2020 MLB Preview: Tampa Rays

Colin Poche could be called upon to be the guy to seal the deal in save situations. MLB

Rays’ Colin Poche could be called upon to be the guy to seal the deal in save situations.

As good as the Yankees look this year, the Rays, with an infusion of talent and offense from the Padres, should be even better.

Was 2019 Tampa’s best shot at winning a World Series? Assuming we even have a season this year, the answer is no. 2020 is Tampa’s best shot at winning it all.

I know outfielder Tommy Pham was a Sports Illustrated darling just a few seasons ago during a breakout season with the Cardinals, but I’ve never been a huge fan, or should I say, “pham.” I like him. He’s a good all-around player. I just don’t love him. That said, his .273 batting average was a heck of a lot better than Hunter Renfroe’s .216. Renfroe, also an outfielder, goes to Tampa from the San Diego Padres. But Renfroe had 12 more home runs and three more outfield assists. What does it mean? Renfroe could be looking at a platoon situation and pinch-hitting role. He hit a homer in every 10 at-bats vs left-handed pitching and one in every 15 vs righties. He also didn’t strike out nearly as much and walked more against lefties. Same idea goes for Manuel Margot who hit 130 points better against lefties and infielder Jose Martinez (trade from the Cardinals) who hit 75 points better, but still hit a respectable .254 against righties.

Plug those guys into situations where Ji-Man Choi, Brandon Lowe and Kevin Kiermaier would be coming up against lefties in high-pressure situations and opposing pitchers are going to be sweating bullets.

Speaking of pitching, Tampa’s led the majors in 2019 in earned run average and fewest-home-runs allowed, which is proof the Rays are outsmarting the rest of Major League Baseball. They finished second in the American League behind Houston in walks-hits-per-innings pitched, and batting-average against. Charlie Morton is perhaps the best second starter in the game (3.05 ERA, 240 Ks in 194 ⅔ innings) and isn’t a bad number one if Blake Snell (1.89 ERA. 1.03 WHIP in 2018) doesn’t return to that form. Snell missed time with “loose bodies” in the elbow (grosssss, bodies belong in the basement) and a broken toe.

(Yonny Chirinos (26)  Ryan Yarbrough (28) make a pretty good three-four combo. Is Tyler Glasnow as good as his 1.78 ERA in 12 starts last year would indicate? Maybe, but the years before, the ERA was over four.

Closers seem to be a mystery for some clubs and a dime-a-dozen for others. Tampa shipped Emilio Pagan (2.31 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 20 saves) to San Diego. The bullpen is full of inexperience arms with a total of 24 saves last year and using closers as openers reduces the number  of relievers you have available. But the Rays have already proven that the Little League system of quick hooks and everyone plays when needed works at the big league level. 

Colin Poche could be the guy to replace Pagan. Poche was second on the team in batting-average against and strikeout percentage. Unfortunately for Tampa, he was also second in home run percentage per at-bat and had the second-worst ERA (4.70). I have faith in the coaching staff to rectify that.

Given a 162 game season, I don’t see a weakness. This team could, and maybe should, win the whole thing… if there is a whole thing: 104 wins.

Update: a shorter season doesn’t benefit the better teams, but the Rays’ final 60 games have a lot of easy targets. Coronavirus 60 game season prediction: 42-18

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