Looking at the Red Sox opposition – Tampa Bay Rays
As a Red Sox fan, there are certain mysteries in my life, such as the refrigerator light, the semicolon, and how the Tampa Bay Rays win year after year? In 2021 it was a division crown and 100 wins. In the playoffs, the Rays lost to the Red Sox, which was a pleasant surprise.
The Rays have a steady stream of talent from the minors, and their farm system is usually ranked among the best. This season it is number two in baseball. The Rays also do more with less as their current payroll ranking is 25th in MLB.
This season, I will risk prediction failure and plug in the Rays for second place behind the Blue Jays I recently profiled. The Rays will top Boston in the AL East, but it will be close. It is usually pitching when you talk Rays, but these guys can hit or slug. In 2021 the team hit just .243 but produced 857 runs and slammed 222 home runs.
The offense starts with switch-hitting Wander Franco, who the Rays signed to a deal stretching out ten years. The Rays have been burned in the past with this rare fiscal wanderlust (no pun intended) – just think Matt Moore, but not this time. Franco could be a perennial MVP.
Franco’s DP partner is lefty slugger Brandon Lowe. Lowe carried a high whiff rate (28.6 K%), a low average (.247 in 2021), and plus power with 39 home runs. Third and first are the territory of Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi, but the Rays manager and former Red Sox Kevin Cash will mix and match with the best of them.
The Rays traded away Austin Meadows but what remains is another former Red Sox in outfielder Manuel Margot who the Rays extended. Margot has speed, defensive acumen, and some occasional pop with the bat. Margot may split some significant outfield time with his lefty-hitting counterpart, Brett Phillips.
Centerfield is the defensive domain of one of the best, with lefty-hitting Kevin Kiermaier. As with Margot and Phillips, there is no threat to batting titles, but smart baseball playing within your skillset exists. The last outfield piece is the 2021 playoff home run hero Randy Arozarena. Arozarena has 30+ dinger potential.
Speaking of dingers is catcher Mike Zunino who slammed 33 last season. Zunino doesn’t hit for average (.216/2021) and whiffs a ton (career 34.7 K%), but make a mistake and it is “See Ya!.”
The Rays have solid team defense, good speed, a productive farm system, and a sudden ability to open the pocketbook. Open the wallet they did with Corey Kluber as I look at the Rays staff.
Kluber is a former CYA, and the Rays have recently demonstrated a willingness to take on a veteran arm that has seen better days. Rich Hill and Charlie Morton are two recent examples that worked out rather well. Kluber appears healthy, and a return to form could be a double-digit win total.
Last season the Rays lost towering (6’8″) Tyler Glasnow to TJ Surgery and will miss all of the 2022 season. That seems to fall into the “No big deal” category with the Rays. As usual, the rotation and bullpen will carry the day.
Lefties Shane McClanahan (10-6) and Ryan Yarbrough (9-7) should be fairly regular in the rotation, but one never knows with the Rays pitching philosophy. Luis Patino and Drew Rasmussen will be in the rotation mix, but the real action for the Rays is their bullpen.
The Rays had the best ‘pen in the AL for 2021 and expect little change. Righty Pete Fairbanks and his heat (97.2) will be out the first half of the season. The closer role will be in the right hand of Andrew Kittredge (9-3, 1.88); lefty Josh Fleming can spot start and provide multiple innings, ditto to that for Matt Wisler, and then comes the interesting part.
What do Chris Mazza, Jalen Beeks, and Jeffrey Springs all have in common? If you said former members of the Red Sox, you win! Springs is especially noteworthy. Springs did little with Boston but provided quality in 2021 for the Rays going 5-1 in 43 games.
The worst part for the Rays is playing in a stadium that cries out for demolition. For those in need of trivia, in the baseball movie Major League a model of a ballpark is shown, and that was a model of Tropicana Field. At least you can get Blue Bell ice cream.
In a tight AL East race, the Rays will barely move ahead of the Red Sox. That said, the Rays have a way of historically proving folks wrong, which may happen once again. The team is solid in all aspects of the game and has a long-term centerpiece in Franco.