Last year was really, really ugly for the Rays. They won only 68 games, and the list of things that went wrong is far longer than the things that were good. That's no real surprise - you don't lose 94 games if things go according to plan unless you have a terrible plan. There were a lot of negative factors on this team last year, but there was a whole lot of bad luck involved, too.
So the questions are obvious this year, then: can they turn their luck around, and are they good enough to matter even if they do?
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Rays 2017 Projected Lineup
Kevin Kiermaier doesn't get enough respect. He's adequate offensively for a center fielder, but he needs to be better. Defensively, though, there isn't a better fielder in baseball. He's a wizard out there. He'll be leading off this year, and we can look for him to improve his offense while maintaining his defense. He's a key on this team. So is Evan Longoria, the seemingly ageless star of this team who is coming off a strong season and should be capable of another one.
They'll likely be looking at a platoon at first, with Logan Morrison and Richie Weeks doing the heavy lifting. Morrison is coming off a disappointing year at the plate, so he needs to step up. Weeks isn't as strong in the field, but he's solid at bat. They form the thing you want in a platoon - strengths that can hopefully complement each other.
I love the gamble that the Rays made with Wilson Ramos. He's an all-star catcher coming off a career year, but he tore his ACL at the end of September, so the Rays could grab him. He won't be available for a month or so and could take longer to find his form. He's a great catcher, though, and he could be a massive boost for the team when he returns.
Colby Rasmus was added as a free agent in left field. He gets a lot of grief because his best skill is striking out. He's good in the field, though, and if you accept that he will strike out plenty then there is a lot that he does do well. I'm okay with him being on the roster. On the opposite side of the outfield, Steven Souza showed some decent power last year, but his average was underwhelming (.247). It would be nice to see an improvement there, but it's no guarantee.
Add it all up and you have a lineup that is fine. Not spectacular, but fine. It could be worse, and there is some upside -- and a few youngsters that will be looking for their opportunity if a path opens and they can get out of the minors.
Rays 2017 Projected Rotation and Closer
The Rays have always had pitching depth, and this year is no exception. Chris Archer was heavily hyped as a superstar entering last year, but he had a very rough year. He improved as the season went along, but what really stood out was how unlucky he was. With some better luck he has the talent to put together a strong year. Bouncing back in the theme here, because Alex Cobb is a guy who looked like a budding ace a couple of years ago and has struggled lately. Scouting reports are solid and he could have a solid year. Jake Odorizzi is strong. They thought highly enough of Jose de Leon to trade starting second baseman Logan Forsythe for him. He's a rookie with very limited experience with the Dodgers, but he was stellar in the minors and has serious upside. When he's given the chance he'll shine. Blake Snell is more than competent as well. This is a rotation that is much better than a team coming off a 68-win season usually has, and the depth is really impressive. It's the strength of the team. One thing to really watch, though, will be what impact trade rumors will have. With their depth they could look to trade a Top 3 starter at the deadline to add other assets unless they are playing really well. That could have an impact on how those players perform, and could shake up the rotation if a deal is made.
Alex Colome is a very solid closer, and in general this bullpen is better than perception.
Rays Futures Odds
Tampa Bay is the longest shot to win the AL East, according to BetOnline - they sit at +1000, which is just miles away from favored Boston at -145. Only four teams are less likely to win the American League pennant, according to the odds, than the Rays at +3300. They are serious long shots to win the World Series at +8000 , but that still gives them a better chance than nine other teams.
Not surprisingly, individual Tampa Bay players don't get a lot of love in futures action. Evan Longoria is a serious long shot both for MVP (+6600) and home run king (+10000). The only real contender is Chris Archer for the Cy Young at +1200, which puts him sixth.
Rays 2017 Predictions
The season win total is set at 78.5, and I like the "over". I am somewhat optimistic about this team. They won't be great by any means, but they can flirt with .500. The offseason went well, they have strong pitching, and the lineup is passable. Here's a bold prediction to finish up the last of the 15 AL previews - the Rays are going to finish ahead of the Yankees in the standings. A few steps forward and some improved luck and they can pull that off.
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