The Tampa Bay Rays went 90-72 last season, which would usually grant a postseason berth but they sat at home in October. With the youth outplaying their expectations and Blake Snell taking a huge leap in his career, the Rays definitely overperformed. Their bad start, in most of April and about half of May, is the reason for them not making the postseason. The Rays should be back in the same position this upcoming season, but, again, it might not be enough to make the postseason.

The reigning American League Cy Young winner Blake Snell leaped in terms of progressing. He went from having a 4.04 ERA in 2017 to posting a 1.89 ERA just one season later. He now holds the young Tampa Bay Rays’ wins in a season record with 21 wins, breaking David Price’s 20 wins in 2012. Snell broke, or came close to breaking, almost every record in the Rays’ books for pitching. His season featured, along with his 21 wins and 1.89 ERA, 11.09 strikeouts per nine innings and a left on base percentage of 88. His season could get better if he lowers his walk rates, 3.19 walks per nine innings, and his home run rates, 10.7 home run per flyball. If he lowers those rates and keeps up his other numbers, then Blake Snell could become the best pitcher in Rays’ history.

Adding another arm to their very short rotation is Charlie Morton. The Rays signed him to a 2-year, $30 million with an option attached to it. The 35-year old came off his best season in his 11-year career. He posted a 3.13 ERA with a 10.83 strikeouts per nine innings and a 79.6 left on base percentage. Morton has the same problems that Snell has, a high walk rate, 3.49 walks per nine innings, and a high home run rate, 14.5 home run per flyball. Hopefully, he can provide the Rays with innings that would make up for the lack of starters due to ‘the opener’ method.

A major part of the Rays’ success is because of ‘the opener’ method. The method makes the Rays’ starting rotation only three players, Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow. The other two players that would be in the rotation now becomes a spot where relievers start the game. The advantages of this strategy are that, if successful, can throw off the timing of the opposing teams’ top hitters. Since they are generally in the top of the batting order, the starting pitcher only has to face them once or twice instead of three times. The Rays had the second-best ERA in the American League, sixth in the majors.

One player that benefited from the opener strategy was pitcher Ryan Yarbrough. He had a 3.91 ERA with 7.82 strikeouts per nine innings. Fitting with the theme, Yarbrough has a high walk rate, 3.05 walks per nine innings, and a high home run rate, 11.2 home run per flyball. He isn’t the best pitcher on the roster, but he is the leader of the ‘opener’ pitchers. He is 27-years old, so he has a little bit of time to figure it out, but even if he doesn’t, he will be a quality arm in the bullpen.

The bullpen as a unit is good too. Jose Alvarado led the squad with a 2.39 ERA and a left on base percentage of 72.2. He also had a strikeout per nine innings of 11.25 in 64 innings. His walks per nine, 4.08, was high, but he didn’t let them cross the plate meaning it’s not crucial that he brings it down. Diego Castillo is also a staple in the bullpen. He posted a 3.18 ERA with 10.32 strikeouts per nine innings. Castillo also had a left on base percentage of 73.5 and a batting average on balls in play of .229. His 12 home runs per flyball could become an issue if he doesn’t bring it down.

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Their pitching isn’t the only factor of this team, the lineup will also play a big part of this teams success. Willy Adames will be the leader in the lineup in this upcoming season. He hit .278/.348/.406 with a walk percentage of 9.6. He also struck out in 29.4 percent of his plate appearances, but that is expected from a rookie. The rookie hit ten home runs in 85 games. Adames also posted a 109 wRC+, which is above the league average of 100. The shortstop should be a part of the Rays’ future for many years to come.

Another player in the lineup that will be an impact is second baseman Joey Wendle. The rookie hit .300/.354/.435 with seven home runs. He also struck out 17.6 percent of his plate appearances, but he also walks 6.8 percent of his plate appearances. Wendle is also a part of the future of the Rays’ organization. The pairing of Adames and Wendle is the Batman and Robin of this lineup.

Now we move on to Superman, Kevin Kiermaier. The defensive star isn’t a slouch in the lineup either. In his 88 games played, he hit .217/.282/.370 with a walk percentage of 6.8. He did strikeout 24.8 percent of his plate appearances, but he makes up for it with his average, which was low this season. His average could go back to what it was in 2016, .261. Kiermaier won two Rawlings’ Gold Gloves, in 2015 and 2016, and won the Rawlings’ Platinum Glove in 2015. While he is known mainly for his defensive range and ability, he should be a key part of this lineup this upcoming season.

The last piece, and most importantly not least, was acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Cardinals during last season. Tommy Pham, in 39 games with the Rays, hit .343/.382/.622 with seven home runs. He had a 14.4 walking percentage, but he also had a 24.7 strikeout percentage. Those numbers might be a little skewed due to the lack of games with the team, but if they’re any indication to his future, he will be a stud. His wRC+ is 191, which, again, might be skewed, but could be a great indication of his future.

The American League East will be a tough one to win. The defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox won’t go anywhere for a while with Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, Jackie Bradley Jr. leading the way. The New York Yankees added some pieces to their bullpen, so their team won’t back down. The Yankees and Red Sox are favorites to win the American League and possibly the World Series. The Toronto Blue Jays’ prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could change the team around, and the team could play spoiler to any of the contenders. The Baltimore Orioles aren’t going to go 0-162, so they are going to take wins away from the other teams in the division. This is a tough season for the Rays, but I believe they are up for the challenge.

Team Prediction: 88-74

Team MVP: Blake Snell

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