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Know Your Enemy: Tampa Bay Rays

They’re still the Devil Rays in my heart.

We continue on through the White Sox homestand with a faceoff against Tampa Bay. After losing the finale against the Mariners, here’s hoping there’s a quick bounce-back.

Also, Friday’s game is cursed to be on Apple TV+, and having watched the Mets on it last weekend, say a prayer for yourselves.

2021 Record: 100-62, 1st in AL East

The AL and NL East are tough divisions, there’s no question about it. The Red Sox season wasn’t quite the disaster of 2020, but they still managed to finish eight games back from the Rays (tied with the Yankees, no less). The Blue Jays were a close third at nine games back, and the Orioles were [checks notes] 48 GAMES back, because ownership treats them like some sort of money-laundering operation.

We must remember that Rays ownership also treats their team as the cheapest possible option, similar to Oakland but with better results. They are full of a young base under team control through at least 2024, including superstars Wander Franco, Randy Arozarena, Austin Meadows, and Brandon Lowe. They’re all younger than 30 and have made appearances in both the World Series and the playoffs during the past three seasons, which is the best experience a core of young players can gain. Franco is due to stick around in Tampa for at least six seasons, and making his MLB debut in 2021 over 205 plate appearances slashed .323/.385/.516. In 2021 Lowe led the team in fWAR (5.2), home runs (39), and was second only to Meadows in RBIs (99). Just ignore his terrible postseason appearance.

Some of us decry the “nerds” for ruining baseball (as this author has done, on occasion) but it’s hard to deny that the success the Rays have seen is the result of anything but a mix of talent, moxie, and advanced analytics.

Manager: Kevin Cash

Kevin Cash had a solid comeback from his mistake-laden World Series appearance in 2020 that fans won’t soon forget (most notable the pulling of Blake Snell during a particularly dominant outing, alienating the ace and helping to force a trade to San Diego). Despite the loss to Boston in the ALDS, Kevin Cash was named AL Manager of the Year and continues on leading the Rays through 2022.

So Far in 2022: 4-3

Off to a bit of a slow start, the Rays swept the Orioles in their season opener but took just one of three in Oakland, which has them sitting in second in the division. Because it’s April, this is certainly not a harbinger of doom for Rays fans. They’re 10th in the American League in home runs (7), second in batting average (.261), and third in OBP (.318) as well as slugging (.416).

There weren’t a lot of moves made during the offseason outside of saying goodbye to Joey Wendle (to Miami) and Austin Meadows (to Detroit). Rookie Shane Baz is expecting to return despite missing the start of the season, and of course, Franco is back. The superstar is 21, and is expected to be around to torment us for years to come.

Series Matchup: Maybe not so bad?

Friday is going to see Dylan Cease face off against Drew Rasmussen. Cease started the season with a 1.80 ERA and eight strikeouts in a dominant performance against the Tigers and is shaping up to prove his never-ending detractors wrong. Rasmussen is posting a 4.50 ERA in four innings pitched with three strikeouts, after his lone start of the season against Baltimore.

Saturday sees the return of Michael Kopech to the mound for his second start of the season, facing off against Corey Kluber. There’s no beating around the bush: It’s time for Kopech to start showing White Sox fans what he’s made of after an early ending to his debut season, opting out of 2020, and a 2021 that saw mostly relief appearances. A promising start against the Tigers is giving White Sox fans hope: He posted a 2.25 ERA in four innings, striking out three. Kluber, meanwhile, has bounced around from Cleveland to the Rangers and then Yankees, mixing in arm surgery, before settling in Tampa Bay. Kluber threw 4 23 innings against Baltimore, allowing three hits and walking four while striking out five.

Sunday will see Vince Velásquez making his second start of the season. With a 0-0 record and a 2.25 ERA from his home opener start, the White Sox are looking to Velásquez to at least act as a band-aid until the aces are fully healthy and return.

Here it is from the Bird App