Tampa Bay Rays countdown to opening day: 5 teams to watch
By Rylan Stiles
The Tampa Bay Rays are getting closer to opening day, five days out let’s take a look at five teams the Rays need to keep an eye on
The Tampa Bay Rays have a very interesting season coming up, one that is going to be filled with tons of expectations and anticipation.
The Tampa Bay Rays will be battling for playoff positioning all year long, in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, only rivaled by the NL East.
In a race that will assuredly see ups and downs, here are five teams to watch out for relative to the Rays in 2019.
Number Five: The Boston Red Sox.
the Redsox and Yankees will be battling it out for the AL East division title. Can the Rays win the East? Sure, it is baseball, anything can happen. But I think even the most optimistic Tampa Bay Rays fan will admit their ceiling this year, without accounting for the randomness that is baseball, is the second wild card spot.
Last year, Tampa Bay went 8-11 against the Boston Red Sox who set the baseball world on fire a year ago and went on to win the World Series.
So why should Rays fans watch the Bo Sox? Because It is important to see where, and who you will be playing in the Wild Card game. It is a league wide consensus that the loser of the East between the Red Sox and Yankees will be hosting the A.L. Wild Card game.
Number Four: The New York Yankees.
Just repeat everything I just said about the Red Sox only with the Yankees now. A year ago, the Rays went 9-10 against their pinstriped foes, which is nothing to sneeze at, but if they could even steal an above five hundred record against New York, they would be in good shape for postseason play.
Number Three: The Toronto Blue Jays.
No, this is not going to be listing the entire AL East, they just have the biggest impact on the Tampa Bay Rays. I know what you are thinking, how are the Blue Jays going to impact the Rays? Aren’t they projected to be terrible?
A year ago, the Rays went 13-6 against Toronto, which is a really good record. In fact, it is the most wins they earned against a single opponent last year.
So what does that mean for this season? Well, by the time the Rays and Jays square off, the Jays may add two of the top prospects in baseball to their roster in Bo Bichette, and Vladimair Guerrero Jr. Those two young pieces, mixed with A Marcus Stroman, and Freddy Galvis core, is not enough to make a postseason run, but it is enough to steal a few games.
Dropping a pair of games to the Jays that you shouldn’t have could be the difference in the Wild Card chase.
Just look at last year, obviously in smaller samples as these teams are out of the division, but the Rays lost the season series with the Marlins, White Sox, and Mariners, teams they were absolutely better than.
Number Two: The Minnesota Twins.
The Minnesota Twins did a lot of stuff this offseason. Was it good stuff? That is yet to be seen. However, they do get to beat up on the Kansas City Royals, Detriot Tigers, and Chicago White Sox within their own division. Their top team in their division, the Cleveland Indians, had by far the worst offseason of any contending team in the Major Leagues, so even the division is open for the Twins though I think the Indians still have enough to keep ahold of the Central crown.
The real question for the Twins is what about Byron Buxton? The once prized prospect has got to figure it out at the Major League level. This seems like a put up or shut up season. Beyond that, the Twins do have a nice core of hitters like Nelson Cruz, CJ Cron, Max Kepler, and Marwin Gonzales.
The Rays went 4-3 against the Twins a year ago, and I expect the season series to be that competitive again.
Number One: The Oakland Athletics.
The A’s took home the second wild card spot in 2018 and got bounced by the New York Yankees in said wild card game.
They return the core that got them there and added Joakim Soria, Jurickson Profar, and a full season of Mike Fiers this offseason.
The Athletics are already 0-2 after getting swept in the Tokyo Dome by the Seattle Mariners this week.
Sure, starting 0-2 does not mean anything right now, but if the Mariners can steal the season series vs the A’s (I know, let’s not get crazy yet) that would be huge for the Rays.
Quick side note: I do not like the “It is early” qualifier, the wild card race will likely come down to anywhere between 1-5 games. Every game of the 162 game grind of a season matters.
I think everyone within baseball realizes this AL second wild card spot is truly between the A’s and the Rays. Right now, I am leaning Rays.
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