DM3229FIRST INNING (A look back)…
Forty-five ESPN.com “experts” made their predictions for the 2011 season. None picked the Rays to win the division. And only four picked the Rays for the Wild Card…Can this team compete for a playoff spot?

All those experts can see is that the Rays lost some big names this off-season. And they see that the only additions are two guys that already have one foot in the retirement home. What they don’t see is a rotation that could be stronger. Several key bats entering their prime ages. And they don’t see a front office that has a knack for putting bullpens together on the fly. Is this a playoff team? Maybe. Is this a playoff contender?….YOU BET YOUR ASS IT IS

SECOND INNING (Headlines)…
We have a good idea what Evan Longoria and the rotation can do. But there are several new pieces that are a bit of mystery…What position player and what pitcher are the biggest keys to the Rays success?

There is no doubt that the Rays are taking a step back defensively at first base. But in reality, it won’t take much to replace Carlos Pena’s bat. For now it looks like Dan Johnson is going to play everyday. Can he suddenly be a big bat at age 31? We’ll see. As for the pitchers, a lot of pressure is on the recovered shoulder of Juan Cruz. Can he pitch back-to-back days? Can he be a shadow of what Joaquin Benoit did last year? If those two perform well, the Rays could be a winner….DAN JOHNSON AND JUAN CRUZ

THIRD INNING (Headlines)…
Typically the Rays do their dealing during the off-season, with Scott Kazmir being an exception. But if the Rays do make a deal this season…Who is most likely to be traded?

Joe Maddon likes having veterans behind the plate, but only if they produce. In 2010, Kelly Shoppach did not produce. And in 2011 he is due a lot of money ($3M). The Rays also have a guy in triple-A that could be ready for the big leagues later this summer in Robinson Chirinos. If the Rays fall of the pace after the All-Star break….KELLY SHOPPACH WILL BE MOVED

FOURTH INNING (Headlines)…
JP Howell will start the season on the DL…Who is the odd-man out when The Dude returns?

The obvious answer is lefty Cesar Ramos who came over from the Padres in the Jason Bartlett trade. But what if Adam Russell continues to give up hits by the handful? If that happens, look for Russell to find his way on to the DL in May with a strained left roster spot, opening the door for Howell. But if Russell is ok….CESAR RAMOS

FIFTH INNING (Headlines)…
Stuart Sternberg made some strong comments about the stadium issue this past weekend, when he said Major League Baseball “will find a place for me.” It has been four years since the Rays proposed the waterfront stadium…Will we see any progress in the stadium debate this season?

If we assume it will take four years to build a stadium. And if we assume the Rays will want a new stadium in 2017 when their current TV deal expires. Then there needs to be movement this year. That is, a solid plan, with financing, needs to be in stone by this time next year. And to get there, there is a lot of work that needs to be done this year…IF THEY DON’T, WE’RE ALL IN TROUBLE

SIXTH INNING (A look outside the box)…
The general consensus among the talking heads is that the AL East is a two-team race with the Rays on the outside looking in…Which team should Raysheads be more worried about, the Yankees or the Red Sox?

We’re a little surprised that so many people think the Red Sox are a lock to win the AL this year. To us, they look just like the Yankees. Both teams will score a lot of runs. They have solid bullpens. But both have big question marks in their most important unit, the rotations. So until we see that Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez can handle the Boston spotlight, we think the Yankees are the team to beat. That means the Red Sox are the main competition for the Wild Card….RED SOX

SEVENTH INNING (Toss-up)…
More starts with the Rays this season: Desmond Jennings or Robinson Chirinos?

This may depend more on injuries. If an outfielder goes down, we’re not certain Jennings steps in right away. However, if a catcher hits the DL, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Chirinos. And if the Rays want to cut some flab in July, Kelly Shoppach will go…ROBINSON CHIRINOS

More home runs this season: Dan Johnson or Matt Joyce?

Joyce if he plays more. But right now he won’t. He is a part-timer and Johnson is playing most days…DAN JOHNSON

More likely to win a major post-season award: Evan Longoria or David Price?

So much has to happen for Longoria to win the MVP. In addition to having a great season, the Rays have to stay in contention and Dirtbag needs to stop making headlines involving guns…DAVID PRICE

What will the Rays be doing in October: Playoff baseball or playing golf?

The Rays will be in contention. And they will be playing meaningful games in August and September. But at the same time, the Yankees and Red Sox have more talent. So if we are being honest, we have to say there is a better chance they are home…PLAYING GOLF

EIGHTH INNING (On deck)…
Joe Maddon will open the season with a closer-by-committee…Will Jake McGee grow into the closer’s role at any point this season?

The cop-out answer is ‘Maybe.’ If Farnsworth gets hurt. If JP Howell doesn’t come back 100%. If McGee can master another pitch in the next 2-3 months. Then maybe. But until then…NO

NINTH INNING (Putting out the fire)…
Enough already. Make a damn prediction…How many games will the Rays win?

The math models averaged 86 wins and a 29.4% shot at the playoffs. But those don’t consider Joe Maddon who, for all his quirks, tends to maximize the talent he is given. This is a contender. But they will need help to make it to the postseason….90-72, 3rd in the AL East

It’s opening day, dude. Seriously, how stoked are you.

This stoked…SEVEN NATION ARMY

You typically pick your beverage for each series based on the situation…What is the drink of choice tonight?

If we were going to mimic the 2011 Rays we would be inclined to pick PBR. Really cheap. But all-in-all not that bad considering the price. But it is opening day. And on opening day, everybody is still in first place. So We’re going straight to the top of the beer pyramid…DOGFISH 90

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6 Comments

  1. stunna says:

    OPENING DAYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!

  2. cg says:

    It is upon us!

  3. BennySaxon says:

    Do they sell 90 min at the Trop?

  4. Jim says:

    Thanks for the opening day pepper, Prof. Let’s go Rays!

  5. robert says:

    God this game feels a lot like last year…

    • Jim says:

      Was just going to say the Rays offense started right were it left it last year. We seemed to struggle with Guthrie last year, hopefully this isn’t the norm.

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