A brief look at an opponent we play this weekend.
Dates we play them: 4/7-4/10 at USCF, 4/18-4/21 @ Tampa Bay
Offense: John Jaso-C, Johnny Damon-LF, Ben Zobrist-2B, Manny Ramirez-DH, Dan Johnson-1B, B.J. Upton-CF, Matt Joyce-RF, Sean Rodriguez-3B, Reid Brignac-SS. Bench: Kelly Shoppach-C, Sam Fuld-OF, Felipe Lopez-IF.
This is not the Tampa Bay you remember. Gone is Carl Crawford, the franchise's best hitter to date. The franchise homerun leader, Carlos Pena, has also moved on. Current face of the franchise, Evan Longoria, is on the disabled list for at least this series. We lucked into getting to kick the Rays while they're down. If this were the 90's, John Jaso would not be batting leadoff. Luckily for him, we live in the modern enlightened era. Jaso has moderate pop and a great batting eye (14.6% BB% last season!). John does not have a good arm and can easily be run on (only threw out 12 of 53 runners last season), so expect a damn near permanent green light. Johnny Damon left the bandbox of New Yankee Stadium and left his power in the Bronx. After hitting a career high 24 homeruns in 2009, Damon dropped down to a mere 8 last season for the Tigers. He's no longer a threat to hit more than 15 homers or steal more than 15 bases. Playing left field has helped to keep Johnny's value somewhat higher, but he still possesses an arm that challenges Juan Pierre for the title of weakest throwing left fielder in the American League. Ben Zobrist is never going to repeat his magical 2009 season. Sad, but true. He's still going to be a 3-4.5 WAR player, but never an MVP candidate. The Zorilla has found a home at second base, where he'll put up an OPS around .800 and throw in 20+ steals just for good measure. Our old friend Manny Ramirez decided to join up with his fellow Idiot Johnny Damon and head down the to retirement communities of Florida. Manny can still get on base at a rate far above average, but his power seems to have completely abandoned him. He's a dreadlocked shell of his former self at this point in his career.
Dan Johnson is actually still in the majors? And starting? Jesus, that's terrible. At best, Johnson is a 1.5 WAR kind of guy, meaning he's slightly below average. An OPS under .770 isn't really acceptable from a poor fielding first baseman, but that's what Johnson brings to the table. B.J. Upton is still patrolling center field for the Rays and is now the longest tenured position player with the franchise. Upton never quite panned out to be the uber-player he seemed destined to be, but he's still been a pretty good player for a once moribund team. Upton will hit somewhere between 15-20 homeruns with 40+ steals and above-average defense. Matt Joyce was the big return the Rays got for Edwin Jackson from the Tigers a few seasons back. If he gets enough AB this season, Joyce could easily crack the 25 homer plateau. The kid can rake and it's a damn shame it's taken this long for him to get regular playing time in the majors. Sean Rodriguez inherited the thankless job of filling in for the best player at his position in baseball. Hooray! Rodriguez is good enough to be a starter on most teams at more than one position, but not quite good enough to make an All-Star team unless he played for Pittsburgh. Sean has surprising pop and should finish with about 15 homeruns. Reid Brignac has been hyped for quite a few seasons now and is the man who made Jason Bartlett expendable. Brignac is a good defensive shortstop, but his questionable plate discipline and lack of power will prevent him from contributing anything more than average amounts with the bat.
The Rays boast one of the better pitching rotations in the game. David Price is the young ace. The southpaw should finish top 10 in the AL for strikeouts and will become a true beast if he can just walk a few less hitters (3.47 BB/9). His best pitch is a mid to upper-90's fastball that he throws about 2/3 of the time. His curveball, changeup, and slider are all also good pitches and Price should have little problem being a dominant pitcher for the near future. Shields lacks the raw talent of Price, but has better control and command of his pitches as evidenced by his similar K/9 (7.39 to 7.77) but much better K/BB (3.69 to 2.24). Shields throws a low-90's fastball, a cutter, and a curve, but his money pitch is his changeup. Over the past two seasons, his change has been worth 22 runs above average. That's pretty intense. His main weakness is his propensity to give up the longball (1.22 career HR/9). Wade Davis is a solid third starter, but probably won't amount to much more than that. His K/BB is good, but not great (2.00 career). He doesn't get too many strikeouts and has a slight flyball tendency, but gives good enough production for practically no money. He throws a low-90's fastball, slider, curve, and changeup. Niemann is similar to Davis in the walk and strikeout departments, but gets more groundballs while managing to give up more homeruns than his compatriot. Weird. Niemann throws a low-90's fastball, a slider, a curve, and a splitter. The fastball and the splitter are both above average. Jeremy Hellickson is the next terrifying young arm that the Rays seem to be mass producing as of late. The very soon to be 24-year old (as in tomorrow) had nothing left to prove in the minors, as he absolutely dominated AAA last season. He struck out 10 yesterday in his first appearance of the young season and will be among the league leaders in the category should he pitch around 200 innings. He throws a low-90's fastball, a cutter, a curve, and a changeup and should be carving up the AL East with Price for years to come. Joe Maddon has chosen to go with a closer by committee this season, but since they haven't won a game yet we haven't gotten to see this in motion yet (hiyo!). For simplicity's sake (and because I love the bespectacled bastard) I have decided to profile Kyle Farnsworth. I wept when he left Kansas City, but we still get to see the good professor a few times this season. Farnsy still throws mid to upper-90's heat, but recently taught himself a cutter to go with his fastball, slider, and get-me-over changeup. He's still valuable, but nowhere close to an upper tier closer.
Outcome: I think it's weird that the season series against the Rays will be done before the semester ends, but it honestly helps us a great deal. The Longorialess Rays are at a disadvantage when it comes to hitting and that gives me the confidence to predict a 6-2 season series in our favor. It sucks that we'll most likely be the team to give the Rays their first win of the season.