Baseball

Tampa Bay Rays Spring Training Preview

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The Tampa Bay Rays generated some interesting conversations when they started utilizing their "opener" strategy early on in the 2018 campaign. Over the course of the season, that revolutionary approach to the game propelled the Rays to an astounding 90-win season.  

That unique strategy will be making a return to Tampa Bay in 2019, as will nearly all of the key pieces from that 90-win season. And when you factor in some of the new additions and young arms returning from injury, expectations are higher than ever for the Rays this summer.  

If you are looking to join in early on what could be a playoff caliber baseball team, we have all the key information you are going to need to know about the 2019 Tampa Bay Rays.  

Rock Solid Foundation 

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The key in 2018 was the emergence of Blake Snell as a true ace pitcher. Not only was Snell the best pitcher on the roster in 2018, he was also the best pitcher in the American League and comes into 2019 as the reigning A.L. Cy Young Award winner.  

Snell will benefit from the support of a strong defense that is anchored by centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who might be one of the best defensive players in the majors.

In addition to Snell's pitching and Kiermaier's defense, Rays fans can expect to see plenty of pop in the middle of the batting order thanks to slugger Tommy Pham, who was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals right at the trade deadline last season.  

The Rays also acquired pitcher Tyler Glasnow from Pittsburgh at the deadline, and his improved command produced impressive results down the stretch. If he can build on that success moving forward, we can expect a solid year from him in 2019.  

New Faces in Tampa Bay 

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In order to build on their successful 2018 season, the Rays made some moves to improve their roster during the offseason. The biggest of those moves was inking pitcher Charlie Morton to a two-year deal. Morton will slot in right behind Snell as the number two starter.  

Another free agent acquisition that could make an impact is the addition of Avisail Garcia on a one-year deal that is laced with incentives. Garcia is a proven major leaguer who was an All-Star in 2017, so there is plenty of reason to believe he can contribute in a meaningful way.  

The front office was also active on the trade market during the winter, which resulted in the acquisition of catcher Mike Zunino from Seattle and infielder Yandy Diaz from Cleveland. Zunino brings a big bat to the middle of the Rays order, and Diaz is someone the Rays have liked for years.  

Returning Young Arms 

In addition to a solid core and some key additions, the Rays are also going to benefit from the return of a number of young pitchers throughout the season.  

Pitchers Brent Honeywell, Jose De Leon, and Anthony Banda are all scheduled to make their return from Tommy John surgery at some point during the year. All three have the ability to earn a rotation spot upon their return, which could eventually make the "opener" strategy unnecessary.  

Barring any significant injuries, the 2019 Tampa Bay Rays are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the American League. And while they might not be talented enough to take on the Yankees and the Red Sox for the A.L. East pennant just yet, they are almost certainly going to be a serious contender for one of the two Wild Card spots.  

There are going to be a lot of very exciting games happening at The Trop this year, so make sure you plan on heading down to see the Rays as much as possible.

Rays Tickets: 4 Day Trips with the Vacationers Club

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We're only a few weeks into the 2018 Major League Baseball season, but our hometown Tampa Bay Rays are already struggling for all of the reasons we predicted in our season preview. Despite the team's struggles, they are still going to be involved in one of the most exciting division races of the season…they just won't be competing to win.

As the summer progresses, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are going to be firing hard at each other for the top spot. While the Yankees probably have the better team overall, the Red Sox jumped out to a quick lead after their hot start this month.

As these elite teams compete for the 2018 American League East pennant, each of them will make multiple trips down to Tampa to take on the Rays.

The Citrus Hills Vacationers Club has already put together plans to attend four of those games over the next few months. Let's take a quick look at what we might expect to see each time one of the top two teams in the division comes to town!

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Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox - Thursday, May 24 - 7:10 pm

The first club trip down to Tropicana Field will be held on Thursday, May 24 for the last game in a series of three that will start earlier that week.

The Red Sox are likely to be favored in any game against the Rays that Chris Archer

isn't pitching, and we can also expect to see some exciting offense anytime a lineup that features studs like Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez comes to town.

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Tampa Bay Rays vs. New York Yankees - Saturday, June 23 - 4:10 pm

The New York Yankees will make their first trip to Tampa in the middle of June, and there is a good chance that they will have caught up to the Red Sox in the division race by then.

With power hitters like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez hitting in the heart of the lineup, referring to the Yankees as the Bronx Bombers is going to be very appropriate this season.

This is also a free jersey giveaway game where everyone in attendance will receive a Rays/Devil Rays reversible jersey!

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Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox - Sunday, August 26 - 1:10 pm

The Red Sox will be back in town for an early afternoon game on Sunday, August 26. And if we know the Red Sox, there will likely be some trade deadline additions to their team this time around.  Depending on where they are sitting relative to the Yankees and who becomes available at the deadline, there could be some real excitement to see in this series.

Sundays are kid’s days at the Trop, so the promotional calendar will feature DJ Kitty Slippers for all kids attending.

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Tampa Bay Rays vs. New York Yankees - Thursday, September 27 - 1:10 pm

Before closing out their season with a home series against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rays will host the New York Yankees once last time in a weekday series that could see them clinching the AL East pennant on any given day.

This could be a chance to see the dramatic conclusion of an epic pennant race, and it could happen right here in sunny Florida!

 

Each of these Citrus Hills Vacationers Club trips to see the Tampa Bay Rays includes a ticket to the game in a group section, roundtrip transportation, and a free Rays hat. Make sure that you call the Activity Center to reserve your spot for one or all of these trips soon!

 

Where to Catch the Best Spring Training Games Near the Villages of Citrus Hills

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It might feel like just yesterday that the Houston Astros clinched their first World Series title, but the 2018 Major League Baseball season is coming up quickly on our calendars.  Spring training has begun, and there will be competitive games happening across the state of Florida for much of the next two months.

Six different teams make their winter homes near the Villages of Citrus Hills, and we have put together a few reasons that each are worth visiting during the next few weeks. So, whether you are a passionate baseball fan or just looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon, we will have you up to speed when it comes to the spring training games happening nearby.

New York Yankees, Tampa

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It's no secret that our hometown Rays suddenly become second-class citizens in Tampa while the Yankees are in town for spring training. And there will be plenty of excitement at George Steinbrenner Field this winter after the Bronx Bombers came up just short of another World Series appearance in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

To build on the talented young core that the Yankees put together last season, they went out and traded for power-hitting outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who will now team with sluggers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez to create one of the most intimidating offenses that baseball has seen in years.

Philadelphia Phillies, Clearwater

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After the Philadelphia Eagles shocked the world by winning the Super Bowl with a backup quarterback last month, anything seems possible in the City of Brotherly Love this year. However, a deep playoff run still seems a bit ambitious for a Phillies team that was one of the worst in all of baseball last season.

One bright spot that will be worth watching this spring will be outfielder Rhys Hoskins, who came out of nowhere in the middle of last summer to smash 18 home runs in only 50 games. If Hoskins can continue to develop his skills while other key players like Maikel Franco also improve, the Phillies could be one of the most pleasant early surprises of the year.

Toronto Blue Jays, Dunedin

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The Toronto Blue Jays are another local spring training destination where you won't find many honest World Series believers. But with that said, there is still going to be plenty of excitement wherever the Blue Jays go with power hitters like John Donaldson and Justin Smoak in the lineup.

Donaldson proved that he is still one of the best hitters in baseball last season while Smoak had a stunning breakout campaign. Those two have taken over the power hitting from aging slugger Jose Bautista, who will find himself in a position battle with Curtis Granderson and Randal Grichuk this spring.

 

 Detroit Tigers, Lakeland

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With long-time veterans like Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Upton all finding new homes over the course of the 2017 season, the Tigers that reported to Lakeland this winter have a completely different look from the ones we are used to seeing.

What the Tigers are counting on is continued production from aging veterans like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. They are also

looking for guys like James McCann and Nick Castellanos to step into leadership roles in the clubhouse.

If those things happen, and some of the young players received in trades last season blossom into major league prospects, the Tigers could actually be one of the most fun teams to watch this spring.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Bradenton

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The Pirates shocked the baseball world this winter when they dumped ace pitcher Gerrit Cole and former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen for pennies on the dollar in trades with the Astros and the Giants. Those sudden moves created some friction in the clubhouse that will be the biggest story of spring training in Bradenton this year.

Players like Josh Harrison have made it clear that they are not happy with the front office, but we have seen manager Clint Hurdle work miracles with the Buccos before. The big question will be whether any of the players that general manager Neil Huntington received as compensation for Cole and McCutchen can contribute in a meaningful way. If so, those contributions need to start right away.

Baltimore Orioles, Sarasota

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Orioles fans can understand what the Pirates fans are going through as they have watched their front office attempt to shop stud third baseman Manny Machado for the better part of the past year now.

Fortunately for them, Machado is still around, and he is planning to move back to shortstop for the upcoming season. How he adjusts to his old position will be interesting to watch this spring.

We will also be keeping a close eye on the performances of center fielder Adam Jones and closer Zach Britton. Along with Machado, both are slated to be unrestricted free agents following the season, so all three will be playing hard for new contracts and will become potential trade targets in July.

No matter how good or bad they might look on paper, every major league team has plenty of interesting things to watch for during spring training. And with these six teams all making their winter homes within a short drive of the Villages of Citrus Hills, we recommend scheduling a visit with each of them over the next few weeks.