It appears Tampa Bay is looking to get some help from above by removing the Devil from their team’s name. Could the new name be a ray of hope for this downtrodden franchise? Point-Spreads.com readers get to find out how Expert MLB Handicapper Jeff Alexander sees things shaping up in his 2008 Tampa Bay Rays Predictions. SportsBetting.com has the Tampa Bay Rays at 150 to 1 odds to win the 2008 World Series Championship.
Starting Rotation/Bullpen – While Tampa Bay still doesn’t have enough to contend with Boston and New York in the AL East, the future looks considerably brighter. With AL strikeout champ Scott Kazmir and James Shield providing the Rays with a solid 1-2 punch in the starting rotation, we expect Tampa to be a lot more competitive. These guys will be there for the Rays, but the key will be how pitchers 3, 4, and 5 do. Tampa Bay landed the Twins recent top pitching prospect Matt Garza in the offseason. He will fit nicely in the number three spot. It was probably a great move for him to leave Minnesota. He was just 1-10 with a 5.91 ERA in the Metrodome, but 7-3 with a 3.13 ERA everywhere else. Edwin Jackson has the second highest ERA in the majors since 2004 and Andy Sonnanstine had an even high ERA than Jackson last season. I don’t see that ray of hope in either of the latter.
While the starting rotation is improving, the pen is overdue for a face lift. Its ERA was 6.16 last season. That’s just not going to get the job done. Moves to get Dan Wheeler late in the season and Troy Percival in the offseason are steps in the right direction, but neither are the answer. Al Reyes did save 26 games, but at age 37, he isn’t far from dead in baseball years.
Batting Order – Akinori Iwamura leads off for the Rays. I can’t pronounce his name, but he has proven that he can get on base. He reached base in 108 of his 122 starts in his first season in the U.S. Center fielder B.J. Upton became the fifth youngest player to hit .300 and go 20-20 last season. Carl Crawford is one of the best all-around players in the game hitting in the three-hole. He had 11 homeruns, 80 RBIs, and 50 stolen bases last season. He really doesn’t have the power to hit in the three spot and would be the best leadoff man in the majors. First baseman Carlos Pena blew up last season, slugging 46 homeruns and adding 121 RBIs. Jonny Gomes is not nearly consistent enough to hit behind Pena. We expect teams to pass up Pena to get to Gomes plenty this season. Rocco Baldelli has the potential to move into that fifth spot. Not to be confused with Eva, Evan Longoria will likely bat seventh with Dioner Navarro and Jason Bartlett bringing up the rear.
The Rays are getting close to having a solid player at every position, but as I mentioned before, the bottom spots of the rotation and the pen are still huge weak spots. This team will be competitive though and should leave the Orioles in the dust. I know it seems impossible to think now, but the Rays could be challenging for one of the top spots in the AL East a few more seasons down the road.
SportsBetting.com has posted MLB betting odds for the Tampa Bay Rays Predictions:
Odds to win AL East: 30/1
Odds to win 2008 AL Pennant: 60/1
Odds to win 2008 World Series: 150/1