Friday, February 8, 2008

How Baltimore Can Win The East '08: The Case Against The Rays

These are the series of posts where I get to let my optimism run wild! No better time for them than the leadup to Spring Training.


Going into 2007, it was a big stretch to think that this team was gong to finish above .500 and maybe even steal their way into second place. This year, that's an Evel Knieval jumping the Snake River Canyon sort of leap. But this is baseball, where hope springs eternal. Anything can happen and as proof, I offer the 1989 Baltimore Orioles.

The first thing the Orioles will need is some help from the rest of the division. Some of the other teams have to underachieve or have really bad luck for Baltimore to get a shot.

I'll start by examining the issues facing the Tampa Bay Rays. This is a big step up for their organization as I simply dismissed them without comment last year. However, some of their minor league talent is coming of age and with the Orioles in full overhaul mode, we could be battling this team yet again just to escape the AL East cellar.
1. The Rotation Is a Question Mark After Kazmir

Scott Kazmir is an unquestionable stud. He's an ace on practically any team in the league. After that, you have James Shields who showed the ability to get guys out for the first time in his career. After that...Matt Garza? A guy with some promise but that 3.69 ERA he sported in Minnesota last year was a bit of smoke and mirrors. His FIP was 4.52 and he'll be facing better offenses more often this season. Edwin Jackson? His control makes Daniel Cabrera look like Bob Tewksbury. Their 5th spot in the rotation will be filled by unproven guys who make me feel much better about the back of our rotation.

2. Carl Crawford...and Then What?

Crawford is a star player but he's just about the only sure thing in the lineup. And even he is not the kind of hitter that can carry a team. He's the table setter. Rocco Baldelli is injury prone. Carlos Pena came out of nowhere to post MVP type numbers in 2007. Is he really going to repeat that performance? The only other batter with a track record is SS Jason Bartlett and his track record is that he's a good fielder who will hit weakly. This lineup could score a lot of runs but they're going to have to count on a lot of youngsters make giant strides to do so.

3. The Bullpen Stinks

You have to go a long way to outdo the stinkiness of the Oriole bullpen last season. You can smell the Tampa bullpen all the way up here in Atlanta as their relievers were worse by nearly half a run. Their 6.16 ERA was the worst in the majors. At least the Oriole had a couple guys who were decent last year (Walker and Bradford), someone to build a pen around. The Rays only had one reliever with an ERA under 4.00 all year (Juan Salas, who missed nearly two months with injury). They've got nothing. The Rays are trying to revamp their 'pen by bringing Troy Percival out of retirement and signing Kurt Birkins! Good luck with that chumps.

4. They Can't Catch The Ball

By any metric you want to use, the Rays were the worst defense in the American League. Their Fielding Percentage, RZR, DER, Plus/Minus...all of it rank dead last. Akinori Iwamura was the worst defensive 3B in the AL last year. Moving him to 2B will help the offense but it won't do anything for the defense. Bartlett at short will help but he was worse than Miguel Tejada last year. Dioner Navarro is not a great defensive catcher and is unlikely to get better. The only above average fielder outside of Carl Crawford (Delmon Young) was traded away. It's ugly.

5. The Key Contributors on Offense...Will Be Kids

Evan Longoria is penciled in as the starting 3B. He may be a great player someday but he has never had a major league at bat. Even Dustin Pedroia struggled the first half of 2007. Navarro is not going to improve much. Only B.J. Upton could be reliably counted on to contribute significant offense among the young players. I think the growing pains will hinder the Rays offense for at least half the season.

Conclusion

It's kind of a chic pick to say that the Tampa Bay Rays will finally take over at least fourth place in the Al East (if a pick for 4th place can be chic). I don't see it. Baltimore would have to lose 100 games for the Rays to overtake them.

I see very little pitching, very little defense and an inconsistent offense.

By the way, no team has changed its name in the last 50 years and finished with a winning record the next year.

Get back into the cellar!

Next up: Toronto

4 comments:

Enchanting Sunshine said...

Aww, poor Tampa Bay. Now I feel even more sorry for them than I do for us. I hope one day soon the stinking Ys finish in last, and Baltimore and TB in the number one and two spots respectively.

hrb said...

Never feel sorry for another AL East team! We need somebody to beat up on...

Anonymous said...

I'm from Baltimore and moved to St. Pete a few years ago. I have to admit, there's a lot more excitement and talent with the Rays than with the O's. I think the Rays will hit the 500 mark this year.

hrb said...

Well, obviously these articles are a bit of irrational exuberance but the Rays have some real issues with their pitching and defense.

Tough to win on offenseive prowess alone.