two-day total for le retour du baseball majeur à Montréal to over 96,000 — completing a storybook finish to the first step towards making a reality the big dream of bringing baseball back to this city.” Riding the wave of sentimentality, baseball fans are seeking to make Montreal a big league city once again.
Stoeten goes on to write, “It was about the appetite for baseball in this city — even in this crumbling facility. And that appetite — aided, perhaps just a little, by MLB’s current problem markets, and thoughts of overflowing toilets in the Oakland Coliseum, and the sparse crowds we’ll see next week in Tampa Bay — shone through unmistakably.”
But hold on one minute retroactive Expos fans, a few factors stand in your way of reaching your goal of leaching the Rays or the A’s. First, both commissioner Bud Selig, mentioned that MLB doesn’t want to move a team or expand. Furthermore, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg made mention that he doesn’t want to go anywhere out of the Tampa Bay area. “It is a great baseball city with very passionate people,” Sternberg wrote of Montreal in an email to The Wall Street Journal. “I cannot envision the Rays out of the Tampa Bay market, and we have no intention of attempting to move this team.” Not discussed by many is the $500M-$1B cost to actually make it happen.
- Marc Topkin writes, there have been, “15 different DHs in Rays 17 openers, with Matt Joyce starting today.
- Six Rays will have their first opening day in the majors Monday: Chris Archer, Logan Forsythe, Brandon Gomes, Brandon Guyer, Jake Odorizzi, and Wil Myers.
- How have the Rays fared in Opening Day since 2008? 2008 at Baltimore 6-2 W, 2009 at Boston 5-3 L, 2010 vs. Baltimore 4-3 W, 2011 vs. Baltimore 4-1 L, 2012 vs. New York 7-6 W, 2013 vs. Baltimore 7-4 L