Five Questions Facing the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays
After what everyone in the baseball world would consider a most improbable run to the World Series this year, the Tampa Bay Rays are looking to prove to everyone that they're not going to be a repeat of the Colorado Rockies.
A team that was once a doormat of the division who makes a miraculous run to the World Series only to resume their position as basement dwellers the year after.
With pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a month it's time to take a look at five of the Rays biggest questions for this upcoming year.
1) Can the Rays' starting pitching remain as healthy as they were last year?
I have seen many depleted starting rotations take an otherwise potent team and render them almost helpless when it comes to their chase for October glory. The Rays were extremely lucky last year by being able to trot all five of their starting pitchers to the mound 27 times or more.
While no one can deny the young talent that the Rays have waiting in the wings it would be extremely hard for them to repeat as AL East champions should Scott Kazmir, James Shields, or Matt Garza miss any significant amount of time.
2) Is David Price the "real deal"?
We all remember watching David Price decimate the Red Sox in the ALCS this past postseason and we have all heard how Price may very well be one of the game's premier left-handers in a few years, but is he ready to start right now?
Price pitched a total of 129.1 innings last year and the Rays are going to probably want about 65-70 more innings out of him this year in the starting rotation.
Don't be surprised to see Price coming out of the bullpen for the first part of the season especially if someone like Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, or Mitch Talbot can step up and hold down the number five spot.
3) What can the Rays expect out of Carl Crawford this year?
Crawford, the longest tenured Ray, played in only 109 games this past year, his lowest total since 2002. There has been plenty of talk about how the artificial surfaces at the Trop have been affecting Crawford's wrists and knees over the past few years and how the Rays have discussed using him to DH during long home stints this season.
With the recent acquisitions of Gabe Kapler and Pat Burrell don't be surprised to see Crawford DH anywhere from 25-30 games to give his knees a rest.
Even though the Rays were able to win the AL East without Crawford for 52 games, life could have been a whole lot easier had he been able to stay healthy.
4) Will the Boy Wonder (Evan Longoria) be able to defeat the wicked Sophomore Slump"?
Most of the people outside of Rays Region did not get a chance to experience the phenomenon known as Evan Longoria until the playoffs. Although, once he got there, he wasted absolutely no time showing America what we here in the region had known all along.
This kid is going to be amazing.
I could predict that Longoria would hit .290 with 25-30 home runs and 95-105 RBI and I would not be surprised at all if he exceeded those predictions.
He's just that good.
However, we all know about the dreaded sophomore slump that always seems to catch promising rookies by surprise. If Longoria can avoid this slump and stay healthy, the Rays could be an even more dangerous team than last year.
5) Have all the Rays fans finally come out of the woodwork to support their team or are we going to see more of the same blacked-out Trop from years past?
To me, this is the question that I have thought about the most. Will the newfound fanbase of the Rays still come out and support the team every game if they start out 0-5?
Up until the playoffs last year the Trop has been almost dead last in attendance every single year.
However, this all changed once the Rays got into the playoffs.
You could not watch a single game without seeing all of the fans on their feet ringing their cowbells with all of the pride in the world, displaying some of the best home-field advantage that I have seen in baseball in a long time.
The Chicago White Sox took batting practice with piped-in cowbell noises to try and mimic what they were going to deal with in the series.
If the fans can stay out this season and support the team like they did in the playoffs, I honestly believe that the home-field advantage could help the Rays win many close games this year.
The Rays, like every other team in Major League Baseball, face more than just five questions coming into this season and I will hopefully going into some more questions later this week.
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