Sep 13, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Steve Geltz (54) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning of the Rays 6-3 loss to Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
And this was my interview with Ehsan about the Rays.
Ehsan Kassim: The Rays had a rough off-season losing both Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon. How has the team recovered since and what are your expectations for this season?
Robbie Knopf: It was heart-wrenching for Rays fans when Friedman and Maddon left in short succession, and before they knew it, players like Ben Zobrist and Wil Myers were gone as well. Even as he did trade away a few more players, though, new President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman made it completely clear that he knew what he was doing. He bolstered the minor league system without making the Rays’ 25-man roster much worse.
On the whole, I believe that this team can win more games last season, maybe five or six more. 77 wins was the worst-case scenario for the 2014 Rays and this year’s worst-case scenario is below that, but with average luck, this team will be around .500. Then we can talk about what could happen if fortune is on their side–if the pitchers come back healthy and the offense exceeds expectations, this team will be in the race for the AL East crown.
EK: I am holding out hope the Tampa Bay Rays eventually get a new stadium to stay in Tampa for the foreseeable future, like the Marlins did. Is this ever going to happen?
RK: I do believe it will happen, but it certainly isn’t on the immediate horizon. The bottom line is, ironically enough, that the Rays are St. Petersburg’s pride and joy and they don’t want to agree to any deal that would feature the risk of the Rays moving across the bay to Tampa. The question will be whether they are willing to back off of that once the situation becomes more urgent.
Once cities like Montreal are being tossed around more realistically, will the St. Petersburg council members be willing to make a sacrifice for the good of the area? Unless their idealism has no bounds, I expect that a deal will get done in the next three to four years. Otherwise, St. Petersburg will have a black spot on its resume that may never go away.
By the way, the Rays may not actually leave Pinellas County (where St. Pete is) to move to Hillsborough (where Tampa is)–the Rays just want to look at every possible location before they make a decision. That is what makes this whole thing so nuts. The Rays haven’t been perfect in this process, but if a deal does not get done, the St. Petersburg council will be the ones to blame.
EK: The Rays pitching staff has been ravaged by injuries thus far. What’s the latest on the Rays currently nursing injuries?
RK: Drew Smyly showed good signs in his first rehab start last night. Both him and Alex Colome are hoping to be back before the end of the month. Alex Cobb, Jake McGee, Nick Franklin, James Loney, and John Jaso are likely looking at May returns, while Matt Moore is set to be back in June or July.
Luckily for the Rays, they have enough pitching depth to survive for the next few weeks, but it will be a huge lift to get so many talented starting pitchers back, not to mention two starting infielders, their designated hitter, and their closer. If the Rays are .500 or a little below on May 1st and aren’t getting super lucky in terms of one-run games and the like, there will be major reason for optimism.
EK: Speaking of pitchers, can you give us a brief scouting report on the pitchers the Marlins will face this series?
RK: Tonight, the Marlins will see usual reliever Steve Geltz as the Rays plan to use several pitchers and have the ability to pinch-hit whenever a hurler is set to bat. Geltz is usually in the 92-94 MPH range with his fastball with good deception and movement and pairs it with a solid slider. He has pitched well in his first two appearances (he struck out all four batters he faced on Opening Day), and the Rays are expecting two strong innings from him.
If the Rays do opt for length later in the game, you’ll see Erasmo Ramirez’s solid fastball-changeup arsenal (plus two below-average breaking pitches) or Matt Andriese’s sinker-slider repertoire.
On Saturday, the Marlins will see the Rays’ de facto ace while Cobb is injured, Chris Archer. Archer has the best stuff on the staff with a mid-90’s fastball, one of the best sliders in baseball, and a changeup that he keeps trying to use more. His Opening Day could have gone better as he simply didn’t have his slider, but assuming that pitch is back to normal (and there is no reason that it shouldn’t be), Miami hitters are in for a rough afternoon.
Closing out the series for the Rays will be rookie right-hander Nate Karns. The Rays never really know what they are going to get from game to game or from inning to inning with Karns. That was evidenced by his 6 runs allowed in the first 2 innings of his first start followed by 3.2 no-hit innings.
Karns’ mid-90’s fastball and power curveball are two excellent pitches while his changeup can be a serviceable third offering, but his command is extremely inconsistent. We will have to see which version of Karns shows up in this game.
EK: What did you observe in the Rays first series of the season? What did you like and what did you not like?
The Rays appeared to break through in the third inning for their second game as Karns found himself on the mound and the offense racked up five runs. Then they finally won their first game of the season behind Jake Odorizzi, who the Marlins are lucky enough to miss. On the whole, the relief arms looked electric and the Rays’ hitters put together good at-bats.
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This is a team that will take a lot of pitches and do whatever it takes to get on base. It doesn’t have a ton of power and we will see whether it can be more than a middle-of-the-pack team in stolen bases, but we have to remember that the Rays don’t need to score many runs if their pitchers are performing like they are supposed to. It isn’t too difficult to squint and see a Rays offense that is providing their starters with enough to help this team win quite a few games.
The most impressive individual players were Odorizzi and (no surprise) Evan Longoria. Longoria’s plate discipline has been outstanding to begin the year to with a pair of extra-base hits (one homer). He was disappointing last year (albeit not to the same extent as Wil Myers) and the Rays need a huge bounce-back year from him. Kevin Kiermaier has also played well, even delivering a left-on-left triple the other day despite perceived issues against lefties.
EK: How do you see this series playing out? Any bold predictions?
I will say that the Rays win tonight and Saturday before losing on Sunday. In terms of bold predictions, I’ll say that Evan Longoria and Giancarlo Stanton both hit two home runs in the three games, that Archer shuts down the Marlins for seven innings of one-run ball, and that the Marlins lead tonight’s game entering the sixth inning before blowing it. I guess we’ll have to see how I do with those.