Thursday, 4 a.m.
Are these Tampa Bay Rays good enough to make this year's post-season? Who knows?
Oh, they are confident enough, for whatever that's worth. In the spring, confidence blooms like wildflowers. Everyone is going to hit .300 and everyone is going to win 18 games and no one is going to let a ball go through their legs. The ball dies on the warning track for the opposition, and everyone steals, and no one is out at home. That's what the spring is for. The bad teams can play dress up and pretend they're a good team.
Ah, but would this Rays team be good enough to make the 2013 playoffs?
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Maybe. A lot of it is tied up in potential, but what else do you expect from a last-place team trying to live again? A team has to hope, right?
The year 2013 was the year the window closed for this organization, The Rays made the playoffs that year, losing to Boston in the divisional playoffs. They won 92 games, and they finished second in the AL East, and they still looked smarter than the other teams in the American League. No, they weren't a championship team, but for the most part, the outlook was as rosy as the inside of Joe Maddon's head.
You remember 2013. The Braves were good. The Cubs were bad. The Red Sox beat the Rays in the playoffs, then went on to win the World Series.
Since then, the Rays have fallen off. They won 15 fewer games the next year, 12 fewer the year after, 24 fewer last year.
And now, with Kevin Cash insisting he's expecting to play games in October, you wonder.
Could this team beat that one?
It depends. Will the pitching hold up this year? Do the Rays have a chance, like 2008, to shock the world with a good season?
Catcher: In 2013, the Rays had slow-Mo, the hard-to-watch Jose Molina. He hit .233 that year, a pretty good season for him. He even hit two home runs, which kind of shocked everyone. But you know what? Molina outhit Curt Casali by almost 50 points that year (Casali hit .186 in 2016). Casali hit eight home runs, but that wasn't enough to offset a 50-point deficit. Edge: Molina (2013).
First base: The Rays never seemed quite satisfied with James Loney, who was a fine defensive first baseman. He hit .299 that year, and although his power numbers (13 home runs) aren't what you want from a corner infielder, he was a very good player. Currently, Logan Morrison hit .239 with 14 homers. Edge: Loney (2013).
Second base: If Brad Miller can duplicate last season, when he had 30 home runs, no one will notice that Logan Forsythe has gone to Los Angeles. But can he? Those 30 homers were more than Miller hit in his first three seasons. The 2013 team had Ben Zobrist, who hit .275 that year. But Zo led the league in intangibles. Miller has a little more proving to do. Edge: Zobrist (2013).
Shortstop: If Matt Duffy can stay healthy, he should be a fine contributor for these Rays. He hit .276 last year and fielded well. In 2013, under Maddon's guidance, Yunel Escobar hit .256 and was a very good player. Duffy should bring more to the table, however. Edge: Duffy (2017).
Third base: The world has changed around Evan Longoria. Still, he was slightly better last year than he was in 2013. He hit four more homers and his average was four points higher. I don't know if he has another 30-home run season in him, but he should beat .268. Edge: Longoria (2017).
Left field: We know this about Colby Rasmus. The guy can grow a beard. But Rasmus had an off-year last year, hitting only .206. Still, left field in 2013 belonged mainly to Kelly Johnson, who hit only .235. Here's a prediction: Rasmus will bounce back to be better than that. Edge: Rasmus (2017).
Centerfield: Are you kidding me? In 2013, the Rays' cemter fielder was Desmond Jennings, who was dismissed by the team last year. In 2013, he hit .252. These days, the Rays centerfield position is manned by Kevin Kiermaier, one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game.The main problem with Kiermaier is that he was healthy enough for only 105 games last year. Edge: Kiermaier (2017).
Right field: The Rays never have gotten the sufficient return from the Wil Myers trade. Sure, he was hard-headed, but in 2013, he hit .293 in 88 games. Souza hit only .247 with 159 strikeouts. Edge: Myers (2013).
Designated hitter: Luke Scott was a strange bird, right down to his muttonchops. I liked the guy, though, even those we disagreed on every chapter of politics you can imagine. But Scott never hit the way he was expected to hit. He hit .241 in 2013 with nine homers. Wilson Ramos, who hit .307 last year, should outproduce that. So, too, should Corey Dickerson (.245 last year). Edge: Ramos-Dickerson (2017).
Pitching: This is the crucial category. Chris Archer had a terrible season last year. But David Price a terrible year in 2013. Matt Moore won 17 and had a 3.29 ERA. Do you see any 17 game winners on this team? Jeremy Helickson won 12, Alex Cobb won 11 and David Price won 10.
That's the challenge for this team. Chris Archer was 10 games under .500 last year; he has to at least split those. The Rays need Cobb to stay as strong as he says he feels.They need Blake Snell to perform well enough to get to double-digit wins. They need a good year by Jake Odorizzi.
That year, Fernando Rodney had 37 saves. Last year, Alex Colome had 37 saves. If Colome is as good this year as he was last year, the Rays have a shot. Edge: (collectively). 2013.
Manager: Joe Maddon was one of the best in the game. Kevin Cash? Not yet. Edge: (Maddon: 2013).
Bench: The Rays had some familiar names in 2013, but a lot of them had subpar years. Sean Rodgriguez hit only .245, Matt Joyce only .235, Sam Fuld only .199. This year, the Rays have possibilities with either Dickerson or Ramos (whoever isn't starting),Mallex Smith and Tim Beckham. Edge: (2017, hopefully).
So there you have it. In the field, the Rays have a bit more pop. On the mound, if Archer can get to 15 wins (big if), they have roughly the same kind of talent.
It would have been good enough in 2013.
Is it good enough in 2017? We'll see.