Why the Rays are the AL East Frontrunners

Mar 12, 2016; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Matt Moore (55) pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 12, 2016; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Matt Moore (55) pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

The Tampa Bay Rays are riding high after a historic win Tuesday vs the Cuban National Team. While the Rays have a Spring Training record of 8-9, this is the most depth Tampa Bay has had in a long time. The rotation has been lights out, capped off by Matt Moore’s scoreless outing vs Cuba. With the new acquisitions, the Rays offense is built to have one of its best years yet.

The Rays have the deepest rotation in the AL East as the Rays are led by ace Chris Archer, who is coming off his best season in the majors with a 3.23 ERA and 252 strikeouts, good for second in MLB. Behind Archer, the Rays have three pitchers coming off injuries looking to make an instant impact.

After missing time with a left oblique stain, Jake Odorizzi has looked strong this spring as he’s sporting a 1.59 ERA through three starts. After struggling in his return from Tommy John surgery, Matt Moore has looked more like the pitcher he was before he was injured.

After pitching six scoreless innings vs Cuba, Moore has a spring ERA of 1.74 as he’s only allowed two earned runs in 10.1 innings. More notably, Moore has 11 strikeouts and zero walks. His control was shaky in his return from Tommy John surgery but he’s regained his form and continued the momentum he had when he finished the regular season strong.

Drew Smyly is another starter who is regaining his form after a long-term injury. In ten innings pitched, Smyly is 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA to go along with ten strikeouts and one walk. The Rays rotation is deep and I haven’t even mentioned Alex Cobb who will return mid-season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. The Rays starting rotation will be fun to watch this season.

In recent seasons, the Rays hitting has lacked the run support for their solid starting rotation. This year should be different after the acquisitions made in the off-season. The Rays have a lot of depth at every position. While third baseman Evan Longoria is penciled in as the everyday starter, every other position has multiple players that give Kevin Cash a lot of flexibility to mix and match.

At first base, James Loney, Logan Morrison, and Steve Pearce will split time. Loney is coming off one of his best games of the spring vs Cuba as he drove in three runs, including a two-run homer in the fourth inning. Morrison also has the ability to play in the outfield and as the DH.

In the middle of the infield, it appears it will be Brad Miller starting at SS and Logan Forsythe starting at second base. Behind them on the depth chart are Tim Beckham and Nick Franklin, who could provide some pop and solid defense off the bench.

The outfield is where the Rays have the most depth. Kevin Kiermaier, coming off a Gold Glove campaign in 2015, will anchor CF with the corner outfielders represented by Desmond Jennings and Steven Souza Jr. The Rays also have newly acquired Corey Dickerson, Morrison, Brandon Guyer, and Mikie Mahtook behind the three likely starters. Jennings has experienced a couple of injury-riddled seasons and if he can stay on the field, he will be able to provide some much need balance and speed in the lineup. The Rays lineup has the ability to finish in the top half of the AL in runs scored and if they can accomplish that, it will take some heavy burden off the pitching staff.

While the starting rotation and lineup has a lot of depth, the bullpen is thin right now. After trading Jake McGee in the off-season, Rays announced last week that closer Brad Boxberger is out 8-10 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair his abdominal abductor muscle. The Rays will look internally to find the new closer. Alex Colome is currently the front-runner to be the closer, but Cash told MLB.com that they’ll likely go with a “bullpen by committee.” The Rays have Steven Geltz, Xavier Cedeno, Enny Romero, and Danny Farquhar among others at Cash’s disposal. If the Rays can weather the storm early in the season with strong starting pitching and offense, they can help overshadow the lack of depth in the bullpen.

While the other AL East teams have made some notable moves, such as David Price going to the Red Sox and Aroldis Chapman going to the Yankees, the Rays have the deepest roster and fewest question marks among the AL East contenders. The Yankees, Orioles, and Blue Jays have questions in the starting rotation while the Red Sox have questions on whether their high-priced players can rebound from a poor 2015 season. Rays’ starting rotation and offense will surprise people and that’s what makes them the front-runners to win the wide open AL East.