Tampa Bay Rays: 2008 MLB Season Preview
Strengths: Tampa Bay is fairly solid offensively and that should continue if not get better in 2008. They have great speed on the bases in Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton, and they also hit left-handed pitching well.
The Rays finished in the top 10 in batting average, home runs, RBI, and runs scored against LHPs. While not as dominant against right-handed pitchers, they still produced slightly above average.
Tampa Bay also has two first-rate starters in Scott Kazmir and James Shields. The addition of the talented Matt Garza will only bolster a quality front end starting rotation.
Weaknesses: There's good, bad, and ugly. Let's just say the Rays bullpen was closer to the latter.
Tampa Bay's bullpen ranked last in the league in runs allowed per inning and walks per inning. They were especially horrendous on the road where Tampa Bay allowed 6.47 runs per game in division play.
Bad relief pitching was not the only thing at work here. The Rays were abysmal with the leather as well, committing 117 errors on the season, fourth worst in the American League.
Summary: Despite continued concerns over the bullpen, Tampa Bay should start turning the corner this season.
They added once-effective Troy Percival to the bullpen, but it remains to be seen if his career resurrection will continue. The additions of Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett, and OF/DH Cliff Floyd will certainly help keep the Rays competitive.
They should be talented enough this season to give the AL East a handful. They may even be able to sneak into third place if everything goes right for them. Some of that will depend on how young talents such as Evan Longoria perform on the big stage for an entire season.
Prediction: Fourth Place AL East
1B: Carlos Pena
2B: Akinori Iwamura
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Jason Bartlett
C: Dioner Navarro
LF: Carl Crawford
RF: Jonny Gomes
CF: B.J. Upton
DH: Cliff Floyd
Key Players & Trends
In 2007, Scott Kazmir started six times against Boston. The average runs per game (both teams combined) in those six starts was 5.17. In Kazmir's 17 career starts against Boston, the average runs per game (both teams combined) are 7.00. The score met or exceeded 10 runs only four times in those 17 games. In those 17 starts, Kazmir held the Red Sox to 1.76 RPG while averaging 5.90 innings pitched per start.
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