In the fourth part of this mini-series we will take a look at why the Tampa Bay Rays will win the division even though pretty much everyone has penciled them in as a last-place team.
The Rays seem to be in a rebuilding year with former manager Joe Maddon leaving to go to the Chicago Cubs and trading ace David Price to the Detroit Tigers. Kevin Cash steps in as new manager while their rotation looks to be the best in the American League East. It is easy to write this team off though. They are young, inexperienced and on paper have yet another weak lineup. Not only did they lose Maddon this offseason but they also traded away Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, Matt Joyce and Wil Myers. A major makeover is taking place in St. Petersburg.
To start the makeover the Rays acquired John Jaso in the Zobrist-Escobar trade, RHP Kevin Jepsen from the Angels and catcher Rene Rivera and right fielder Steven Souza in the Myers trade. They will rely on their deep pitching staff and youth to win the AL East. Lets start with their strong rotation as that will be the most important piece for the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays.
Alex Cobb will lead the staff followed by Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, and Nate Karns. Matt Moore figures to comeback at some point during the season, making this rotation even better. Cobb has solidified himself as one of the best righties in the league. In 2013 he posted an 11-3 record with a 2.76 ERA. Last year he went 10-9 with a 2.87 ERA in 27 games started. The loss of Price will certainly hurt this rotation but Cobb is more than capable of leading this rotation to success. Archer and Smyly form a very strong top of the rotation for years to come.
Archer posted a 3.33 ERA a year ago and figures to improve at 26 years old. Smyly, who was acquired from the Price trade, posted a 3.24 ERA with both the Tigers and Rays in 2014. Baseball Tonight rates him as the ninth-best left-handed pitcher in baseball coming into the 2015 season.
Tampa Bay’s solid rotation should be able to limit teams from scoring giving their offense a chance every game. That offense will rely heavily on former All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria. The offense goes if Longoria goes. Longoria hit just .253 last year but did hit 22 home runs and drive in 91 runs. They will need his consistent bat in the lineup everyday in order for them to have a shot. Maybe the most underrated player in the league, James Loney will probably bat behind or in front of Longoria. Since coming to the Rays in 2013, Loney has hit .299 and .290, respectively. He does not hit for much power but his high batting average makes up for his lack of home runs. The career .285 hitter is a solid first baseman who gets on base at a high rate.
Newly acquired Souza will also be relied on. The Rays believe he can be a very good hitter in this league so much so they traded away 24-year-old Myers to get him. Souza has struggled this spring and hit just .130 in 21 games for the Washington Nationals a year ago. He is very strong defensively but his bat will need to improve for the Rays to win this division. This is not a lineup that will hit a lot of home runs and on paper is the worst in the division. However, with the power lineups from the other four teams, the Rays have the one pitching staff that will be able to slow them down.
That only will help the Rays capture the AL East and get back to the playoffs in Kevin Cash‘s first season as skipper. Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee give the Rays a formidable back end of the bullpen. The two hard throwers posted ERA’s less than 2.40. It may be a tall task but the combination of their rotation and bullpen will give the Rays a shot to be competitive and even steal the AL East crown from the other four teams. Longoria is prime for a bounce back year in terms of hitting for average and the consistency of Loney will help guide this lineup.
So to everyone writing off the Rays, lets not shot the gun too soon. I believe Tampa Bay can steal this division, do you?