I couldn't hit it sideways: a Tampa Bay Rays preview

HOW DOES HE KEEP IT ON HIS HEAD?! - J. Meric

The White Sox aren't the only disappointing team in the American League so far this season.

Offense: Desmond Jennings-CF, Sam Fuld-LF, Evan Longoria-3B, Ben Zobrist-2B, James Loney-1B, Shelley Duncan-DH, Matt Joyce-RF, Jose Molina-C, Yunel Escobar-SS. Bench: Jose Lobaton-C, Sean Rodriguez-INF, Kelly Johnson-UTIL, Ryan Roberts-UTIL.

TB R/G: 3.76. CHW R/G: 3.30.

Why hello there team that is superficially similar to us offensively! It's nice to see someone else doing relatively terrible. Desmond Jennings didn't exactly hit the ground running last season, only managing a somewhat disappointing .309 wOBA which even accounts for his sterling 31 stolen bases against just two caught stealings. The good news is that he's only 26-years-old this season and still has plenty of room to grow. Other good news? He's an incredibly talented defensive center fielder, so if he only winds up as a league average hitter he'll still be worth 3-4 WAR per season. Sam Fuld's Wikipedia page is far too long and detailed for that of a player who has managed a whopping 2.9 bWAR over six seasons. He's more of a 4th outfielder than a true starter, which is why it's good that he's in a platoon with Ryan Roberts that involves Ben Zobrist being shifted into right field. Because Joe Maddon hates simplicity. Fuld doesn't show too much of a pronounced platoon split which isn't very shocking. He's just not a good hitter. He is quick and a good outfielder though.

Will Evan Longoria be able to play his first full season in three years? I certainly hope so, because we're watching a Hall of Fame talent and I find it pretty depressing to watch that ruined by injuries. He wouldn't get elected anyways because the voters hate third basemen, but we'd all know he's worthy and that's something. He's easily the best defensive third baseman in recent memory which makes the fact that he's also a well above average hitter seem grossly unfair. And it is. When healthy he has 30 homerun power. Add in the great batting eye and surprising speed and it's no surprise that he's likely to surpass Carl Crawford as the greatest Ray in franchise history very soon. Right on his heels is Ben Zobrist. The Zorilla is just an unfair weapon for any team to have. Though he's yet to combine both in one season, he is a legitimate 20-20 threat who manages to walk 3/4 of the times he strikes out. What makes him so unfair is that he's somehow very good defensively at both second base and right field. And passable at short stop! He's that friend of yours who just happens to be good at everything, seemingly regardless of effort or practice. I grew up with a Ben Zobrist and his name was Devin Blumthal and I've been in awe of him since 4th grade. Some people might be robots. Devin and Ben are two of my prime suspects.

The snarky blogger in me wants to mock the Rays for batting James Loney fifth. James Loney? He's terrible! Except that thanks to an inflated BABIP and drawing walks at a higher rate than ever before he is currently sporting the highest OPS+ of the regular starters in the lineup. If I sound skeptical, that's because I am. Most 29-year-olds don't magically turn it around. He's not exactly a bad player, it's just that he doesn't have any particular skill or tool that makes him a very valuable first baseman. Shelley Duncan is still a thing? Huh. Right-handed Dan Johnson is doing his three true outcome thing with Tampa now after three years of being a lesser Matt Stairs for Cleveland. When he hits it, he rips it and there are worse options at DH out there but he's not really someone you need to worry about. Unless he wants to fight.

Matt Joyce is a member of the nonexclusive fraternity of Men Traded for Edwin Jackson. Seriously though, go look it up. It's a long list. Matt's kind of having a rough season so far, as his .211 BABIP is doing him no favors. Then again, neither are his 5.4% BB% and his 23.2% K%. He's always been a high strikeout guy, so while that number is a bit off, it's not horribly out of line. The walks and hits are though, but they should normalize out soon enough. He's not a good left fielder, though he won't kill the team with his defense. He's got decent power as well and is a fairly good baserunner. Jose Molina is some sort of pitch framing deity. The worst hitting of the Molina brothers has carved out a very long career on the strength of his incredible defense. For his career he's thrown out 39% of all runners foolish enough to test him. So please don't have an open greenlight this weekend, Robin. When you write homophobic slurs on your face, you get sent to play baseball in Florida. That's a pretty harsh punishment, but maybe it's what Yunel Escobar finally needs to realize he should stop being such a raging asshole. He's a good defensive short stop but his bat is declining and he's in quite the rut right now as is.

Pitching: David Price-LHP, Jeremy Hellickson-RHP, Roberto Hernandez-RHP, Matt Moore-LHP, Alex Cobb-RHP, Fernando Rodney-CL.

TB RA/G: 3.81. CHW RA/G: 3.60.

Last season's Cy Young winner has been having a rough start so far this season. Hits are just falling in everywhere and he's already given up about a third of the amount of homeruns he allowed all of last season and it's only been 31 innings. His strikeout numbers are a bit down, but so are his walks. He's really only had two bad starts so things should definitely turn around for the ace soon enough. Price's fastballs sit in the mid-90s range with the ability to go faster, and he supplements them with a curveball, a cutter, and a changeup. Jeremy Hellickson gets to be an interesting footnote in history, as he was on the wrong side of Felix Hernandez's perfect game last August. Hellickson's beautiful strikeout numbers didn't follow him up from the minors, which is kind of disappointing. He looks to have figured out his pitches a bit better though, as his BB/9 seems to be declining and his GB% increasing, which plays perfectly into his team's strengths. He does struggle with giving up homeruns though, which is great news for us. Hellickson throws a four-seamer in the low-90s, a changeup, a curveball, and a cutter.

Roberto Hernandez is being given a second chance to prove he's worth a damn, this time in a new city and with a new name. The former Fausto Carmona aged three years in one year and got a new name, which is a pretty nifty trick that was only kind of illegal and cost him a lot of money, but hey! New name! And with that new name has seemingly come an ability to strike hitters out, which is a skill the groundballer never really displayed in the majors. We'll see if it continues. He's got a good sinking fastball, a slider, and a changeup. Matt Moore had a nice first season for a 23-year-old. Not Chris Sale nice, but nice nonetheless. The former number two prospect in all of baseball from last season should develop into a pretty good pitcher, but he really needs to cut down on the amount of hitters he walks. Some fun numbers of his to look at right now? How about that LOB% of 99.1% or that .143 BABIP? Those do anything for you? Those numbers obviously have to regress but until they do I will delight in their absurdness and so should you. Moore throw two fastballs, both of which sit in the mid-90s, along with a changeup and a curveball.

You've probably never heard of Alex Cobb, and that's okay. I hadn't either. Or I might have and just forgot he existed. But he's off to a great start mostly because he's leaving 81.7% of the hitters that get on base stranded. Not entirely sustainable, but the Rays will ride that wave until it crashes. He's another groundballer, so once again he's in a great situation to succeed. He throws a fastball in the low-90s, a curveball, and a splitter. Fernando Rodney is closing and god bless him he is fun. His hat is eventually just going to be on sideways which will make me actually cry from laughter. He has the best post-save celebration in all of baseball and carried a plantain around with him throughout the World Baseball Classic because he is having the amount of fun most pro athletes seem to pretend they aren't having. He somehow only walked 1.81 hitters per nine last season, which is amazing because his career BB/9 is 4.46. Regression has hit him like a Mack truck this year and while he should still be a serviceable closer, he's not going to be Eric Gagne again. Rodney throws a fastball in the upper-90s and a changeup.

Outlook: The Rays are a struggling offensive team with very good pitching. They're our Floridian doppelgangers. So I think predicting them to take the season series 4-3 seems pretty safe and fair.

And if you have the time/chance/opportunity to help my classmate out, that would be lovely. And for those of you who already have, thank you once again.


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