2010 Tampa Bay Rays Predictions
by Robert Ferringo - 3/30/2010
It’s very easy to be seduced by success. It happens to politicians. It certainly happens to businessmen. And lord knows that gamblers are suckers for success; lured into a false sense of security, entitlement and safety once they get a little taste of victory or money. And more often than not that false sense leads to a trap door when desperate folks try to find their way back to that first initial score.
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Two seasons ago Tampa Bay put together one of the most stunning, most out-of-nowhere seasons in MLB betting over the last 20 years. They went 97-65 and banked nearly $3,000 for a blind $100 bettor during that breakout season. They won the American League and were even at 1-1 with the Phillies before losing in the World Series. But the fact that they had lost 96 games the year prior to earning a pennant made their turnaround one of the most surprising in baseball history.
Last year the Rays came back down to earth a bit, sliding back to an 84-78 mark while dealing with several injuries and subpar seasons. It was a natural “hangover” season. But with its young core of talent still intact the Rays can’t be written off in the American League East race moving forward.
This season the Rays enter the year as a viable contender with the two best (and biggest spending) teams in the Majors, the Yankees and Red Sox. Baseball Prospectus – in their highly inaccurate yet oft-quoted 2010 projections – has the Rays set to win 93 games this year. The Baseball Think Factory, another dork-outfit (I say that with affection), has also predicted that the Rays will score 93 wins this year. And even Vegas is anticipating good things out of Tampa Bay, setting their season wins total at a robust 89.5.
But that’s where I feel that people have been seduced by success. Does anyone else think that these predictions of greatness for the Rays are a little premature? Does anyone else think that while 2008 was an unforgettable year for the franchise that it is probably an outlier? And does anyone really, REALLY think that this team is going to beat out the Yankees or Red Sox in a 162-game season?
I like the young core of players that Tampa Bay is rolling with. Evan Longoria is a stud. Despite a bad year I think that James Shields is one of the most underrated arms in baseball. B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford are both guys in their 20s that from a potent and pestering duo at the plate and on the bases. Pena is the pop. They have an excellent manager, a loaded farm system, they are exceptional on their home turf, and they have more than enough moxie to get in the face of the Sox and Yanks (which I love).
But for my 2010 Tampa Bay Rays predictions, I don’t see a 90-win team here. And one of the biggest issues I have with them is their general style of play. Tampa Bay wants to rely on its pitching, its running game, its defense and its bullpen and it wants to win a lot of close, low-scoring games. I don’t have a big problem with that. It works better in the National League but all in all their success is predicated on tried-and-true baseball methodology.
But where I have problems with this team is in the execution of the plan. They have since lost Edwin Jackson and former ace Scott Kazmir from that 2008 rotation. Their replacements – Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis – are young, talented guys that have shown some signs. But I don’t feel like I can trust that group to hold up for six months against guys like John Lackey, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettite and Tim Wakefield.
Further, although they were No. 7 in defensive efficiency last year they were still lagging in the “traditional” fielding stats of errors (11th most) and fielding percentage (ninth worst).
I know that they have some nice names in their lineup and some guys you love to have on your fantasy team. And Longoria and Crawford are obviously the real deal. But Jason Bartlett, who led the team at .320 last season, is still just a career .287 hitter. Ben Zobrist stepped up and became the team’s uber-utility man last year while batting nearly .300. But prior to that he had hit .221 in three other stints in the Big Leagues. And B.J. Upton has been far form a sure thing in his three full seasons with the team and is coming off a season hitting .241.
Beyond that the Rays roll out a bunch of .240 or .250 hitters in their lineup. There is just no way that I see that as a legitimate threat to the Yankees – who have the best lineup in baseball – or the Red Sox – who have the most methodical lineup in baseball. I just do not see it.
So I understand the style of baseball that the Rays want to play. I just don’t know if they have the talent to pull it off. I remember 2008 very well. And that year was pure magic for this group. They were the most clutch team in the Majors that season and it seemed as if no one executed or came through in the clutch in close-and-late situations than Tampa Bay.
But clutch play is a fickle business. And many a team has found that last year’s magic doesn’t transfer over to the following season. What the Rays did in 2008 was special. But it’s also nearly impossible to duplicate. They went a sensational 29-18 in one-run games that season and 38-26 in games in which they scored between 3-5 runs. A lot of that was flawless execution. But a lot of it was luck as well. And you can’t call Luck out of the bullpen or send Luck in to pinch hit.
Last year Tampa Bay went 16-20 against the Red Sox and Yankees. That was by far the most wins that any team in the Majors put up against the Twin Towers. But beyond that the only teams that the Rays had winning records against were the pathetic Royals (9-1), awful Orioles (10-8), the feeble Blue Jays (14-4) and victories piled up in interleague play (13-5). That is a 62-38 mark against those five teams and the National League.
But that also means that the Rays were a putrid 22-40 against the rest of the American League. How can we predict that Tampa Bay is the third-best team in the American League when they can’t beat half of the teams in the American League?
It also raises another issue I have with this team. Tampa Bay is one of those teams that is a fierce underdog but not that strong of a favorite. They play up and down to its level of competition. You can’t trust a team like that. And those are the teams that burn your bank roll because you expect the same team that just took two of three in Fenway to show up and get two of three at home from the Tigers. But they don’t, and they lose as a thick favorite and cost you even more than you were able to squeeze out betting on them as a dog in the previous series.
Tampa Bay is a talented team. But I’m not buying into them as a true contender and I’m certainly not banking on them picking up 90 wins. They are a team that you can be successful betting on and against. But you just have to remember and get used to the situations in which they come to play and the ones in which they don’t. Let the past be the past, and don’t get swindled by the success of their shadows.
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