- Tampa Bay had the lousy luck to strike it big on the field just as the U.S. economy went in the dumper. Their hope is to sell two million tickets this season, which is pretty low for a pennant-winning team.
- Please stop calling your arms guns and and quit calling Tampa Bay an upstart team. They came a long way in one season, but with the plus-plus baseball brains running the show, they're going to stick around for a while.
- They have the best starting rotation in the AL according to Driveline Mechanics: James Shields, left-hander Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, David Price and/or Jeff Niemann.
- There's always the tendency to focus 75% on 25% of what's important, but the Red Sox have a much better bullpen. For pity's sake, the Rays added 39-year-old Brian Shouse, whose overuse in Milwaukee got Ned Yost fired as manager last September. A team's bullpen can be boom-and-bust at the best of times, despite everyone's best efforts.
- Third baseman Evan Longoria (pictured) could have a MVP in his future. Sixty extra-base hits and superlative fielding work at third base is fancy cookin' for a player in his first full season.
- Improving on last season's 774 runs scored is in the realm of possibility. Centrefielder B.J. Upton should actually crack double digits in home runs. The new DH, Pat Burrell, should provide some right-handed pop for the next two seasons.
- Keep an eye on how often they attempt the stolen base this season. They stole an American League-high 142 bases last season but were thrown out 50 times (with Upton, the new leadoff man, accounting for 16 of the caught stealings). There's an argument they would have been better off attempting fewer steals.
- It would be remiss to point out the Rays asked to open at home. They ended getting rained out on Opening Day in Boston and the Red Sox hogged all the time in the batting cage.
- Manager Joe Maddon said recently that he relishes playing the AL East, unlike the GMs and fans of some teams (although two divisions in the American League and balanced schedule would be cool).
- For Red Sox Nation, the upshot of the Rays' rise is they can stick it to the Yankees by pretending they're not even Boston's biggest rival.
- Shortstop Jason Bartlett is a .280 hitter who doesn't walk or hit for power, but he deserved almost all of the credit he got for making the Rays a better fielding team.
- Lefty reliever J.P. Howell had a stellar rookie season. It's hard enough get Rookie of the Year buzz when you pitch in middle relief, let alone when Longoria was also eligible.
- Setup man Grant Balfour is developing a slider. Matt Stairs squared up on for a double one of the first times Wheeler brought it out in a game, so it's work-in-progress, just like Brian Griffin's novel.
- Rightfielder Matt Joyce needs some fine-tuning. How fast he comes along will be a major story of the Tampans' season.
- Gabe Gross and Gabe Kapler make one semi-halfway decent rightfielder. Rays fans should start calling them Gabe Ruth.
- Rocco Baldelli decamped to Boston, but they still have plenty of New Englanders who probably don't mind beating the Red Sox. First baseman Carlos Peña is from Haverhill, Massachusetts. Righty reliever Dan Wheeler is from Rhode Island. According to today's St. Pete Times, his sister just named her newborn son Brady (let's hope it wasn't after you-know-how on the New England Patriots).
- The Rays are not the new A's, but Jonah Keri has a book coming out about the team. Keri's taken the Rays to win the AL East.
- Longoria will be featured in MLB's new marketing campaign, "This Is Beyond Baseball," which has got to be a first for a Rays player.
- As if following baseball isn't enough of an eggheady echo chamber, the Rays even have an Ivy League on the playing roster, outfielder Fernando Perez. You think he's fast going from first to third on a hit, wait until you see him do the Sunday crossword.
- Shortstop Tim Beckham, the No. 1 overall pick in 2008, is beginning his full-season debut at Bowling Green in the Midwest League. People will be debating the merits of taking him over Buster Posey (the catcher whom the Giants took No. 2) for the next 15 years.
- One of Upton's B-R.com comparables is Dutch Zwilling, who is the last player alphabetically in the Baseball Encyclopedia.
With a last name such as Zwilling, wasn't a nickname like Dutch kind of redundant, even back in 1913-14 when he hit 29 homers over two seasons to forever reign as the home run king of the short-lived Federal League?
- Yurendell DeCaster, who helped the Netherlands make its run to the second round of the World Baseball Classic, signed to play with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. This has nothing to do with the Rays, other than they were his first major-league organization.
- It probably won't happen, but a Mets-Rays World Series would mean many rehashings of how Tampans got Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano back at the trade deadline in 2004. Zambrano was last seen in the majors posting a 10-something ERA for the Orioles and Jays in '07.
The other two players in that deal were Jose Diaz and Bartolome Fortunato, who actually ended up pitching for the Calgary Vipers last season. The Mets got taken on that one.
- This is what a pennant looks like, in case any Seattle Mariners fans need a visual aid:
- They are the spiritual descendants of the early '90s Expos. Exciting young team, talent out the wazoo, smart front office ugly stadium.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Batter up: Tampa Bay Rays
It's that mystical, wonderful time of year where you commit to a baseball team who you know fully well won't win. In honour of an popular Internet meme, we'll present 25 things that are tangentially about each team. At bat: The Tampa Bay Rays.