Tampa Bay (96-66) finished in 2nd place 7 games behind 1st place New York in the AL East last season. They were 12 games ahead of 3rd place Boston, 29 games ahead of Toronto and 42 ahead of last-place Baltimore. Tampa Bay did earn the 2nd wildcard in the American League and went on to play Oakland in the wildcard game last season. The beat the A’s 5-1 and moved on to play Houston in the League Divisional Series where they were eliminated 3 games to 2.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
2B Brandon Lowe (Brandon only got to play in the first half of the season due to injuries, but he made a big impression. He hit .270 with 17 home runs & 51 rbi’s and 42 runs scored. He had 80 hits (17 doubles & 2 triples) and stole 5 bases all in 82 games. So if he played a full season, would those numbers have doubled? That is what inquiring minds want to know)
OF Austin Meadows (I was an Austin Meadow fan when he played for Pittsburgh and when he was traded to the Rays in July of last season he did not see as much playing time and his numbers dropped. Last season saw many more games and at-bats and his stats shot right back up. He hit .291 with 33 homers & 89 rbi’s while scoring 83 runs. He had 154 hits (29 doubles & 7 triples) and stole 12 bases in 138 games. He has been hyped since he callup and rightfully so. Austin has a very bright future)
3B Yandy Diaz (Health has probably been Yandy’s biggest obstacle in his short 3-year career so far. He finally displayed some power after hitting just 1 homer in his first two years in Cleveland when he hit 14 homers last season with the Rays. He hit .267 with 38 rbi’s and scored 53 runs. He had 82 hits in just 79 games played. So they may not be great stats, but they are respectable and when healthy could certainly improve)
1B Ji-Man Choi (This might sound funny but when I am looking at players I know nothing about and I see they played for the Yankees at some point even if for just one season, I always think how bad can they be if they NY Yankees wanted them on their team? Choi in his 2nd season with the Rays doubled his playing time and most of his stats as well. He hit .261 with 19 home runs & 63 rbi’s, scored 54 runs and had 107 hits. All of those numbers were nearly doubled from last season except for batting average)
OF Hunter Renfroe (Hunter had a great first half but was plagued by injuries that ruined what could have been a great season. Hitting in a pitchers park in San Diego, he was tied for 5th in the major leagues with 27 home runs before the All-Star break but only hit 6 afterward. He had a low average of just .216 but had 64 rbi’s & 64 runs scored along with 5 stolen bases on the year. He said his ankle & foot feel great heading into spring and expects to pick up right where he left off in the first half last season)
DH Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Yoshitomo was one of Japan’s top power hitter last season hitting 39 home runs. He also hit 38 in 2018. He has averaged 35 home runs the past four seasons. They are not expecting a high batting average from him but should see plenty of rbi’s along with those home runs. He made a big impression on the Rays in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and held a private workout at the Winter Meetings before signing with them)
SS Willy Adames (Despite a 24 point drop in batting average last season, I think the Rays are happy with their shortstop. He hit .254 with 20 home runs, up from 10 last season, with 52 rbi’s and 69 runs scored, with 135 hits and 4 stolen bases. Shortstop is a position where defense is generally the most important thing and any offense you can get is gravy, so 20 home runs with the potential for me is a big bonus. At age 24 I do not think he is done developing in the strength department. The best is yet to come)
OF Kevin Kiermaier (Kevin does just about enough of everything to tease you and keep playing him thinking there is more to come. Last season he hit .228 with 14 home runs with 55 rbi’s and scored 60 runs. He had 102 runs (20 doubles & 7 triples) and stole 19 bases. Health has not been his friend. Last season’s 129 games were the most he has played since 2015. Speed appears to be his best weapon)
C Mike Zunino (Last season was just horrible. Mike hit just .165 with 9 homers & 32 rbi’s and 30 runs scored. He had just 44 hits. He played in 90 games. He is lucky that he is one of the better catchers in the league and that will keep him on the field. He has never even had 100 hits in one season. Never scored more than 52 runs or had more than 64 rbi’s. His strength looks to be home runs where he hit 25 in 2017 & 20 in 2018)
RHP Charlie Morton (Charlie continues to pitch well at 36 years old. Last season he lowered his era for the 3rd straight season. He went 16-6 with a 3.05 era and a fantastic 1.08 WHIP. He allowed just 154 hits in 194.2 innings pitched and struck out 240 batters. He allowed just 15 home runs. Those are great numbers for a young guy let alone a 36-year old vet of 12 years)
RHP Tyler Glasnow (When Tyler was on the field he was dominant. The key is keeping him on the field. He made just 12 starts last season and went 6-1with 1.78 era and a better yet 0.89 WHIP. He pitched just 60.2 innings and allowed just 40 hits and struck out 76 batters allowing 4 home runs. So far so good this spring as far as health and I am sure the extra time off with the work stoppage won’t hurt. When healthy he could be among the best in the American League)
LHP Blake Snell (We all know what Blake can do as seen from 2018 when he was nearly unhittable and won the Cy Young Award. Last season he still allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and struck out more batters than innings pitched, but was just 6-8 with an era of 4.29. I am sure Blake would not use it as an excuse, but he did have surgery on his elbow and missed nearly two months. I don’t see him bouncing back to 2018’s form but somewhere in between the two seasons)
RHP Yonny Chirinos (Yonny went 9-5 with a 3.85 era last season. He started in 18 of his 26 appearances. He missed 7 weeks during the season with a finger injury. Yonny is probably the least flashy of the Tampa pitchers but is very consistent. Expect another season very similar to last season give or take a win or loss either way)
LHP Ryan Yarbrough (Ryan’s first two major league seasons with the Rays have been pretty good in terms of win & losses going 16-6 in his rookie season and 11-6 last season. Last season did not start that way. After his first 5 appearances and a 8.10 era, he was shipped down to the minors to figure out what was wrong and it worked. When he came up he went 9-2 with a 2.55 era and a 0.87 WHIP. He ended up 11-6 with a 4.13 era in 14 starts out of 28 appearances. He allowed 121 hits in 141.2 innings pitched, but his strikeouts were down with only 117. Still, his second straight winning season, you cannot complain about that)
CLOSER -RHP Nick Anderson (Tampa Bay is starting from scratch when it comes to finding a closer for the 2020 season and it appears to be Nick Anderson who came over from Miami in the middle of the season last year. Nick knows how to miss bats. In 2019 he struck out 41% of the batters he faced and had a 2.11 era since joining the Rays. Sounds like he has what it takes to be a closer to me)
Tampa Bay is one of those teams that has always been sneaky good, but now it appears they are getting some respect when the line makers posted this high of a win total for them in 2020, but it is still lower than last season's 96 wins.
So the question you have to ask is this team worse than last year’s team? Being in the same division as the Yankees does not help the situation, but they are heads and shoulders better than everybody else in the AL East and most of your schedule is played within your division.
I am going to take my chances mainly of the Rays pitching staff. I think they are going to win a lot of ball games for them. I am not completely sold on the offense, but pitching and defense win games and the offense will come around. I think they can squeeze out 93-94 wins this season.