A.L. East Prediction: Tampa Rays
It’s almost the same team that went to the World Series… almost.
Why does Major League Baseball give franchises to the cities that can’t support their teams? For the Tampa Bay Rays, Covid attendance restrictions basically mean the same attendance as a normal year. This, I guess, would mean equal attendance from stadium to stadium and less of an advantage for the home teams when the Rays are on the road. So, as your favorite Covid apologist, we hereby celebrate the virus for its elimination of the home field advantage.
And so much for the Blake Snell advantage (2018 Cy Young Award-winner, 3.21 career ERA). He’s gone via trade and leaves a sizeable hole to fill. Even with the trade with San Diego, Tampa is still poised to be relevant, but the fire sale may begin if the team falters. When Tampa trades likely rookie of the year Randy Arozarena then Rays fans will know the jig is up at least for this rebuild-title run-dismantle cycle. The Rays received minor leaguers in pitchers Luis Patino and Cole Wilcox and catcher Blake Hunt. Hunt might develop into a 20-homer type guy. He cut his error percentage in half the last two seasons. Wilcox got all of four games in this spring at Georgia Tech and did well. Patino is intriguing. He’s been a very effective starter at every stop in the minors, but the Padres called him up to serve as a reliever last year. A 5.19 ERA would indicate that wasn’t a good fit. Catcher Francisco Mejia was the fourth trade piece. He would seem to be the kind of guy you’d like to have behind home plate. He had just two errors in 60 games in 2019 and hit .265 in while playing an additional 19 games at first base, DH and the outfield. But San Diego wouldn’t give him any more playing time than that.
On the mound, Tyler Glasnow had a year more befitting a third starter last year (4.01 ERA), but was dominant the year before. How he rebounds will be key. Chris Archer made two All-Star games with Tampa during his first stint with the team. He’s back and will be counted on to do as well as Glasnow did last year if not better. Lefty Rich Hill brings a great competitive fire to go with a curve ball and blister issues. He could be the difference in the Rays’ season.
In the batter’s box, the Rays look a lot like the team that went to the World Series last year. Outfielders Arozarena, Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Lowe and Austin Meadows return. Meadows almost has to improve over an awful 2020 campaign .205 batting average). Kiermaier has also been dreadful the last three seasons. At least when he gets on he can steal a base. Yes, teams still do that.
Ji Man Choi is out for awhile at first base but Mike Brosseau hit really well last year. Willy Adames and Joey Wendle are capable at the plate. In the field though, Adames’ fielding percentage fell by more than 20 points last year. Tampa hopes that is an anomaly. Wendle’s glove isn’t the greatest but he can play several positions.
Their schedule is brutal. Assuming norms for home field advantage and expected feasts on the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, I see 85 wins at most. If they can make the playoffs, though, look out. They’re built a lot like the San Francisco Giants when they snuck in and won a title. Playoffs? Probably. World Series? Nope.