Sunday, April 04, 2010

Jusssst a bit outside: the Tampa Bay Rays

Duty calls to preview the MLB season, providing up to 30 things somewhat about each of the 30 teams, even the sucky ones. At bat: the Tampa Bay Rays.
  1. Tremendous upside: The Rays still put runs on the board last season (803) despite centrefielder B.J. Upton and DH Pat Burrell producing very little and Evan Longoria going in the tank for two months in the middle of the season. They are not that far from the top.

  2. They know the odds: Stuart Sternberg (a Jays fan's favourite MLB owner, insofar it's nice to see a team where the owner has a name and a face) also wants a return to a balanced schedule and expanded playoffs. It's worth sharing Stu's sentiments with all the fearless defenders of the status quo who say, "Look what the Rays did." Even the Rays know it can't happen all the time.

  3. Over-under: 89½ wins.

  4. Take the ... Over, slippery slope that is the AL East be damned.

  5. The thinking fan's team: Rays coordinator of baseball operations James Click said last December, "The less sure writers are of their own superiority, the higher up my list they go."

  6. Get your anti-ESPN rants ready: Just in case Longoria has a MVP-worthy season and gets hosed in the balloting due to the influence of the worldwide leader.

  7. A for Awesome, Z for Zobrist: Their best hitter last season, Ben Zobrist,, didn't even have a regular fielding position.

  8. It's called elasticity: The Evil Empires have better starting rotations, but there's a little more deviation in either direction with Tampa Bay's Fab Five of James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis, who as you know are all between 24-28 years old. They could blow sky-high, or pitch T-Bay to the playoffs.

  9. Possibly encouraging sign: They didn't burn out the bullpen last season despite winning 13 less games than in 2008. That might help with their bounce-back.

  10. Heading to the dark side: Pretty much everyone assumes leftfielder Carl Crawford, a free agent to be will end up with the Yankees. Don't get mad; it's like journalists who jump at the money available in public relations, plus the Double-C could continue abusing Jays pitching.

  11. It's more than a one-year window: The media will probably revive the next-year's-too-late rubric if the Rays are in contention, but they kind of have outfielder Desmond Jennings waiting and four pitchers among the top 40 prospects in the game. That somewhat balances out the belt-tightening that's in store for next season.

  12. Dwelling too much on small things: Closer Rafael Soriano had a lousy spring, but didn't the Rays win the pennant two seasons ago with no regular closer?

  13. Understanding Upton: The centrefielder's home run outburst in the '08 playoffs left everyone salivating, but he's more of that all-around hitter who'll put a few over the fence just by being good. At least that's according to his former youth league coach, Michael Cuddyer (yes, the same one who plays for the Minnesota Twins).

  14. Well, it is Florida: Having Sean Rodriguez and Zobrist rotate at second base is naturally being called a "time share," rather than the traditional platoon.

  15. X factor: Shortstop Jason Bartlett carrying over some of that hitting awesomeness from '09.

  16. CUZ, that's why: Crawford, Upton and Zobrist, if he plays right field most of the time, will need a nickname.

  17. Out on a limb: Peter Gammons is picking Upton to be AL MVP.

  18. The best team no one goes to see: The Rays might not sell out their home opener, thanks in part to a double-digit unemployment rate and having a stadium that is in St. Petersburg, not Tampa. Speaking as an Ottawa resident, is there any other team which refuses to acknowledge the location of its arena or stadium is a problem?

  19. He's hip. He's cool. He's 56: It's passé to point out "look who's using Twitter," but you have to like manager Joe Maddon reviewed a California Pinot Noir by calling it "stupid good."

  20. If you guys could hit a little, it'd help: Their catchers hit .233/.276/.349 last season, which explains picking up Kelly Shoppach to time-share with Dioner Navarro.

  21. Potential drama: What to do if Burrell struggles and one of the younger, inexpensive hitters rates time at DH.

  22. Who knew qualm could be used a verb? Outfielder Fernando Perez is an Ivy League grad (Columbia), describing how the style of glove he was wearing contributed to a wrist injury last season: "I never, ever qualm over equipment."

  23. The endless debate: Whether taking Price over the Orioles' Matt Wieters with the top pick in the 2007 draft was the right move.

  24. Baseball geek brain candy: Noticing Baseball Prospectus 2010 lists Rays farmhand Alex Colome as a left-hander when he's actually a righty. In fairness, he's listed immediately after left-hander Matthew Moore in the prospect ranking, so we're all human.

  25. So God-fearing even Tim Tebow is put off: Zobrist's son is named Zion. As in Zion Zobrist.

    Zarley Zalapski would approve.

  26. Taking this third-rail thing a little too far: When asked recently "Leno or Letterman?", owner Sternberg said "Kimmel."

  27. Expos reunion: 1980s-era 'Spos Dave Martinez and Tom Foley are on the coaching staff, which creates nostalgia for those who started following baseball just before Nos Amours vanished from English-language broadcast TV.

  28. Jinx! Sports Illustrated is calling for them to lose to the Phillies in the World Series.

  29. PECOTA says: 92-70, second AL East (wild card), 820 runs scored, 705 runs against.

  30. In English, please: Quoth Bono circa 1992, "We shall continue to abuse our position and fuck up the mainstream."

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