DM3229FIRST INNING (A look back)…
After entering the 2009 season with great hope, the Rays finished a disappointing 84-78, 19 games back in the AL East. With almost an identical roster coming back this season…Why should we think this season will be any different?

Much of the disappointment in 2009 can be attributed to a rotation that was never great and never dominant. This season, the group should be much stronger and if the spring is any indication (3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio), they are ready to dominate. And without any restraints, a healthy group could throw 1,000 innings. Last year, the top 5 pitchers threw only 842.2. That left nearly 600 innings for other pitchers. If the top 5 can reach 1,000 in 2010, the bullpen and other starters will only be responsible for about 400, which should only increase their effectiveness…ROTATION READY TO STEP UP

SECOND INNING (Headlines)…
Matt Joyce will start the season on the DL leaving Ben Zobrist, Gabe Kapler and Sean Rodriguez to share right field duties…What will happen to Joyce when he comes off the DL?

Joyce was no guarantee for a roster spot before the injury. At the very least he is going to go on an extended rehab assignment, where he will have a shot to prove he is ready for the big leagues. But more likely he will be in Durham for a while….DURHAM FOR A MONTH OR TWO

THIRD INNING (Headlines)…
Wade Davis “won” the final spot in the rotation by default when Andy Sonnanstine was moved to the bullpen…If a starting pitcher is injured, who will the Rays call on?

The easy answer is Sonnanstine, but do the Rays really want to keep bouncing him back and forth from starter and reliever? This may depend on what the Rays do when JP Howell is healthy. If Joaquin Benoit eventually takes Mike Ekstrom’s spot, then Howell would probably take Sonny’s spot, sending him back to Durham. At that point, do the Rays return him to the rotation or do they keep in reserve as a reliever? Our guess is the former. So it is Sonny unless you can make a case for Carlos Hernandez. As for Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays are not in a hurry to promote him….ANDY SONNANSTINE

FOURTH INNING (Headlines)…
Hank Blalock made a run at a roster spot in spring training and would have received some playing time at DH. Now that Blalock is in the minors and no guarantee to play with the Rays this season…How many starts can we expect from Pat Burrell?

We would be surprised if Blalock doesn’t make an appearance for the Rays at some point. But even if that doesn’t happen, Willy Aybar and Sean Rodriguez will almost certainly get some starts at DH. The x-factor here is how much time Burrell spends in the outfield. Joe Maddon’s recent comments suggest it will happen…120 AT DH, 15 IN THE OF

FIFTH INNING (Headlines)…
Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena are both in the final year of their contracts…Will both players still be Rays in August after the trade deadline?

Since the advent of the Wild Card, it is hard to not be in the playoff race in July and this might be the Rays best shot at a title for a couple of years. If they are still in the race, they will keep both players. But what is “still in the race”? The Rays understand the difference between a longshot and a good shot. Is a 20% shot at the playoffs “still in the race”? What about 40%? The Rays are business people and like sure things. They also like to maximize value, even if that means sacrificing a small chance now for a better chance later. If they don’t think they have a very good shot at the playoffs, one or both will be dealt…MAYBE

SIXTH INNING (A look outside the box)…
The Yankees and Red Sox are playing each other in the first series of the season. The Red Sox took game one…Which team should Raysheads be rooting for?

If we work with the assumption that two teams from the East will make the playoffs, then winning the Wild Card should be a good enough goal. By most measures, the Yankees are the best team in the division, so let’s assume they will win the division. That leaves the Rays battling the Red Sox for the Wild Card. And every Red Sox loss is one knocked off of the Rays magic number…YANKEES

SEVENTH INNING (Over/Unders)…
Home runs for Pat Burrell in 2010: 22

The Bat hit 14 in 2009, but averaged 31 the 4 seasons before that. Assuming he is healthy, we have to believe the motivation of playing for a contract after the season will be motivation to play well…OVER

Desmond Jennings starts in 2010 with the Rays: 20

If Jennings is healthy, and if the Rays are out of the playoff chase and if Carl Crawford is traded, then Jennings might get a September call-up. Even then we are not sure. But if he does, he would only get 10-15 starts…UNDER

Starts for Jeremy Hellickson in 2010 with the Rays: 5

Outside of David Price, the Rays are very cautious with their starting pitchers and even with Price we bet the Rays have second thoughts about calling him as soon as they did in 2009. We have made the case before that Hellboy might not be promoted this yearUNDER

EIGHTH INNING (On deck)…
The Rays start the season with 3 games at home against the Orioles and 3 games at home against the Yankees…What will their record be at the end of the week?

The O’s are an up-and-coming team that some have loosely compared to the ’08 Rays. Still, you have to feel good about the pitching matchups in the first series. James Shields vs Kevin Millwood scares us a little just because Millwood is a veteran and could raise his game for opening day. If this was August, Shields would be a no-brainer. The other two (Garza v Guthrie, Niemann v Matusz) look like easy wins, although we wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays struggle against Matusz. On the other hand, the pitching matchups in the Yankees series are scary. Some see Javier Vazquez as a Cy Young contender this year and he gets David Price. That is followed by Wade Davis squaring off with CC Sabathia. Both of those games will be uphill battles. Shields vs AJ Burnett looks like a pick ‘em. If the Rays can get 4 wins, that would be an excellent start to the season, but we wouldn’t be surprised if they only get 3…4-2

NINTH INNING (Putting out the fire)…
Will Evan Longoria break Tim Raines’ record for consecutive stolen bases without being caught to start a career?

Longo is 16-16 so far, but still needs 11 more just to tie. But is there anything this guy doesn’t do well? Still, eventually, somebody will miss a hit-and-run….NO

Sean Rodriguez gets the opening day nod at second base over Reid Brignac…Right move?

We need to see a little more of Rodzilla’s defense before we pass judgment, but we also want his bat in the lineup as much as possible. Then again, we don’t want Brignac rotting away on the bench. It will be interesting to see how Joe Maddon handles playing time…OK FOR NOW

Evan Longoria doesn’t think he is the favorite for AL MVP…Is he?

Dirtbag is definitely the flavor of the month and suddenly on everybody’s radar. So as long as he has a typical season, he will get votes. But while his typical numbers will be very good, we are not sure how sexy they will be. He won’t hit .340. He won’t hit 45 home runs. Will .295-35-125 RBI and gold glove defense be enough?…OTHER PLAYERS HAVE SEXIER NUMBERS

Give us a pitcher and a position player that could make or break the Rays this season:

Matt Garza and BJ Upton. They have the talent and stuff to contend for a Cy Young and win an MVP award. And we have a good feeling about both this year…GARZA AND UPTON

We hear that you pick your beverages each series based on the opponent…What is your poison pick this week?

We never felt good about the 2009 season, even before it started. This year is different. It feels like everything is clicking. So we are heading over to Whole Foods and grabbing some Immortal Ale. We are then turning to something different for the Yankees. Bullfrog Ale. Because it is going to take some Bullfrog attitude to take down the Yankees…IMMORTAL ALE and BULLFROG ALE

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7 Comments

  1. Whole Foods is still being built in St. Petersburg at the old Coconut Grove shopping plaza at 30th Ave North and 4th Street, so no Whole Food stroll, but will look for those two new elixirs at other beer collection venues like that famous beer destination at 4th Street and 21st Ave where you can pick your 6-pack.

    Seriously, Prof., Great run through and some interesting thoughts to think about before the game tonight....Maybe even before my first new Trop Hot Dog made by the makers of the famous Fenway Frank.

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    • Brian H says:

      its not a whole foods, its a fresh market. you can get that kinda stuff at rolling oats.

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    • Carey says:

      That "place" you speak of (actually at 20th and 4th) is called Sheps. It's been there forever (Used to buy there underage in HS. . . and I'm an old bastard).

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  2. Beth says:

    Hey, don't tease of with the Whole Foods reference...although now there is a Whole Foods in Tampa by the intersection of Dale Mabry and 275, so Hillsborough County fans can indeed pick up a six pack on the way to the Trop.

    I completely agree that Garza and Upton are pivotal -- break out seasons from those two and, everything else being equal, this is a first place contender.

    And as for the question of Dirtbag's MVP award with those numbers -- depends where the Rays finish! .295-35-125 plus high quality defense on a first place/wild card team could be MVP numbers. On a third place team...not so much.

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  3. Zac says:

    Yes! Finally, opening day... You had me at "playing a little pepper"

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  4. JoeA. says:

    Great run down Prof, and a great way to start the season last night! I live in Naples and we have Whole Foods here, but the best beer selection is at Total Wine. Speaking of beer, if anyone went last night, are there any new beers at the Trop this year? I was hoping they'd have something cool and local like Cigar City or St. Somewhere.

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