As the Rays start, can they last to finish?

by Gary Shelton on February 19, 2016 · 1 comment

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Friday, 6 a.m.

The untrodden green lay behind them, a baseball field waiting to be played upon.

The season lay in front, a promise of results to come.

It always seems this way on the first day of Spring, bright and promising. A pitcher has yet to give up a three-run homer. A batter has yet to look at a fastball for strike three. For now, all bounces are Sunday hops, and all hitters are going to hit .315 with 20 home runs, even those who aren't.

Matt Silverman sat in front of the cameras, with Kevin Cash to his left on a glorious morning in Port Charlotte. For the

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moment, those who had a bad season will come back, and those had a good one will repeat it, and those who were hurt have been touched by an angel. It's always like that on the first promise of spring training. Everything seems achievable.

And so Silverman, one year into his job, and Cash, one year into his, sat and proclaimed that the Rays would be contenders which, I guess, is better than the other way around. And why not? Desmond Jennings, who played in only 28 games last year, looks like a player again. Corey Dickerson, who played in 65, is a middle-of-the-order hitter. Brad Miller, who played his way out of the position in Seattle, is an everyday shortstop. Logan Morrison, who hit .225, is a power hitter. Chris Archer, who was 12-13, is an ace. Steven Souza is more comfortable than last year, when he hit .225.

Yeah, spring training is like that. Everyone is going to bounce back. Everyone is going to be better.

In Colorado, they are saying the same things. And in Philadelphia and Oakland and Cincinnati and every other place that managed to avoid home plate all last year.

As for the Rays, yeah, they did finish 80-82, and they were hurt, and the bullpen ran out of gas, and there wasn't a true stopper in the rotation. But the truth is, the Rays are a giant question mark as they go into the baseball season. Too many players are counted on to have good seasons following bad ones.

Yet, in the spring, all questions have possible answers, and Silverman thinks his team will be better.

“I feel like we're a better club,” Silverman said. “You look, year after year, at the talent on the club. With the depth that we have, I feel like were a better club this year. Last year, the injury bug really got us. We had three out of our starting pitchers out. We had a real tough time getting through that. I look at the club this year and I feel the overall talent is higher. The talent is there. The belief is there in the clubhouse. It's just a matter of going out there and winning ballgames.”

But does better mean playoff worthy?

“Since 2008, we have come into camp thinking our team can compete for the playoffs,” Silverman said. “We felt that way last year. We felt that way the year before. We feel that way this year. That's the goal. The goal is meaningful games in September. Those September games translate into the payoffs.

“Our payroll is what it is. Fortunately, payroll doesn't dictate the standings. Computers don't dictate. But the guys in the clubhouse do. They have the talent and they have the belief they can go out and compete in the (AL) East. We feel good about our chances.”

Want a second opinion? Try Kevin Cash, whose opinion – naturally – is a lot like his boss's.

“How can you not be excited?” he said. “We're heathier. We've added to the lineup. And we've brought in some guys who have a history of hitting.”

Actually, with the Rays, it always starts with pitching. Does the rotation of Archer-Jake Odorizzi-Drew Smyly, Erasmo Ramirez and Matt Moore scare you? None of them won more than 12 games last year. But with Alex Cobb supposed to come back in July, and with Blake Snell waiting in the wings, that rotation could be fluid.

The bigger concern is the bullpen, especially after the trade of set-up man Jake McGee. Cash said there doesn't have to be an eighth-inning guy designated to get to closer Brad Boxberger, but most teams have a guy they can count on most nights. Xavier Cedeno? Enny Romero? Newly signed Ryan Webb? It may be the most contested spot of the spring.

And the batting order? Yeah, there are some guys who have accomplished things in the past. Take Steve Pearce, who has enough pop in his bat that the team may start him over James Loney. But Pearce hit only .218 last year.

The rest of the infield seems firm, with Evan Longoria at third, Logan Forsythe at second and Brad Miller at short. Miller is the key here. He has to play as well as Asdrubal Cabrera did last year.

Then there is the outfield, with Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier and Souza.

The Rays are talking up Jennings as if he's the big deal. Silverman even suggested their were days when he was the best player on the field. But Jennings is a career .249 hitter whose coming off a year where he was hurt. Looking like a star in the team picture doesn't always work out.

One of the disadvantages of the Rays' surplus in their outfield is that it seems to leave little room for Richie Shaffer and Mikie Mahtook, two players who caught fans' eyes late last season.

Catcher seems to be a three-way race. Curt Casali showed some pop last year, and Hank Conger has a bit of pop (for a .229 hitter). But Cash talked up former catcher Rene Rivera (who hit .178)

In other words, the Rays are tumblers in a safe. A lot of them have to fall into place before the Rays can live up to PECOTA, the computer analysis that has the team first in the AL East.

“I think it's a great computer,” Cash said, grinning.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cecil DeBald February 19, 2016 at 8:16 am

Yup, a lot of things have to go right for sure – but then, it’s always that way for the Rays, the stars aligning and good old-fashioned luck both have to occur – but it can happen! Go Rays!

Cecil

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