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Armed and Ready

Posted By Brian Joyce On Apr 6 2012 @ 12:39 pm In Tampa Bay Devil Rays | 2 Comments

The headline says it all when talking about the 2012 edition of the Tampa Bay Rays. In my humble opinion the Rays have the best starting pitching in the AL.  Tampa Bay will rarely win a slug fest because they don’t have the firepower like the other  top tier teams in the league have.  They’ll lean heavily on their starting pitching and their defense to carry them throughout the season. Last season, Rays starters pitched 1,058 innings the most in the AL since 2005 and that computes into nearly seven innings in each start. Very few teams in baseball can say they have six legitimate starters, but Tampa Bay can say that. Wade Davis an eleven game winner from last year will start the year in the bullpen because the surplus of starting pitching. With closer Kyle Farnsworth out (elbow strain and will miss the first six weeks and maybe more) we might see Davis close a game or two for the Rays this season.

James Shields takes the mound today against the Yankees and C.C. Sabathia in the opener today under the roof in St. Pete. It will be the second time for Shields to take the ball in an opener, the last time was back in 2010 against the Orioles and he got a no decision in that game.  Shields had his best season a year ago when was known as Complete Game James because he set a franchise record of eleven complete games and in today’s game that is unheard of. Lets put it in perspective, both the Yankees and Red Sox combined to have seven complete games last year.

When Shields takes the mound today against the dreaded Yankees he’ll be the first starter for Tampa Bay to be thirty in nearly five years. Jae Seo was the last starter that was thirty (ironically on the day he turned 30)  against the Mariners back in May of 2007, and the last time a Rays starter was over thirty was former NBA hoop legend (played in the assocation with the Sixers, Kings, Nets, and Cavs) Mark Hendrickson and he was thirty two and that happened in the summer of 2006.

The Rays continue to develop starting pitching, all five starters are homegrown including last years Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson who went 13-10 in 29 starts with an era that was under 3.00.   Take a quick look around the division and you’ll notice nobody does it better than Tampa Bay when it comes to starting pitching and developing those arms in their system.  It is rare to see a starting pitcher from the Red Sox and Yankees go through their system and have results in the big leagues. Of course, their have been exceptions over the years but those teams usually go big game hunting in free agency or via trade.  Look no further than today’s starter for New York. C.C. Sabathia  has won 59 games with the Yankees in three years, and helped them win a World Series in his first with the Yankees back in 2009. He was a classic case of a big market team hitting the free agent waters with their blank checkbook and it has literally paid off for New York.

Both teams are coming off a first round exit in the playoffs, TB losing to the Rangers and the Tigers eliminated the Yankees. It was a surprising winter for the Yankees, I guess you could say it was unYankee like.  Usually they go on a  spending spree, but they were smart this past winter and stayed away from those long term big money contracts and spent their money wisely.

Tampa Bay on the other hand wanted to add more pop to their lineup and brought back Carlos Pena (4 years with TB he hit 172 longballs) who played with the Cubs last season. With Pena returning, the Rays said good-bye to local product Casey Kotchman who had an excellent year at the plate but provided no pop at first base.  Kotchman hit for a high average a year ago but added little power. Pena is the opposite, he should provide plenty of power but he’ll hit for a low average. The Rays also added the controversial Luke Scott  and got rid of fan favorite Johnny Damon. Tampa Bay is looking to add more power to those positions, Pena returning at first base and Scott as the full-time DH. Scott will not play in the field until mid May at the earliest. Add that with Evan Longoria and you have a decent lineup. Also in the mix will be speedster Desmond Jennings who will be playing in his first full season in the big leagues. Don’t forget about Matt Joyce the Rays only All Star from a year ago and the versatile Ben Zobrist who can play multiple positions. Rays fan favorite (dripping with sarcasm) B.J. Upton will start the year on the DL because of a collision he had with Jennings in spring training, so Jennings will start the year in center.  There are still a couple of holes in their lineup with Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez, and the slowest human Jose Molina. Rays fans thought Kelly Shoppach was slow.  Molina makes anyone and everyone look fast including parked cars, but he was brought in to help with the Rays pitching staff and anything he gives you offensively is an added bonus.

Overall, the Rays will be a contending team in 2012 and should be battling for a playoff spot and maybe they will win the AL East for the second time in three years. Anytime you have starting pitching like Tampa Bay does, you will  be in a lot of games. Oh those pesky Tampa Bay Rays.






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