Monday, March 25, 2019

Tampa Bay Rays 2019 season preview

Ryan Yarbrough. Photo from SBNation


             In mid-May 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays unleashed a strategy that would change baseball. That strategy was the "opener". Essentially, they would start the game with a reliever pitching an inning or two. Then, they would either continue on with their relievers or have pitchers like Ryan Yarbrough, Ryne Stanek, Diego Castillo or Yonny Chirinos pitch multiple innings. The Rays plan to utilize the strategy again. The offseason was once again filled with interesting decisions, as the Rays try to find the best underrated players out there.

             Offseason additions: RHP Charlie Morton, INF Yandy Diaz, C Mike Zunino, OF Avisail Garcia, OF Guillermo Heredia, RHP Emilio Pagan, OF Jake Smolinski, UT Emilio Bonifacio, LHP Ryan Merrit, LHP Oliver Drake

             Offseason subtractions: RHP Sergio Romo, 1B CJ Cron, OF Mallex Smith, OF Carlos Gomez, 1B/OF Jake Bauers, C Jesus Sucre

              Rotation
Only four pitchers started in every game they played in for the Rays last season. Two of them, Chris Archer and Nathan Eovaldi, were traded at the deadline. Archer landed another one of those four players, Tyler Glasnow. The fourth pitcher was Blake Snell. Snell had a 1.89 ERA, with 221 strikeouts in 180.2 innings, earning AL Cy Young honors at age 25. Glasnow had a 4.20 ERA after the trade. The team signed Charlie Morton to a two year deal. 2018 was the best year of Morton's career, making his first all-star appearance and finished with a 3.13 ERA, plus 201 strikeouts in 167 innings. The final two spots will likely go to openers. Despite only officially starting six games, Ryan Yarbrough was virtually a starter, pitching in 147.1 innings. Same with Yonny Chirinos who in 18 games (seven starts) pitched 89.2 innings. Ryne Stanek and Diego Castillo are opener options. Both Jake Faria and Austin Pruitt are natural starters, but could join the rotation for openers. They'll start 2019 in AAA.

                Bullpen
Swiss Army Knife reliever Sergio Romo went south to Miami. Romo made five starts, and converted 25 saves. Closing duties will likely be split between Jose Alvarado and Chaz Roe, who combined for nine saves, and were two of the few Rays relievers to not make a start. Stanek and Castillo, along with Yarbrough and Chirinos, will enter games from the bullpen. Lefty Jalen Beeks, acquired for Eovaldi, can also go multiple innings. Wilmer Font allowed five runs in 27 innings in 2018. The final spot is between lefty Adam Kolarek and righty Emilio Pagan, the latter acquired in a three tean trade this offseason.

                 Catching
The Rays traded speedy center fielder Mallex Smith to the Mariners for catcher Mike Zunino. Zunino hit 20 home runs in 113 games last year, and is one of the best power hitting catchers. But, he has a career batting average of .207 and a .682 OPS. Michael Perez is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster. He hit .284 in limited time last year.

                  Infield
The Rays recently extended utility infielder Brandon Lowe, and they still have another utility infielder Daniel Robertson, but both are blocked. Third baseman Matt Duffy will start the season injured. At first will be a platoon between Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Diaz. Diaz was acquired for first baseman Jake Bauers. They will work out Diaz at first base, but he'll start the season at third, his natural position. Choi had a .877 OPS in 49 games for the Rays last season. Second baseman Joey Wendle stole 16 bases and hit .300. Shortstop Willy Adames is primed for a breakout season after hitting 10 home runs and .278 in 85 games in 2018.

                    Outfield
Tommy Pham, acquired in a trade deadline deal, Hit .343 with a .448 OBP that inflated his OPS to 1.071 after the trade. Kevin Kiermaier is a very good defensive center fielder, but again missed time to injuries and could work on his offense. Austin Meadows, also part of the trade with Glasnow, Had a .785 OPS in 59 games last year, his first taste of MLB experience. Only 10 of those games were with the Rays. In 27 games with AAA Durham, the Rays' affiliate, Meadows hit 10 home runs with a .344 average.

                  DH/Bench
The Rays picked up Avisail Garcia, who is the wild card on their team. Garcia hit a career high 19 home runs last year, but his average dropped by nearly 100 points, from .330 to .236. Guillermo Heredia, acquired with Zunino, is the 4th outfielder. Lowe and Robertson are extra infielders, and Perez is the backup catcher.

                   Lineup
CF Kevin Kiermaier
SS Willy Adames
LF Tommy Pham
1B Ji-Man Choi
C Mike Zunino
DH Avisail Garcia
2B Joey Wendle
3B Yandy Diaz
RF Austin Meadows

                     Rotation (last two are openers)
Blake Snell (L)
Charlie Morton (R)
Tyler Glasnow (R)
Ryan Yarbrough (L)
Yonny Chirinos (R)

                     Bullpen
Jose Alvarado (L)
Chaz Roe (R)
Ryne Stanek (R)
Diego Castillo (R)
Jalen Beeks (L)
Wilmer Font (R)
Emilio Pagan (R)

                      Bench
UT Brandon Lowe
UT Daniel Robertson
OF Guillermo Heredia
C Michael Perez

                      Additional Information
Ballpark: Tropicana Field
Manager: Kevin Cash
GM: Erik Neander
World Series Championships: 0
2018 record: 90-72

                      Steal of the Decade
The Rays dealt top starter Matt Garza to the Cubs, along with Zac Rosscup and Fernando Perez to the Cubs in 2011 for Chris Archer, Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer. Garza had a 3.65 ERA in three seasons in Chicago, though fell off after a trade to Texas. Rosscup had a 5.32 ERA in three seasons for the Cubs, and is now a part of the Mariners bullpen after bouncing from team to team. Perez never played again after the trade. In return, the Rays got Chirinos, currently the Astros' starting catcher, but played in just 20 games as a Ray. Both Guyer and Fuld were fourth outfielders in Tampa, combing for eight season for the Rays. Archer would emerge as the ace of the Rays, with a 3.69 ERA in seven seasons. He was purely dominant from 2013-2015, though his ERA gradually raised after that. He would be traded at the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline for three players, including Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow, who could be key parts of the 2019 team.

                        Prediction
The Rays are always a surprise team. With a good pitching staff and an okay offense, they could make the playoffs in a bad American League.

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