Tagged: AL East

Four Biggest Barriers Standing in the Way of Rays Division Title

It’s been a rough start to the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. Anemic offense has been the theme of the first two weeks of the season, which shows in the Rays’ 5-9 last-place record.

But of course, it’s still very early, and anything can happen in the next 149 games. Life in the AL East is never easy, however, as the Rays have plenty obstacles to overcome in duration of the season if they want to be crowned division champs in October.

Without further adieu, here are the four biggest barriers for the Rays standing in the way of a division title.

Heavy Competition

The Rays have their work cut out for them this year, as they compete in what is maybe the toughest divisions in all of sports.

The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles are all potential playoff teams in 2013. Each one of them is a definite threat to a division title, but the Rays have a good enough team to compete with all four of these talented clubs.

There are a few things we’ve learned about Tampa Bay’s competitors after the first two weeks of the season. If one thing’s for sure, the Yankees are no team to overlook. Despite having a huge chunk of their roster out with injury, the Yanks stand at a surprising 8-5, as they’ve been finding ways to win ballgames while on the mend.

Once they get the rest of their team back—which includes Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Michael Pineda—they should be very dangerous.

The Red Sox didn’t come into the season with high expectations at all, but have started off the season very strongly with a first-place 10-4 record. Boston’s rotation was supposed to be the team’s main weak spot, but has shockingly been outstanding thus far. Their rotation has been by far the best in the division and probably the best in the American League, posting a 2.30 ERA and a 3.45 FIP.

The Orioles have began to prove that their 2012 success was not a fluke. They’ve played solid baseball and appear to have a pretty well-rounded team. The O’s are a team to watch out for if Chris Davis continues to put up big-time numbers at the DH spot.

As for Blue Jays, it’s been a disappointing start for them. As bad as they look right now, they’re a team that can turn things around quickly with that star-studded roster. Jose Reyes’ ankle injury, however, will be a big blow for them until he returns after the All-Star break.

The Offense

The Rays’ offense has been flat-out awful in the first two weeks of the regular season. With a wOBA of .277 and a wRC+ of 77, they are currently the worst hitting team in the American League.

Outside of Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Kelly Johnson, who’ve all had solid starts to the year, nobody in the lineup has given the Rays any kind of significant production offensively.

Lack of power is one of the main issues for Tampa Bay, as they’ve posted just a .113 ISO. Another major concern is the how much runners the Rays are stranding on base. They’ve had a very tough time getting the man in, hitting just .192 with RISP.

Although the offense is very worrying for Rays fans at the moment, there is an optimistic way of looking at it: It will more than likely only get better from here.

Designated hitter Luke Scott has been out with a calf injury since spring training and has yet to play this season. Once he gets back, the lineup will surely be more potent with Scott in and Sam Fuld out.

As the season progresses, the Rays will also get a boost from their minor league system. Wil Myers should be terrific addition later in the year, and Brandon Guyer could also contribute.

Injuries 

In 2012, the injury bug was the largest barrier that stood in the way of a third division title for the Rays. Evan Longoria’s hamstring tear highlighted a plethora of injuries suffered by a very banged-up ball club.

So far this season, the Rays have done a pretty good job avoiding the DL. Luke Scott is the only player who has missed any time at all this year due to injury.

For this team to function properly, the entire team is going to have to stay relatively healthy throughout the season. I don’t see the Rays winning the division as a possibility if they’re hit with injury issues again.

Prospect Development

Tampa Bay has a handful of prospects who could be a key part of the team later this season.

Wil Myers, who is arguably baseball’s top hitting prospect, may be the Rays’ X-factor once he’s called up to the majors. He appears to be about ready for The Show, but it’s possible he won’t make his MLB debut until July due to financial reasons.

Whenever he is called up, his immediate impact will be crucial, especially with the lineup as weak as it is.

Outfielder Brandon Guyer and middle infielders Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham are other position player prospects who could all see big league action this year. All three have the potential to bolster both the Rays’ offensive and defensive depth down the stretch.

the Rays have probably more pitchers on the verge of breaking into the majors this season than they do hitters. Chris Archer—the organization’s top upper-level pitching prospect—looks to be ready to take over a spot in the rotation once the time comes. This time, he’ll likely stay there for good.

The development of these Triple-A prospects will definitely come to play in this year’s pennant race. They Rays might need as many minor league contributions as they can get in order to win the AL East.

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Ranking the Rays’ New-Look Rotation in the Tough AL East

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Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by great starting pitching over the past few years. Although the rotation has had a bit of a different look each season, the overall result has been positive year after year.

The secret to the Rays’ starting pitching success is homegrown talent, which is the reason why many are expecting the Rays’ rotation to have yet another excellent season in 2013. No organization develops young pitchers into quality major league starters like the Rays do.

In 2013, Tampa is faced with a new challenge: Replacing James Shields—an ace who provides the team with over 200 innings.

With Shields, the Rays had the best rotation in all of baseball last season. Without him, it’ll be very tough to be as dominant.

The starting five will be led by Cy Young Award winner David Price, followed by Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb. The fifth spot in the rotation will be competed for by four pitchers—Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona), Jeff Niemann, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi.

The Rays have eight starters in the mix that would make the starting rotation on almost all MLB clubs, and not many teams—if any—can say that.

Tampa Bay is not the only team in the AL East that’ll show off their arms in 2013, though, as the division will only get tougher this year. There are some exciting new starting pitching additions—most notably on the Blue Jays—that aren’t going to make Rays hitters’ lives any easier.

Without further delay, here’s my ranking of the five AL East rotations.

5. Boston Red Sox

Starting pitching has been by far Boston’s biggest weakness in recent years. They struggled mightily in the department last year, posting a 5.19 ERA and a 4.69 FIP.

The rotation will have to make up for the key loss of Josh Beckett, but will get some help from offseason acquisition Ryan Dempster. The Red Sox will also be without Vincente Padilla and Aaron Cook this season, so starting pitching depth will probably be just as bad as it was last year.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) Jon Lester

2) Clay Buchholz

3) Ryan Dempster

4) Felix Doubront

5) John Lackey

As you can see, there’s a pretty wide range between this rotation’s ceiling and floor of potential.

If the front three pitch to their potential with some sort of consistency, the Sox could have a pretty good trio of starters. On the other hand, none of these starters had a good season in 2012 besides for Dempster, and even he fell apart after being traded to Texas mid-season and making his American League debut.

In addition, Boston’s rotation is an injury or two away from being in a very difficult situation due to their shallowness in the organization starting pitching wise.

The Red Sox really did not due enough this offseason to address their starting pitching issues. The only starter they signed is 35 years old, and is a lot more likely to go on a decline rather than improve.

If I’m GM Ben Cherington right now, I’m making a serious run at veteran Kyle Lohse, who still remains on the free agent market. Another option is trading away a bat for some young starting pitching talent.

4. New York Yankees

Like the Red Sox, starting pitching has been far from a strong point for the Yankees in the past years.

However, they have a great one-two punch in ace C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, who both had excellent seasons last year. Both do a great job eating up innings (posting 200+ each in 2012) and racking up wins (combined for 31 in 2012).

Andy Pettitte joined the staff later in the season, and did a nice job putting up a 2.87 ERA through 75.1 innings pitched.

The Yanks didn’t get much production from Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, though.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) C.C. Sabathia

2) Hiroki Kuroda

3) Andy Pettitte

4) Phil Hughes

5) Ivan Nova

The only two pitchers in this rotation that Yankees fans can really expect to have good years are Sabathia and Kuroda. Pettitte was very impressive in his comeback last season, but his age and recent injury history make him a big question mark.

The biggest concern for the Yankees regarding starting pitching is their depth, which is scary shallow. The only pitcher backing up the starting five is David Phelps, and they don’t have any good farm talent that can help them in the near future.

Michael Pineda would be a big part part of this rotation, but he won’t join the team until later in the year due to the same injury that shelved him for the entire 2012 season.

3. Baltimore Orioles

Starting pitching was definitely not one of the Baltimore’s strong suits during their Cinderella 2012 season. They depended heavily on their outstanding bullpen, which managed to get the job done when the rotation didn’t.

This year the Orioles’ staff could see an upgrade with the acquisition of Jair Jurrjens.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) Jason Hammel

2) Wei-Yin Chen

3) Chris Tillman

4) Miguel Gonzalez

5) Jair Jurrjens

The Orioles have a rotation that could have five solid starters. All of the front four above posted an ERA south of four last year.

As for the fifth spot, it will be competed for by seven different pitchers, and I’m predicting that Jiar Jurrjens wins the job. Jurrjens didn’t play much in 2012 due to injury, but we all saw the kind of damage he’s capable of doing after an ace-like 2011 campaign.

If he returns to full health this season, AL East hitters could be facing yet another menace on the mound.

Depth-wise, the O’s are actually in a pretty good state. Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter could all fill in case someone in the starting five gets hurt or struggles. Phenom prospect Dylan Bundy could also contribute later in the season if needed.

2. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays did more than any team in baseball to bolster their pitching staff this offseason, adding three big-name pitchers in Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.

Toronto fans have to be excited about their rotation this season, especially after having such a weak one last year. The Jays’ rotation was the AL East’s worst in 2012, finishing the year with a 4.82 ERA.

Projected Opening Day Rotation

1) R.A. Dickey

2) Brandon Morrow

3) Mark Buehrle

4) Josh Johnson

5) Ricky Romero

What Toronto has is a rotation of four pitchers (Dickey, Buehrle, Johnson and Romero) who have all been stars at some point in their career not so long ago. Even Brandon Morrow has shown he has star potential, and seems to be heading in that direction after an impressive 2012 season.

The front four of the starting five are expected to be solid in 2013, with Ricky Romero probably being the biggest question mark. Romero came into the 2012 season with sky-high expectations as the team’s ace, but ended up having an atrocious year going 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA (MLB worst for starters with 20-plus starts).

If he can return even close to his 2011 form, nobody should be surprised to see the Jays emerge as the new Beasts of the East.

The Blue Jays’ rotation does have some depth to it as well, with J.A. Happ, Brett Cecil and Brad Lincoln serving as security starters.

1) Tampa Bay Rays

Numbers really tell the story of the Rays’ starting rotation in 2012. Tampa’s staff led the league in ERA (3.34), strikeouts (900) and opponents’ average (.234).

Projected Starting Rotation

1) David Price

2) Jeremy Hellickson

3) Matt Moore

4) Alex Cobb

5) Jeff Niemann/Roberto Hernandez

As I said before, it’s going to be tough for the Rays’ rotation to repeat their amazing performance from last season, especially without James Shields.

Although they may not have their workhorse anymore, what the Rays do have now is Chris Archer, Roberto Hernandez and Jake Odorizzi—who are all major league quality starters that they didn’t have in the beginning of last season.

With such great depth, Tampa Bay should be able to make up for the loss of Shields, and will likely put out one of the league’s best rotations once again.

Why You’d be Wrong to Count Out the Rays in 2013

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The Tampa Bay Rays fought through many obstacles to put together another winning season in baseball’s toughest division in 2012. After an eventful offseason, it looks like the AL East will be even more competitive this year with the possibility of all five teams being contenders.

With the much improved Toronto Blue Jays in addition to two playoff teams (New York and Baltimore), it appears as if many people will probably write off the Rays yet again in 2013.

Here are four reasons why not to count out the Rays this season.

Starting Rotation Will Remain Amongst the League’s Best

The Rays lost one key starting pitcher in James Shields after last month’s blockbuster trade with Kansas City, but they still definitely have one of the top rotations in all of baseball.

Reigning Cy Young winner David Price will be leading the young pack of talented arms, followed by former Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, phenom southpaw Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and Jeff Niemann (or Chris Archer). The six combined for a total of 739.2 IP and an ERA of roughly 3.41 last season.

Tampa Bay’s starting five was probably the best in the MLB last year, as the staff lead in both ERA (3.34) and strikeouts (900). Even if the Shields-less rotation doesn’t turn out to be as phenomenal as it was last season, it will still be the deepest with MLB-ready top prospects Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi—as well as Roberto Hernandez—backing up the rotation.

Offense Could Very Likely Improve

Offense was by far the Rays’ biggest issue last season, but with some new acquisitions it looks like it should be better in 2013.

Tampa had atrocious offensive production from the DH and first base positions (Luke Scott and Carlos Pena), who combined for just 33 homers and 116 RBI while posting a wOBA of under .310 and a wRC+ of under 100.

Their production as the shortstop position wasn’t much better either, as Sean Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson struggled throughout the year until Ben Zobrist took over the position later in the season.

Over the past couple of months the Rays have found players via both the trade and free agent market who will likely upgrade the lineup. James Loney—who’s a career .282/.339/.419 hitter–will replace Carlos Pena at first, and Yunel Escobar—a career .282/.353/.390 hitter—will surely provide the Rays with an offensive boost at shortstop (barring injury).

The DH spot is still a hole in the lineup, but it could be filled in the final weeks of the offseason if the Rays decide to pick up an additional bat.

The Rays Are a Dangerous Team When Healthy

Injuries were no doubt the cause of many of the Rays’ team struggles in 2012. Despite having over half of the roster [and most of the lineup] on the DL at least once during the course of the season, the Rays impressively still managed to win 90 games and nearly clinch a playoff spot in a very fierce American League race.

If the Rays had even close to a healthy team in 2012 they most likely would have found themselves playing in October. They saw their franchise cornerstone and offensive catalyst Evan Longoria miss over half of the season, which alone did pretty significant damage to an already mediocre lineup.

If Tampa can keep key players healthy throughout the season better than they did last year, they should be able to stay in the race down to the wire again in 2013.

Five Consecutive Winning Seasons

After a disastrous first decade to begin the Rays’ franchise history, the Rays have had winning seasons every year since 2008.

Tampa Bay’s outstanding managerial staff of owner Stuart Sternberg, president Matt Silverman, GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon has put together a successful franchise long-term that finds themselves in contention year after year despite having such small budget on such a large market.

If one thing’s for sure, the organization is going to continue to do things ‘The Rays Way’, which has worked well with teams not any better than this one in the past.

Why Injury Woes Won’t Keep Rays from the AL East Crown

127990380_crop_650x440The Rays have been battling injuries all season long, but their AL East title hopes are still very much alive. Despite having a double-digit amount of players on the disabled list, the Rays have been able to hold their ground in baseball’s toughest division.

The team’s leader, Evan Longoria, has missed almost a month now with a hamstring injury. Incredibly, the Rays have managed to stay atop the division (now tied) and have actually gained a game on the Yankees since Longoria went down on the final day of April. But Longoria was just one of numerous injuries that caused the Rays to play shorthanded throughout the month of May. Leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings, Jeff Keppinger, Brandon Allen, Jeff Niemann and Brandon Guyer (out for the season) have all hit the DL this month, essentially weakening every part of their game to some extent.

Yet somehow the Rays have continued to win ballgames. How role players have stepped up with Longoria on the sidelines is what really tells me that the Rays will be able to fight through their injury issues and prevail with the division. Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson, Jeff Keppinger, Will Rhymes and Drew Sutton have all contributed to replace Longoria at the hot corner. While Longo was hitting .329/.433/.561 with 19 RBI and 168 wRC+ before he hurt his hammy, here’s how the five fared:

Longoria made up for the lack of production from Rodriguez and Johnson, which is why there was obviously a major concern when he was put on the DL and was reported to miss over up to two months. To many’s surprise, the Rays had all five of Longoria’s replacements work together to put up some impressive numbers offensively following the injury:

If these five can keep up the good work for about another month—when Longoria could possibly to return—the Rays will stay on the right track and escape what could’ve been a disastrous fall in the standings. Once Longoria returns, the Rays will only get better, as his defense at third and his big-time power has been dearly missed

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Longoria is not the only player that could help the Rays run away with the division once he returns. The Rays have yet to unleash the full potential of their base-running game, as the Rays’ three biggest threats on the bases—Desmond Jennings, Sam Fuld and B.J. Upton—have yet to play a single game together this season. As I said before, the Rays’ injury issues have negatively impacted every part of their game, and base-running has been a big one. Once Jennings returns (likely later this week), the Rays will get an instant boost on the base paths as they get back their talented stolen-base duo of Jennings and Upton.

Barring any more injuries, the Rays will also be bolstered by the return of Jose Lobaton, Jeff Keppinger and Kyle Farnsworth. Jose Lobaton provides the Rays with the switch-hitting catcher they need, as Chris Gimenez has hit just 0.59 off of right-handed pitching this season. Keppinger gives the Rays’ offense a huge boost against left-handed pitching (.417 against lefties this season), as well as some extra depth in the infield. And Farnsworth gives the ‘pen another good righty, which is preferable over the likes of Joel Peralta or Burke Badenhop late in games, considering the terrific job he did last year.

The Rays’s starting rotation, which—besides Matt Moore—is everything hyped up to be, is another reason to believe the Rays have what it takes win the AL East. It is once again the division’s best rotation, and it has continued to carry the Rays through these brutal injuries. Jeff Niemann, who has had a strong start to the season, broke his leg right when he started to heat up and really find his groove at the back end of the rotation. Luckily for the Rays, they happen to have the best starting pitching depth is baseball, and found an effective replacement for Niemann in Alex Cobb. Since being called up, Cobb is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA through his two starts. I believe with six starters as good as these, the Rays will simply out-pitch their AL East opponents just as they’ve done in the past years.

One more thing to consider when discussing which team is the favorite to win the AL East is the injury problems amongst the Rays’ competition.

Boston currently has seven outfielders on the DL, including stars Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford. Their pitching is their biggest weakness, injuries to three starters (Aaron Cook, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka) and their closer Andrew Bailey (likely won’t return until August) a big reason why.

The Yankees also have their share of injuries, as pretty much half of their bullpen is on the disabled list, including Mariano Rivera (out for the season), Joba Chamberlain (likely out for the season), and David Robertson. They’re also missing a much-needed solid starter in Michael Pineda, who will miss all of 2012 as well.

Even the Orioles, who have had a great start to the 2012 season, have been affected by injuries. The big bats of Nolan Reimold, Mark Reynolds and Brian Roberts are all on the DL. Starter Zach Britton—a potential key piece in Baltimore’s rotation—is also hurt.

Although the Rays have been bombarded with injuries right from the get go, their AL East foes by no means have been injury-free either. With the Rays having the benefit of less long-term injuries than than the Sox and Yankees thus far this season, I believe they’ll use that as an advantage down the stretch. As for the Orioles, well, the Rays hope their early-season success is just a fluke and they won’t be in the pennant race once October comes calling.

Rays have new company from the Wild West

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The American League Wild Card race is usually a battle of the East division, but a team from out West has now joined the picture. The Angels from Anaheim just yesterday tied the Rays in the Wild Card, with 2.5 game gap behind Boston. Like the Rays, the Angels have made a late run to give themselves a chance to make the postseason. The Halos did not look like a playoff team for most of the season, but are playing a lot more like it in the past two months. All season long the Angels weren’t in the national spotlight, mainly because the AL West team to watch was the AL-champion Rangers. Texas has already clinched the division for the second straight year and the Angels are trying are trying to join them in October by doing the impossible. It’s really amazing how both the Rays and the Angels have a shot at the playoffs with just a week to play. Both teams have gained a remarkable amount of ground on Boston in the last three weeks and have stunned baseball fans across the nation. Although the Rays may of had the tougher schedule with the AL East, the Angels schedule wasn’t so easy either with multiple matchups against the Rangers. The Angels pitching is the reason they stand where they are today. Besides ace and CY Young candidate Jered Weaver, 3-time All-Star Dan Haren and rookie closer Jordan Walden have pitched great for the Halos all season.                                     20110922-064813.jpg
If it wasn’t for these three guys, the Angels would be far below .500 right now. Speaking of rookies, Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout have supplied most of the offense in addition to veteran Torii Hunter. The question for discussion here, is who has the better shot to make the playoffs? It’s a really tough answer when you go by the schedules. Both teams have a strikingly similar schedule for the final 7 games. The Rays and Angels each play a mediocre team over the weekend and then finish off the season against their respective division champions. At the end of the day, the team that is most concerned about the new company is the Red Sox. The reeling Boston team has already been playing in fear of Tampa for weeks, and now they have another surging team on their tail. Although my first wish is that the Rays make the playoffs, I would love to see Los Angeles in the playoffs instead of the Red Sox. Even though it would be upsetting knowing that the Rays should be there, anything’s better than having Boston beat out the Rays to the playoffs. I think having another team makes the race more exciting. 20110922-064819.jpg
The Rays are really only preventing themselves from a better chance, having dropped two winnable games in a row. Rays Republic is now cheering for the Yankees to unleash their wrath against Boston this weekend; they’re going to need all the help they can get.

So what do you think about the subject:

Rays rooting for the Yanks?

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The Rays and Yankees have been fighting it out for the past three years looking for a spot in October. Now this rivalry has something in between it; the Boston Red Sox. Boston stands in second-place 2.5 games behind the Yankees, with 20 games to go. The Rays are just looking for a Wild Card spot in this AL East frenzy. The reason why the Rays should want New York to win all of their games (except against them), is because the Yankees come to town in the final series of the regular season. If the Yankees have already clinched the division by then, that would mean that the series would be pointless for them. If that’s the case, the Yankees will not play many of their everyday starters and give their friends from Triple-A Scranton some playing time. 20110909-091512.jpg
If the Rays will have any chance of making the playoffs near the end of the season, those last three games are going to be crucial. So the more games the Yankees win, the better for the Rays. Even if the Yanks will win all their games and lose all their games to the Rays, the Rays would still need to play great baseball. They play the Sox 7 more times and they’re only 6.5 behind, so they definitely have their chance to gain ground. Winning at least 6 out of those 7 games would be ideal, and the mission starts tonight. Rays need a sweep with Dome field advantage! The Rays still have a shot, never count them out!

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