First Inning. Who will be the opening day shortstop for the Rays in 2015?
Yunel Escobar. He’s got a contract. It’s relatively cheap. And the Rays don’t want Ben Zobrist to play shortstop everyday. If they did, they had plenty of other opportunities to do it. Now, 2016 is a different question. I think we will see Hak-Ju Lee to start 2016 and maybe even Willy Adames later in the year.
Second Inning. What will the starting rotation look like in 2015?
- Alex Cobb
- Chris Archer
- Drew Smyly
- Jeremy Hellickson
- Jake Odorizzi
In other words, don’t expect any major changes this off-season now that David Price has been traded. Maybe at some point you move Odorizzi to the bullpen and insert Alex Colome or Nate Karns. But unless either of those guys really steps up in the spring, that seems unlikely early on.
Third Inning. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what are the Cubs doing?
The Cubs are building their team in the exact opposite way of the Rays. That is, they are building a farm system around young position player prospects and building a pitching staff out of scraps and leftovers. The thinking is that position player prospects are much safer and pitchers are like playing craps and this is true. Go back and look at top prospect lists and you will see that top position player prospects almost never completely miss. The worst that they will become is a most-days big leaguer. On the other hand pitchers sometimes fail and a lot of times get hurt. That’s not to say what the Rays are doing is wrong. They understand that there are risks with pitchers. But the Rays counter that by having a LOT of pitchers. The Rays lost Matt Moore, traded David Price, and were without Jeremy Hellickson for a good chunk of the season and the rotation has still been one of the best in baseball.
I used to always say that Pete Carroll and Joe Maddon are the same person, but that was more about their personalities. Listen to any lengthy Carroll interview and he sounds just like Maddon. A little quirky. A little conspiratorial. Always the smartest guy in the room. But if we are talking about coaching style, it is Chip Kelly, hands down. Grantland recently did a lengthy story on Kelly and he and Maddon are basically the same coach in two different sports and it starts with the same simple philosophy, “question everything.” It is also interesting that while Kelly is considered a radical coach, like Maddon, he really isn’t doing anything new and in some ways is just bringing back some old school tactics and using them in unconventional ways.
Fifth Inning. Will Derek Jeter ever be an owner of the Rays?
It makes sense on the surface. He’s rich. He has a home in the area. The Rays could use the connection to arguably the most popular baseball player of the last 20 years. It could also help to finally convert Yankees fans in the area into Rays fans. But there is a problem. Jeter, who does want to be an owner, wants to be the man in charge making decisions. In a recent interview he said he wants to be an owner like George Steinbrenner. First of all, it is hard to do that with a small-budget team. It is also hard to do with the Rays unless Stuart Sternberg decides he has had enough and wants to sell.
Sixth Inning. Speaking of converting fans, what will it take to convert Yankees and Red Sox fans into Rays fans?
Many thought that simply turning the Rays into a winning organization would be enough. In today’s world, where all games are available to be seen on TV, the Rays need more than that. What they really need is a 3-5 year window where the Rays are really good and both the Yankees and Red Sox suck and are lacking superstars. It needs to get to the point where it is embarrassing to be a Yankees or Red Sox fan in this area. The really diehards won’t ever jump ship. But casual fans are bandwagon fans. It would also help if the Rays left the AL East and local fans didn’t have 9 games to attend every year. It’s hard for fans to abandon their team if they still have so much access to them.
Seventh Inning. Rank the three most valuable Rays so far this season?
1) Ben Zobrist. You know when something is so underrated that it eventually becomes overrated? I think that is Zobrist right now. I am a big believer in WAR. I also know enough to know it has limitations. I think we will find out someday that WAR was not properly rating players like Zobrist and whatever that was skewed his WAR a little higher than it probably should have been. Not a lot, just a little. Still, he has been the best player on the Rays this season.
2) David Price. Price would probably be at the top of the list if he wasn’t traded.
3) Brad Boxberger. This is less about how good Boxberger has been and more about how he saved the bullpen. When Balfour struggled and Jake McGee was moved to the ninth inning, the Rays needed somebody to partner with Joel Peralta and bridge the starters to the 9th inning. Boxberger has done that wonderfully.
Eighth Inning. Over/under wins for the Rays this season: 84.5
To get to 85 wins, the Rays would have to go 20-8 down the stretch. They are certainly capable of that, but the offense has just not shown the consistency needed to have a second run like that. And keep in mind that they would still probably miss the playoffs by 2-3 games even if they did. UNDER.
Ninth Inning. Will Joe Maddon go to a 6-man rotation in September?
Maybe not a full-on 6-man rotation, but at some point the Rays need to start thinking about easing off on the starting pitchers and saving some bullets for other seasons. Once the Durham Bulls season is over, I think we will see Alex Colome and Enny Romero up to make a couple of spot-starts down the stretch and give the other guys some extra rest.