14 Days Until First Pitch; Who Are This Year's Tampa Bay Rays?

Jimmy Beasley SrContributor IMarch 22, 2009

MIAMI - MARCH 15:  Bryan Engelhardt #37 of the Netherlands is congratulated by Vince Rooi #41 after hitting a solo home run in the eighth inning against the United States during round 2 of the World Baseball Classic at Dolphin Stadium on March 15, 2009 in Miami, Florida. The United States eliminated the Netherlands 9-3.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Officially there are now just 14 days left until the 2009 MLB season opens. Who will be this year's Tampa Bay Rays?

Last year's Rays went from celler dweller to World Series runners-up. So who will be this year's Rays?

Being a 44-year Cubs fan, can't remember anything before age 5, of course we all hope this will be the year.

And why not? Lilly, Dempster, Harden and Zambrano all return. Gone is oft-injured closer Kerry Wood. Hopefully Kevin Gregg will suffice.

After 100 years, we've gotta be close. But enough about my hopes and dreams.

To be honest with this question you have to look at the entire MLB picture. First look has to be at the Yankees.

Even without A-Rod for what could end up the entire season, which would probably be better on him and his team. They went out and landed not one, nor two, but three of the prized free agents this past winter.

Mark Teixeria 1B, A.J. Burnett and C.C. Sabathia at SP the Yankees look to be the American League champions. On paper.

In the National League, the Cubs still have a shot. Forget the one series and out last year, I'm trying to. With the age of its stars, time is running out, and this could be that year.

Being honest, you also have to throw in St. Louis. It kills me to say it but a healthy Cardinals lineup is a solid lineup and they could win it all.

But my first question asks, who will be this year's Rays? Who will surprise us all and make it to the World Series?

Who's the team that you go to Vegas right now and lay $100 on them at 200-1 odds? I guess if your totally honest you'd have to say the Reds in the National league and Detroit in the American league.

In defense of Detroit, you just cannot have as many studs as they do and still lose 75-plus games. They spent last year like this off-season's Yankees. Except it did not pay off.

Many of us, me included, thought when they added both Cabrera and Willis they were set. No one thought in their wildest dreams figured Willis would be struggling to stay in the majors.

With Willis and Bonderman holding down the top two spots in their rotation, they would fly. What a 1-2 combo, and good as any other in the MLB.

And the meat of their order? Ordonez, Cabrera, Guillen and Sheffield, they were supposed to kill their opponents.

Instead, Willis has had an awful spring. And with the money they owe him and Nate Robinson, $39 million, it looks like there will be no return this year.

That's why I like the Tigers. Because no one else will pick them to be in the World Series either.

That's still a bunch of talent. Isn't is safe to say they'll rebound this year? Detroit management sure hopes so.

As for the Reds. They have breakout year written all over the place. Even if they are playing in the NL Central.

Can they sneak by both the Cardinals and the Cubs? Looking at them on paper, they has as much talent as either of the two mentioned, so why not?

This past off season they got a speedy lead-off man in Willy Taveras. If he gets half as many steals as he did last year, 68, the Reds will have made out fine.

They needed a catcher and landed Ramon Hernandez in a December trade. Ramon, a .257 hitter last year with 15 home runs and 65 runs batted in.

Decent for any catcher. Not out standing, but it will get them by. Plus, he handles a rotation well.

The meat of their lineup doesn't holler at ya, with Hairston, Votto, Phillips and Bruce, but they could be, and that's what were talking about here. What could be.

Before you start hollering at me, remember this, I've asked who could be this year's Rays of last year? Which MLB team will be in the World Series this year that no one expects?

If I had my way it would be the Cubs and the Angels. Or at the very worst, the Cardinals and the Angels.

Going with the "smart money," I'd have to say the Yankees and the Cardinals. But I don't have the "smart money", and I'd never pick either.

Being the die-hard Cubs fan that I am, when my pals read this I'll never hear the end of it. Just mentioning anyone else except the Cubs, will spell disaster for me.