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Hold Steady Ybor City: A Tampa Bay Rays Preview

A brief look at an out-of-division opponent we're playing, and with my bad fortune yet another team extensively covered on SBN (with an assist from Colin).

Dates we play them: 4/16-4/19 @ TB, 7/20-7/23 at home

Offense: A potential line-up: B.J. Upton-CF, Carl Crawford-LF, Evan Longoria-3B, Carlos Pena-1B, Pat Burrell-DH, Dioner Navarro-C, Gabe Gross-RF, Akinori Iwamura-2B, Jason Bartlett-SS   Bench Players: Matt Joyce-OF, Gabe Kapler-OF, Willy Aybar-IF

Tampa fields a pretty young lineup (28.1) and only have three regulars age 30 and up.  Carlos Pena is essentially Jim Thome, but can actually play first base.  His average is ugly and his K total will always be in triple figures, but he has Herculean power and walks enough to post an above league-average OBP.  B.J. Upton is a phenomenal young talent who seems like he's been around forever.  The 24-year old can do it all and should put up better power number now that he isn't playing with a torn left labrum.  He could be the next Carlos Beltran.  It doesn't seem like Carl Crawford is ever going to develop that power people always envisioned him coming into and he doesn't walk as much as you'd like to see, but he steals a lot of bases at a damn good rate (82.6%) and plays outstanding defense out in left. 

Pat Burrell is a streaky masher who finally moved to the AL after years of being a butcher in left.  Becoming a DH makes him more valuable, and Tampa got him fairly cheap thanks to the recession.  Iwamura and Bartlett are average-ish legit starters.  The former's contract is up after this season and may well be replaced in-house by Reid Brignac.  Bartlett has 3 years of major league service and will be around as long as he can d up.  Dioner Navarro is a fairly overlooked catcher, and unfairly so.  He's young, plays decent defense, seems to call a good game, and is starting to hit for a good average.  Evan Longoria is quickly becoming the media's new favorite player (especially after the former golden boy turned out to be kind of a douche).  He hits the ball very hard, will hit around .280ish, and plays stellar defense at third.  Right field will be a platoon of Gabes and a young guy who should probably just be the starter (who for some reason doesn't have a profile).

Pitching: The current rotation and closer- James Shields-RHP, Scott Kazmir-LHP, Matt Garza-RHP, Andy Sonnanstine-RHP, Jeff Niemann-RHP, Troy Percival-RHP

Tampa's pitching benefits greatly from their solid team defense.  James Shields tends to be overlooked by most in favor of other members of the rotation.  This isn't very fair, as the 27 year old is pretty beastly.  He has posted two consecutive 200+ inning seasons now and had a K:BB ratio of 4:1 last season.  The only concern is a slight downward trend in strikeouts, which might be something to keep an eye on this year.  Scott Kazmir seems to be heading in the wrong direction, as last season he posted his highest career FIP while posting his lowest career BABIP against.  If his K:BB ratio continues to drop, don't be shocked to Tampa try trading him to save money and make room for one of their promising young gunslingers in Durham and Montgomery. 

Obtained from the Twins with Bartlett for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris, Matt Garza started to put it together In his first season out of Minnesota.  Don't be shocked if Garza regresses slightly, as the AL East will have had a year to get to know him.  Sonnanstine is one of those soft-tossing righties that dominate the Sox and have no right to do so.  Niemann is entering his first full major league season as a starting pitcher and might not be long for that role.  Tampa has significant depth past their 5th starter, including all everything future star/savior David Price.

Percival is the remarkably not the oldest player on the Rays, as Brian Shouse is a few months older.  Troy shouldn't actually be the closer, but because he has 353 saves he will get the call until he injures himself again.  Retirement looms.  Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler will take turns spelling him and one of the two will most likely be named closer when Percival falls apart.

Outlook:  The future looks bright for Tampa, as all of their smart drafting and trades have paid off in a wealth of young talent.  They should have no problem contending in a fierce AL East for the next few years, potentially rising to the head of the class.  As for our record against them this season?  We all know how poorly the Sox tend to play in domes and our first series against Tampa is a four game set in the cave known as the Trop.  We could win the series at USCF later on, but I'm predicting a 3-5 record against Tampa this year.  I hope I'm wrong.