Playing Pepper 2015: Tampa Bay Rays

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Order this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Tampa Bay Rays
77-85, fourth in the AL East

We’ve been conditioned to think that Tampa Bay is always the little engine that could.  That even though they are a small market team, they’ll be able to overcome due to their talented farm systems and smart management.  There’s even been a book written on that general theory.

Sadly for Rays fans, that wasn’t the case last year as various things conspired to keep them out of the playoff hunt.  Now they face a season without David Price and Joe Maddon for the first time in a long while.  Can they continue to be relevant?  To answer that, we have Anthony from X-Rays Spex.  Hunt Anthony up on Twitter @XRaysSpex and give him a follow!

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

XRS: The Tampa Bay Rays had an eventful offseason to say the least. Gone are middle infielders Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist; former Rookie of the Year award winners Wil Myers and Jeremy Hellickson; Matt Joyce; relievers Cesar Ramos and Joel Peralta; and catchers Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan. Matt Silverman’s offseason moves ushered in a new crop of players like John Jaso, Rene Rivera, Asdrubal Cabrera, Steven Souza, Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri, to name a few. Expect prospects like Tim Beckham, Nick Franklin and Nathan Karns to make an impact as well.

As a certain former manager used to say, pitching and defense are in the Rays DNA — that still holds true now. The lackluster 2014 season made it abundantly clear, something needed to be done to bolster the offense. Did Silverman put together a more potent team? That fails to be seen at the moment. However, Steamer projects an improved Rays offense that will score around 675 runs and drive in 617 RBI — 63 more runs, and 31 more runs batted in over the previous season.

It should be noted, Kansas City scored 651 runs last season and went to the World Series. Two other playoff contenders — St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants — scored 619+ runs, less than the Rays are projected to score in forthcoming season. If Tampa Bay’s pitching staff is solid once again, and if the team can drive in more than 619 runs (the total St. Louis scored last season), a solid season wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.

C70: How will things change now that Joe Maddon is gone?

XRS: Joe Maddon changed the culture within the Rays organization, and the team will always owe him a debt of gratitude for that. Yet the hiring of Kevin Cash over Dave Martinez symbolized a desire to change things from the previous regime. It’s a little early to predict what the net difference might be — after all this is Cash’s first managerial position, and there really isn’t much to go off of. However, he seems to value the player’s input on things (not that Maddon didn’t), Cash has already espoused the benefits of a stable lineup day in and day out, and you can be certain there won’t be any penguins or mariachi bands in the clubhouse.

C70: Who will be the ace of the rotation by the end of the year?

XRS: If he can stay healthy and log 200-225 innings, Alex Cobb without a doubt.

What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

Pitching wise, I would expect Drew Smyly to make great strides. Smyly is projected to outperform his career norms, and it will exciting to see how he improves in this, his first complete season under the tutelage of pitching coach Jim Hickey. As for position players, Evan Longoria will need to make great strides in order to meet and/or exceed his offensive projections (.256 BA/.334 OBP/.446 SLG/.780 OPS/.340 wOBA/124 wRC+/5.4 WAR) if Tampa Bay is going to be relevant in 2015.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

XRS: I’ll put it this way, PECOTA has the Rays leading the AL East with an 86+ win season. Why? Pitching and defense. PECOTA projects the pitching staff to allow 638 runs — second in the American League, just behind the Mariners. Furthermore, the defense is pegged to save 28.3 runs above the average — second in all of baseball, just behind the Royals.

C70: What do you like best about being a Rays fan?

XRS: Beyond the fact they are my local team, I love watching a team that plays hard, intelligent baseball. That they are competitive on a shoestring budget certainly doesn’t hurt.

My thanks to Anthony for all his insight here.  Save for San Diego, there might not be a team that has more change to deal with this season and it should be interesting how they handle it!

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