MLB 2011 Preview: The Tampa Bay Rays and 5 Teams Getting Too Much Love
When early predictions start coming out, and people express their inevitable outrage over certain winners and losers, some teams seem to get loads of support, and it's difficult to understand why.
This is a closer look at those teams, pointing out exactly how groundless the adoration and lofty expectations truly are. Be realistic. You'll sound smarter.
No. 5 Texas Rangers
Where to start? Yes, there are the defending American League Champions.
They lost their ace, Cliff Lee, to Philadelphia. Ranger fans will rave all day about Brandon Webb being healthy. He's made one start since 2008. The "ace" of the rotation will be either CJ Wilson or Colby Lewis. Ranger fans also like to rave about Lewis and Wilson and their "upside," but Lewis is 31, and Wilson is 30. What you see is what you get.
On the offensive side, they added Adrian Beltre. Don't believe the .321, 28, 102 line from last year. He has only batted over .280 twice in the last 10 years, and both were in contract years. Those are also the only two years of his 13 in the league in which he knocked in 100 runs.
The third problem is their three biggest offensive weapons, Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz, have a COMBINED one season over 145 games between their 15 total years in the majors; that was Hamilton in 2008.
No. 4 San Diego Padres
Good bye Adrian Gonzalez. Hello...Cameron Maybin? I'm not sure why people are so optimistic on this team. I've heard several "experts" pick them to either win or contend for the division.
This team was 22nd in runs scored, 23rd in on-base percentage and 28th in batting average and slugging percentage. Adrian Gonzalez led the team in AVG, HR, RBI, OBP, hits, runs scored and total bases. He's gone.
The bullpen is studly, but other than Mat Latos, the rotation is all question marks. And even Latos is no safe bet at 23 years old. This could be a historically bad offense, pitching just bad enough to keep them short of .500.
No. 3 Philadelphia Phillies
The pitching is freakishly good. Yes. The offense might be the most overrated in baseball, next to the No. 1 team on this list.
At 31 years old, Ryan Howard's home runs dropped by 14, his RBI dropped by 33, he scored 18 fewer runs and his OPS dropped by 72 points. At 32, Chase Utley managed just 16 home runs, 65 RBI and battled several injuries during the season.
Thirty-two-year-old Jimmy Rollins posted career lows in ever major category including slugging percentage and batting average on his way to playing just 88 games. Thirty-eight-year-old Raul Ibanez saw his home runs reach less than half their 2009 number, in a completely healthy season.
And they lost Jason Werth on top of that. These guys aren't getting younger, and there is no guarantee any of them will trend upward from their 2010 numbers.
No. 2 New York Yankees
They are still "The Yankees", so they will be in contention, but as much as people are saying "Boy, New York is really the underdog this year," I've seen them repeatedly picked to at least make the ALCS, if not the Fall Classic.
The rotation problems are well-documented, but what doesn't seem to catch as much attention is the stubborn insistence on letting Derek Jeter lead off. If they were willing to slot Brett Gardner into the leadoff spot and bat Jeter second, the entire offense would be better off.
If Jeter enjoys a "stick-it-to-the-man" resurgence, and the rotation pieces itself together, they could still make an October run, but at the current status quo, this is not a World Series team.
No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays
I've written multiple times about my expectations for this season. And every time, I get loads of Rays' fans commenting that I'm "insane and biased" for being down on the Rays.
They say goodbye to their starting first baseman, Carlos Pena, who was an All-Star in 2009 and had 30 HR and 100 RBI every year between 2007-09. They say goodbye to starting shotstop Jason Bartlett who was an All-Star in 2009, had a .281 career average and was solid defensively. They say goodbye to Carl Crawford, the four-time All-Star who has 162-game averages over his career of .296, 14 HR, 78 RBI, 54 SB and 100 runs.
Replacing Pena is Dan Johnson. Over 51 games the last two seasons combined, he has batted .192 and .198. Replacing Bartlett is Reid Brignac who batted .256 over 113 games last season with a .692 OPS. And most laughably, replacing Crawford is Johnny Damon. In 145 games in 2010, Damon hit .271 with 8HR and 11 SB. And at 35, he's sure to improve on that right? Fail. Manny should be useful, but he won't be able to play 150 games or hit 30 HR again, so it's a marginal help.
This team is so over-supported; I need a second slide to hit on their pitching.
Tampa Bay Rays, Part Two
Well, there's your closer. Jake McGee and his impressive 1.80 ERA over a whopping FIVE innings pitched.
After he led the league with 45 saves and posted a 1.73 ERA, and .802 WHIP, Rafael Soriano bolted for the Bronx. Matt Garza won 15 games with a 3.91 ERA and 1.251 WHIP in over 200 innings in 2010, and he was promptly traded to the Cubs.
Don't be worried, Rays fans, after David Price (nothing bad to say about him), your rotation features James Shields who posted a 5.18 ERA in 203 innings with a 13-15 record last season. Then you have Jeff Niemann, with his 4.39 2010 ERA and 12-8 record. Thankfully, you also have...oh, Wade Davis, 4.07 ERA, 1.350 WHIP.
I know, I know, you're all screaming about Hellickson, but neither I, nor you have seen enough of the 23-year-old to have ANY clue what he will do this season. I'll tell you, his innings will be limited, and it is the exception, NOT the rule, to see a pitcher be dominant in his first full season as a starter, let alone in the AL East.