Juxtapose that (above) with this (below):
It’s been opined by more than a few, the Rays appeared to be in restructuring mode early in the offseason, yet they made several present-day improvements to put themselves in position to win in 2014. Matt Silverman put together a team that — in an ideal world — is deeper offensively, more athletic, and improved defensively. And while they were fairly successful during Spring Training (as it relates to wins and losses), the true test of the team’s mettle begins Monday, when the Baltimore Orioles enter the Trop for a three-game set.
Kevin Cash (along with several new players* on the roster) is set to make his managerial debut for the Rays. Unfortunately for Cash, the injury-riddled pitching staff has made for a rocky transition from Spring Training the regular season. Both Silverman and Cash are confident in Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Nathan Karns, and Erasmo Ramirez’s ability to be effective in Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly and Jake McGee’s absence.
As for Baltimore, the Orioles begin their quest for a third trip to the playoffs in four years with several regulars unavailable. The Orioles will be without the sure handed J.J. Hardy, outfielder David Lough and Matt Wieters, not to mention huge roster losses of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz.
As I wrote previously, PECOTA projects the Tampa Bay Rays to lead the AL East in 2015. Yet a few questions remain — quantifiables that won’t be sussed out until September. In any case, the Cash/Silverman era start in earnest on Opening Day.
*John Jaso, Asdrubal Cabrera, Steven Souza, Erasmo Ramirez and Rene Rivera (among others).
Chris Tillman: Tillman is making his second consecutive Opening Day start. He is 4-6 with a 4.08 ERA in 14 career starts against Tampa Bay (1-2 with a 3.41 in five starts at Tropicana Field). Evan Longoria is batting .394 with five homers against Tillman, who was 2-0 in three starts against Tampa Bay last season with a 1.71 ERA. Key match-ups: Asdrubal Cabrera (3-9, 2B, 4 RBI), David DeJesus (2-8, RBI, BB), Brandon Guyer (1-4), John Jaso (4-16, 2 2B, RBI, 4 BB), Kevin Kiermaier (1-4), Evan Longoria (13-33, 2 2B, 5 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB).
Wei Yen Chen: Chen is coming off his best season in the Majors, going 16-6 with a 3.54 ERA in 31 games. The lefty will follow Chris Tillman for the second consecutive year. However, the current Rays’ batters have combined to slash a healthy .263 BA/.317 OBP/.432 SLG/.749 OPS line against Chen. Key match-ups: Tim Beckham (1-1), Logan Forsythe (3-12, HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB), Desmond Jennings (7-28, 2 2B, HR, RBI, 3 BB), Kevin Kiermaier (2-5, HR, 2 RBI), Evan Longoria (7-24, 3 2B, 3 RBI, 3 BB).
Miguel Gonzalez: Gonzalez was matched up with the Rays because of how well he’s pitched at the Trop. In The right-hander is 3-1 with a 2.64 ERA in five starts at Tropicana Field. Nevertheless, the Rays were able to beat up Gonzalez in 2014, tagging him for seven runs on 19 hits (including four homers) and four walks, in 14-2/3 innings of work. They’ve also combined to slash a meaty overall .284 BA/.385 OBP/.511 SLG/.896 OPS line against the starter. Asdrubal Cabrera (2-5, 2B, HR, RBI), David DeJesus (2-6, BB), Logan Forsythe (1-1, BB), John Jaso (1-3), Desmond Jennings (6-23, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 6 BB), Kevin Kiermaier (1-2), Evan Longoria (7-24, HR, RBI, 2 BB), Rene Rivera (1-2).
- Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis will be eligible for Opening Day after serving the last of a 25-game suspension for the use of amphetamines.
- To get to 25, the Rays have placed Alex Cobb, Nick Franklin, Drew Smyly and Jake McGee on the 15-day disabled list. Matt Moore has been placed on the 60 day DL, while Alex Colome is already on the 15-day DL. The team also picked up Bobby Wilson’s contract. Cobb, Franklin and Smyly’s placement are retroactive to March 27, and they’re eligible to rejoin the roster on April 11. Both McGee and Moore’s placement are retroactive to April 5.
- Tampa Bay LF Desmond Jennings had a team-high 20 hits and batted .435 in spring training.
- Chris Archer gets the ball first for the Rays, in place of Alex Cobb. Archer struck out 173 in 2014, though he also allowed 72 free passes. The righty struggled in two starts against Baltimore last season, going 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA while allowing a .404 batting average.