Tampa Bay Rays Continue Domination in Grapefruit League

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIMarch 12, 2010

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 5: Infielder Ben Zobrist #18 of the Tampa Bay Rays bats against the New York Yankees March 5, 2010 at the George M. Steinbrenner  Field in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Even when they split the team up, the Rays simply cannot be beaten this spring. Tampa Bay won it's club record ninth consecutive spring training game as its split squads beat the Blue Jays and Pirates.

For those who believe Spring Training results don't matter, consider this. The Rays have traditionally been an average Grapefruit League team. They meander around the .500 mark most seasons, using Spring Training for what it is, just tuning up for the regular season.

The only season the Rays dominated the Grapefruit League was 2008. That also happened to be the year they had their best start in franchise history, won the AL East and the AL Pennant before falling to the Phillies in the World Series.

Last spring, possibly feeling the World Series hangover, the Rays again had a subpar spring, going 15-16 while the Yankees had one of their best Springs in a decade. The Rays got off to a slow start during the regular season while the Yankees hit the ground running and Tampa Bay could never recover.

That's not to say Spring Training results translate to October success. The Phillies, World Series champions in 2008 and 2009 NL champions have been horrible in Spring Training the couple seasons, managing a 25-37 record.

For the Rays though, a good April is imperative to their hopes to stay in contention throughout the pennant race.

Tampa Bay has seen some surprises in Spring Training.

Before being hit by a pitch during a pickoff attempt to first base, Dioner Navarro was playing well, batting 6-for-10 with an RBI. His competition for the catcher's spot, Kelly Shoppach, has had more opportunity and has taken advantage, belting two homers and 4 RBI. 

Competition seems to have been bringing out the best in both players but Shoppach may get the job by default. X-rays on Navarro's left thumb were inconclusive and the Rays plan to reevaluate after a few days.

Reid Brignac is definitely making a case for staying with the big club this year. Batting .476 with a whopping 13 RBI in 8 games, he leads all Rays batters in RBI.

Shortstop Sean Rodriguez is putting some heat on All-star Jason Bartlett, belting 3 homers and 7 RBI.

Veterans BJ Upton, Carl Crawford, and Carlos Pena have gotten off to very slow starts, each batting under .232 with 1 home run and 2 RBI among them.

Tampa Bay continued to work on their depth, adding Cuban defector Leslie Anderson. Anderson, who can play both the infield and outfield, reportedly signed a four-year, $3.75 million major-league contract and has drawn comparisons to Chicago infielder Alexei Ramirez.

Like Hank Blalock, Anderson could be an answer for the Rays if they lose first baseman Carlos Pena to free ageny after this season.

This early into spring training, it's hard to gauge where the pitchers are. Only one pitcher has more than six innings in the books right now.

Matt Garza has looked solid, striking out six in five innings of work. Projected opening day starter James Shields has pitched just 3.2 innings thus far, but hasn't allowed any runs.

Jeff Niemann seems to be picking up where he left of last season, allowing just 2 runs in six innings of work.

David Price, who was slightly injured by a bat shard from a broken bat, and Wade Davis both looked a little shaky in early work.

Jeremy Hellickson showed the Rays why they should be excited for their future, looking the best among the pitchers thus far. Hellickson struck out six and allowed just one hit in 2.2 innings.

With a 9-1 record through 10 games in Grapefruit League play, the Rays reconstitute as a team to face the Phillies, weather permitting.