Tampa Bay Rays Last Year: 97-65 1st in AL East, Lost to Philadelphia in WS This Year: 1st in AL East
There are those out there who claim last year was a fluke and that they will fall back to their "rightful" place as a sub .500 team at the bottom of the division. It is too bad those people have no idea what they are talking about. The actually in my opinion blossomed a year early. They won last year with Crawford injured and having a subpar year, Upton struggled with a torn labrum. Longoria didn't start until May, and Price wasn't even on the squad until the playoffs. This is supposed to be their year, Longoria is here for a whole year and Price will be able to join the rotation. Throw in Pat Burrell and you have the best team in the Major Leagues in 2009.
Opening Day Lineup w/Projections 2B Aki Iwamura .279 6 HR 45 RBI LF Carl Crawford .307 15 HR 72 RBI 41 SB CF B.J. Upton .292 26 HR 93 RBI 35 SB 3B Evan Longoria .289 38 HR 123 RBI 1B Carlos Pena .251 35 HR 108 RBI DH Pat Burrell .252 31 HR 88 RBI C Dioner Navarro .287 9 HR 59 RBI RF Gabe Gross .242 15 HR 44 RBI SS Jason Bartlett .280 2 HR 41 RBI 22 SB
Rotation RHP James Shields 16-8 3.45 ERA 170 K LHP Scott Kazmir 14-7 3.40 ERA 174 K RHP Matt Garza 14-8 3.34 ERA 154 K RHP Andy Sonnanstine 14-10 4.12 ERA 130 K LHP David Price 13-5 3.47 ERA 148 K
CP RHP Troy Percival 4.34 ERA 32 SV 40 K
I know Upton is not ready for Opening Day and Price is starting in AAA, but this is how the team will look for the majority of the year and why they are the best team.
Best Case Scenario: Longoria doesn't face a sophomore slump and puts up MVP numbers. Upton stays healthy and builds off the postseason in which he hit 7 HRs in 66 at-bats. Crawford returns to all-star form. Kazmir decides to pitch into the 6th inning this year by not walking the bases full every inning. Garza builds off post season and becomes an all-star caliber pitcher. Price comes up and runs away with the AL ROY. The Rays find an answer in the closer role between Percival, Isringhausen and who ever is actually healthy. This team wins the AL East again and takes it a step farther by winning the World Series in the worst stadium known to man.
Worst Case Scenario: The injury bug hits the Rays hard. Kazmir gets injured or only pitches 140 innings. The bullpen collapses with the inability to find a closer and hold onto a lead. Garza still is inconsistent, and Price is not ready to be a dominant starter yet. This team struggles to live up to expectations on the team for the first time ever and struggle with the ultra-competitive AL East. This team finishes 3rd in the AL East and misses the playoffs.
Player Most Important to Success: Matt Garza. Garza has the stuff to be a front-line ace as he has been projected to be since he was called up with the Twins in 2006. He has slowly but surely moved closer to his potential but showed glimpses of what he can be in the playoffs last year. If the Rays are going to win the AL East again this year they are going to need Garza to reach his potential. If he becomes an All-Star pitcher this team's rotation will be able to match up pound for pound with the Yankees and Red Sox staffs, and then the Rays superior lineup will put them over the top and into the World Series again.
Outlook: This lineup is ridiculous. They have 4 players who have the potential to hit 30 home runs and 2 in Pena and Longoria who have the potential to hit 40. The only possible whole in the lineup is Right Field but that shouldn't be a huge problem with Gabe Gross and Matt Joyce platooning. I don't see how a pitcher can go through this lineup without giving up at least a run every time. The rotation isn't bad at all. If Price comes in and makes a Liriano/Linecum splash this team might run away with the division. The only thing I can see tripping this team up is bullpen issues or if the injury bug riddles this team. Last year was a prelude to the explosion we should see this year. Last year was not a fluke this Rays team is around to stay and should be a player in the AL East for years to come.