Rays Colored Glasses: Series Preview and Head to Head Q&A


The Tampa Bay Rays open the season against AL East division rival Baltimore to kick off defense of their AL East crown. If ever there was a tough season ahead, this is it.

Baltimore is a team on the upswing, much like the Rays were a few short years ago. With a ton of young talent and some power added to the linep the only thing likely to suppress their rise in the east is the ridiculous competition and a pitching staff full of questions.

To get the competitive juices flowing, I teamed up with Chris Raitzek, staff writer for our Baltimore Orioles blog Birds Watcher to take a look at this opening series and set the stage for what should be another interesting season of baseball.

Pitching match-ups

Friday April 1st
Rays – David Price (2010 19-6 2.72) Note: Price was 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA vs Baltimore in 5 starts in 2010.
Orioles – Jeremy Guthrie (2010 stats 11-14 3.83)

Saturday April 2nd
Rays – James Shields (2010 stats 13-15 5.18 ERA)
Orioles – Brian Matusz (2010 stats 10-12 4.30) vs Note: Matusz finished the season strong, winning AL Rookie of the Month honors in August.

Sunday April 3rd
Rays – Wade Davis (2010 stats 12-1 4.07) Note: Davis pitched well last year against the O’s. He went 1-1 and a no decision in three starts with 10 K’s and a 3.72 ERA.
Orioles – Chris Tillman (2010 stats 2-5 5.87) vs Note: Tillman won this start over Brad Bergensen, due to a good spring (2-0 3.93)

Who’s hot/cold

Rays that are hot:
Manny hitting .311 with 3 HR and 10 RBI is a great start. If Joe Maddon can keep him focused he might just be the Energizer bunny the Rays need to get the offense amped and ramped.

The guy who impressed the most was Elliot Johnson. Not only did he hit .341 he stole 12 bases and got caught, well, never. Considering how Joe Maddon loves to push players around the diamond E.J. could be a big factor this year.

Jake McGee certainly looks like he is ready to take on the closing role, with a sparkling 0.75 ERA in 12 innings of relief but Maddon is likely to start him out in low to medium leverage situations and see how he progresses.

Rays that are cold entering the season:

Dan Johnson (.210,) Matt Joyce (.200,) and John Jason (.212,) need to pick it up. Johnson especially needs to show he isn’t Carlos Pena minus the defense or he’ll likely be back in the minors or worse.

Injury Updates

J.P. Howell is progressing well after surgery to repair a torn labrum last season and expects to start throwing in the minors in April and on target for a return some time in May. John Jaso is back after taking one in the lower quadrant which certainly has affected his performance during spring training.

Some Rays questions heading into the season:

Chris: Will the closer-by-committee come close to replacing Rafael Soriano’s 45 saves?
Ben: The revamped bullpen includes Kyle Farnsworth, Jake McGee, Joel Peralta, Cesar Ramos, Juan Cruz, Adam Russell and Andy Sonnastine with Farnsworth the likely closer early on, but knowing Maddon he’ll be very situational in who pitches against who. The wild card will be Howell, scheduled to return sometime in May, and whoever in that group is struggling will likely find themselves on the outside looking in. There shouldn’t be a serious drop in total saves, and you have to think that either McGee or Howell will take the reins at some point throughout the season. No matter how you slice it, replacing Soriano is going to be difficult.

Chris: Does Manny Ramirez have enough left in his tank to make a positive contribution to the team this season? Or is he just going to be a distraction?
Ben: If there is a manager who can handle Manny it’s Maddon. Manny looks sharp so far and seems motivated to prove he’s got something left in the tank. It’s definitely a big question entering the season but Manny and John Damon are well-respected and should help the youngsters mature quickly. If he proves to be a distraction the Rays are in trouble.

Chris: With the loss of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, can this lineup really contend against the starting pitching in the A.L. East (particularly the Red Sox)?
Ben: While Crawford seems to be a huge loss, a closer look reveals that he may not be that tough to replace. Crawford owns a pedestrian .339 OBP and .781 OPS in his career, although he did manage an OBP of .364 and .359 in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Carlos Pena will be missed more, but that is due less to his production than his defense, which was Gold-Glove caliber. The question is the same that has been pondered throughout baseball and only time will tell, but considering how poorly the Rays hit as a team last year (.247, 27th best in the majors) there is plenty of room for improvement.

Chris: Realistically, are the Rays in a rebuilding year? Or will they be contenders in the A.L. East?
Ben: I think the answer is both. Theo Epstein said it best when he said the Rays looked more like they were reloading versus rebuilding. There are a lot of young players who will need to step up for them to compete, but the bullpen, sans Soriano, actually looks better than the 2010 version and the rotation should again be one of the best. For the Rays it’s all about infield defense, and as long as they continue to play solid defense they should be in the thick of it come September.

Some Orioles Questions

Ben: Baltimore looks re-tooled at the plate with several veteran additions, but can they generate enough offense to keep the Orioles out of the basement?
Chris: The potential is definitely there to score more runs than last year – which will be imperative if the O’s are to finish out of last place. In 2010 the team scored a total of 613 runs. That was 200 less than both the Yankees and Red Sox (and 189 less than your Rays). Last year Vlad Guerrero had 115 RBIs and Derrick Lee had 80 RBIs. You’ve got to think having those two guys in the lineup is going to add to our offensive output – and keep us out of the basement.

Ben: Baltimore’s rotation is un-tested with Jeremy Guthrie the senior citizen at 31. What can you expect from them against the loaded AL East teams?
Chris: This is by far the biggest question mark for Buck and the team. Spring Training didn’t give us much of a clue as to what to expect from the young gun starters (25 year-old Jake Arrieta, 23-year-old Chris Tillman, and 24-year-old Brian Matusz). The one that got the most work, and had the best stats, Zach Britton is starting the season at triple-A. The encouraging part is that all of the starters got innings in the Bigs last season, and, when Buck took over, they got a lot better. We’ll have to wait and see how they do against the loaded line-ups in the AL East, but even the greatest pitchers were young once.

Ben: Brian Roberts is the catalyst for that offense and when he is in the game they seem to have an extra gear. Can he stay healthy this year?
Chris: Another excellent question that all Orioles fans are asking. When Brian was out last season, it took a lot of the energy right out the team. B-Rob has one of those nagging back injuries, but the good part is, he was able to work through it in Spring Training and is starting the season healthy. Roberts is 33 now, and with his history of injuries, don’t be surprised if he isn’t playing every day, like he did before. With both Robert Andino and Cesar Isturis making the team, there are other guys who can eat up some innings, when needed.

Ben: Baltimore’s bullpen looks pretty solid, but a closer hasn’t been named yet. Will it be a closer-by-committee or will someone step up and take the job?
Chris: I still think that Koji Uehara is primed to step up and take the closers job. The only question mark is his health. But he didn’t have to go on the disabled list, so that’s at least a good start. Even though he has a history of injuries, those were when he was a starter. It’s also possible that Kevin Gregg will find his way back to being a closer, but he had a rough Spring.

Ben: Buck Showalter is a no-nonsense manager but he has already peeved a couple opposing managers. If the Orioles struggle early, will he be able to keep his job?
Chris: Ben, I can tell you one thing for sure…there is NO way that Buck is getting fired this season. General Manager Andy MacPhail loves the guy. And he has taken over as the face of the Orioles in Baltimore (billboards for season tickets have HIS face on them – not a player, but a manager). The city has bought in to Buck fever and, considering that we have not had a winning season in 14 years, I think the fans and the front office will be very patient with him. As for peeving other managers – that just shows that he has some fire – something recent Orioles managers haven’t shown much of.