Take me out to the Ball Game, Take me out to the crowd, Buy me some peanuts and some cracker jack, I don't care if I never get back...
Because residents of the Villages of Citrus Hills come to Florida from all over the country, there are a number of different fan bases for a variety of Major League Baseball teams. That said, the closest team to our community is in Tampa Bay, so many members have adopted the Rays as their second team.
Over the past decade, we have been fortunate to have the pleasure of watching one of the most creative baseball front offices in the history of the game accomplish what was once thought to be impossible: actually compete with the Yankees and Red Sox.
After losing manager Joe Maddon and general manager Andrew Friedman in recent years, there was some concern that the team would fall apart. But exactly the opposite appears to be happening as they evolved yet again last year by introducing a new strategy to get the most out of the back end of their rotation.
With the Blue Jays as the reigning champs and the Yankees and Red Sox both getting a lot better this winter, the American League East is definitely going to be one of the toughest divisions in baseball this summer. But the Rays have quite a few reasons to be optimistic. Here are five that stick out the most:
The biggest move that the Rays made this offseason was shipping their lights-out set-up man Jake McGee to Colorado in exchange for slugger Corey Dickerson. If you spent any amount of time watching the Rays last season, you know that scoring runs was their biggest issue. Adding a power bat like Dickerson can change that in a hurry.
Of course, there is also some concern that Dickerson’s slugging numbers were inflated by playing in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field in that thin Colorado air. However, Dickerson has talked openly all spring about how motivated he is to prove that he can hit for power anywhere. If he can do it in Tampa, it should be a fun summer!
The Elite Rotation
After dealing away stud pitchers like David Price and James Shields over the past few seasons, you would expect the Rays to really be struggling to find quality starters to replace those arms. Instead, the guys who were left stepped up to post some of the best pitching numbers in all of baseball last season.
Chris Archer delivered ace caliber pitching last season, and is poised to take an even bigger step forward this season. Following him in the rotation will be Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, and Erasmo Ramirez. They have Matt Moore, who returned from Tommy John surgery late last year penciled in as the fifth starter, and are also expecting Alex Cobb to return from the same surgery at some point later in the year.
Kevin Kiermaier’s Defense
There are quite a few very well respected baseball people who have gone on record saying that Kevin Kiermaier is the best defensive centerfielder in the game today. Since they are known for being an extremely analytical front office, the Rays are very fond of the fact that his advanced defensive metrics are actually double those of the next best outfielders.
What does all that mean when you show up to watch a game? This kid is FAST! He has the ability to track down fly balls like no one you have ever seen before; and that alone is worth the price of admission on most nights at Tropicana Field.
Where there is a lot of optimism on many parts of this team, the bullpen is one area that is filled with uncertainty.
Last year, we weren’t sure what to expect either. Then closer Brad Boxberger stepped up and saved 41 games with Jake McGee taking care of the 8th inning duties. This year, McGee is gone and Boxberger is going to miss the first 1-2 months of the season.
One thing this front office has shown year after year is that they can piece together a quality bullpen out of parts that appear to be less than adequate. It will be very exciting to see how they figure out this year’s pen.
The Big Trade
Another thing that the Rays are known for is pulling off the big time trade during the season. Whether they are trading away aging veterans to acquire pieces for the future or dealing overhyped prospects for major league talent, they always seem to come out on top of a big trade during the season.
There are a few candidates that could be moved this year if the season doesn’t start off well, but you never know what this front office is going to do on the trade market, so it is always exciting to see what happens during the year.
You might find yourself becoming a big fan of the Rays, or maybe you’re just heading down to Tampa because your favorite team is in town. Either way, there are going to be a lot of reasons to visit Tropicana Field this summer. And look for those Rays to make some noise in the AL East this year!
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