Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays
Projected MLB Rank: 12th — AL Rank: 5th — AL East Rank: 3rd — Record: (86-76)
To answer that question, I would say they will shine, just not as bright. It’s hard to match 97 wins no matter who you are. Lead by strong pitching, timely hitting, and a genius manager last season, the Rays will need more of the same if they want to end up playing past October 4.
They are returning with the same core as last season for the most part. A new acquisition is now DH (that’s weird for me to say) Pat Burrell. The world champion slugged 33 homeruns last season and drove in what was left for him after Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, which was 86 runs. Similar to Burrell, only from the left side of the plate, is firstbaseman Carlos Pena. He hit 31 homers last season while leading the team in RBIs with 102. Both Pena and Burrell hit around .250 as well.
Stud youngsters Evan Longoria and BJ Upton also carry threat potential in this lineup. Longoria, only 23, hit 27 homeruns and drove in 85 runs in only 122 games last season. Imagine what he’ll do in a potential 162? Then with Upton, he really showed his true potential in the playoffs last season, despite only hitting .273 with 9 homeruns and driving in 67 during the regular season.
Secondbaseman Akinori Iwamura will likely lead things off for the Rays, and while his stats don’t really infer it–he’s a contact hitter. The anchor behind the plate remains 25 year old Dioner Navarro. He hit around .300 last season and drove in over 50, look for more of the same if not better with him. Hamstring trouble-ridden Carl Crawford should play a full season again as well. I feel like he’s been in the league for a long while, like he should be atleast 30. But he’s still 27!
The Rays boasted the second best ERA in the American League last season (3.82) and it all starts with their solid rotation. It starts with “big-game” James Shields. Shields posed a 3.56 ERA last season while winning 14 games while holding a 1.15 WHIP. He’s a control pitcher who can strikeout batters too.
Looks like the Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir deal worked out well for the Mets (sorry, had to take my Mets shot). Kazmir’s becoming a good lefthander and the 25-year old should have a better year than last in which he had a 3.29 ERA and went 12-8. Last year he also struck out 166 batters in about 152 innings. He will be a 20 game winner one day, just maybe not this year.
Matt Garza has the potential to be absolutely filthy, as he was in the minor leagues. Last year he only struck out about six batters per nine innings but showed all of America in the playoffs how good he is by going 2-1 with a strikeout an inning. Andy Sonnanstine, another great control pitcher, will reach the mid-teens in wins and give the Rays a solid WHIP. The fifth rotation spot is up for grabs between Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel. Whoever wins this job should be pitching for about a month and a half because I expect David Price to up in the big leagues by the end of May.
Veteran Troy Percival who’s ERA doesn’t give the correct impression for the job he did for this team last season. Before going down with an injury, he saved 28 games and appeared in 50 games for the Rays. Reliever Dan Wheeler had a nice season while posting a 0.99 WHIP and a 3.12 ERA in 70 games. Southpaw JP Howell is absolutely dirty. In 64 appearances last season, he struck out 92 batters and posted a 2.22 ERA. Hard throwing Grant Balfour should also be effective again coming out of the pen this year. Righthander Joe Nelson joins his fifth team in five years and should post a low ERA with a high strikeout rate. Jason Isringhausen also joins the bullpen and is presenting a really good case to join the roster this spring.
Overall, the Rays do look good this year. It’s hard to argue against 97 wins but this is such a tough division and I don’t think the Rays will be able to win all the close games they won last year. They’re an exciting team and I have them going close to the playoffs–but close doesn’t get you there.
Season Preview: Cincinnati Reds
Projected MLB Rank: 16th — NL Rank: 11th — NL Central Rank: 3rd — Record: (81-81)
Many are calling Cincinnati — “2009’s Rays.” Well this year’s Rays will be the team you won’t suspect — if you know what I mean. The Reds are filled with young stars and quality players, so I can see the connections between the Rays and the Reds. Let’s go further with it and make direct connections (analogies):
Carl Crawford is to Brandon Phillips…
Crawford has been a star in the league and still very young. Phillips had a great season last year and still is young at 27 years old. As long as the Reds are playing at Great American Ballpark, Phillips will continue to look like he has pop. He puts up decent power numbers and has some great speed.
as Carlos Pena is to Ramon Hernandez…
Pena has spent his career on numerous teams and the Reds are Ramon’s fourth. Hernandez has great production potential and is one of the older starters in the lineup. In Cincinnati, he may hit 25 homeruns and drive in 75 runs (and that’s probably not a stretch).
as JP Howell is to Bill Bray…
Both strikeout lefthanders coming out of the bullpen. Bray was considered a possible closer at one point in his minor league career. He’s still only twenty five years old too.
as Evan Longoria is to Joey Votto…
Votto played his first full season in the majors in 2008 and had a very productive year. He batted .297 with 24 homeruns and 84 RBIs. His numbers mirror Longoria’s and Votto has a higher average. Votto is also only 25 years old and will definately improve on his numbers this coming season.
as Scott Kazmir is to Edinson Volquez…
Both great prospects coming up, Volquez strikes out hitters at an alarming rate. He recorded 206 strikeouts last season in ten less innings than strikeouts. He had a 3.21 ERA and went 17-6. Who knows how he will do in 2009 but he will definately help the Reds out.
as Troy Percival is to David Weathers…
Both righthanders approaching 40 years of age while staying relatively successful coming out of their team’s bullpen. Weathers recorded a 3.25 ERA last season with 19 holds.
as BJ Upton is to Jay Bruce…
Bruce played in 108 games last season and had a good rookie season and should definately improve on his .254 average, 21 homeruns, and 52 RBIs. He may experience a sophomore boom or bust, but he will eventually be who the Reds hope he will become.
as Matt Garza is to Johnny Cueto…
Cueto didn’t have a very good season last year but has great stuff. Look for him to also improve upon his 4.81 ERA and 9 wins as he should start over 30 games again this season.
as Eric Hinske is to Alex Gonzalez…
Gonzalez played a total of zero games last season due to injury, but he’s a veteran who’s glove is better than his bat. He will be in competition with Jeff Keppinger for the starting shortstop spot just as Hinske competed for the right field spot most of last season.
as Trever Miller is to Arthur Rhodes…
Both veteran lefty relievers, Rhodes had a great year for the Marlins last year as a lefty out of the bullpen with a 2.04 ERA with 40 strikeouts in about 35 innings.
as Grant Balfour is to Francisco Cordero…
Balfour and Cordero both throw hard. Cordero will remain the closer this year for the Reds after he saved 34 games last season. He struck out 78 batters in about 70 innings with a 3.33 ERA.
The Reds rotation is lead by innings eater Aaron Harang who had a down year last season but is still projected as the Reds ace this season. Bronson Arroyo has also become a staple in this rotation as an innings eater.
This lineup will score a lot of runs and the pitching will keep them in games but I just don’t see this team making the playoffs as the Rays did last season. They’re definately capable of doing (as every team is) but I just think they have a few holes in the lineup and they are still pretty young.
The World Baseball Classic rosters are set. The United States roster looks more promising than last time. The US is in Pool C with Canada, Venezula, and Italy and opens up the tournament playing in Toronto.
The tournament runs from March 5th-23rd in anywhere from Tokyo to San Juan and ending in Los Angeles. (http://mlb.mlb.com/wbc/2009/schedule/brackets.jsp) You can find the official WBC bracket there.
The US roster consists of players from 21 different MLB teams and is one of only two rosters that are made up of all MLB players. Here is how I think the lineup should be:
SS Jimmy Rollins
CF Grady Sizemore
LF Ryan Braun
DH Chipper Jones
1B Kevin Youkilis
RF Brad Hawpe
3B David Wright
C Brian McCann
2B Dustin Pedrioa
However, I am not Davey Johnson and I’m almost positive that Derek Jeter will start at shortstop. Curtis Granderson would be the first pinch runner most likely and Mark DeRosa looks like he will be the infield utility guy. Chris Iannetta backs up McCann behind the dish. The starting pitchers featured on the roster are Jeremy Guthrie, Ted Lilly, Roy Oswalt, and Jake Peavy. The rotation may shape up to look something along the lines of Peavy, Oswalt, Lilly, then Guthrie.
The bullpen is probably one of the strongest in the whole classic. The US boasts established closers like Brian Fuentes, Joe Nathan, JJ Putz, and BJ Ryan. The bullpen features emerging closers like Jonathan Broxton, Matt Lindstrom, and Brad Ziegler. It also contains guys like JP Howell, Scot Shields, and Matt Thornton. In the ninth I would hand the ball to Fuentes to face lefthanded hitters and Nathan to face righties.
I am most excited to watch the US play and to see how Brad Hawpe plays among all stars and how Johnson utilizes the extremely talented bullpen he has.
In other notes, how great is it to see mlb.com with the games of the day on the left side bar again? I am so relieved to hear that everyday we are getting closer to the season. The first spring training games start tomorrow with most of them at 1pm or 3pm. However at 7pm the Twins take on the Red Sox as Tim Wakefield takes the mound.
In honor of the first spring training games, I will start to release my projections for this season (as I mentioned in the previous post). I will start from who I think will finish last in the league working my way up to the best record previewing the teams’ seasons along the way. Tomorrow I’ll release who I think will be at the bottom of the barrel and here’s a clue, it’s one of these four teams…