Baseball is back! We think. Each day, SportsIntel’s Matt DeSaro will take a look at two of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball as we head toward MLB Opening Day in late July and we continue today in the AL East with the Tampa Bay Rays

The owners and players agreed in late June to stage a 60-game season, beginning July 24. There are still many hurdles to overcome in this COVID-19 landscape, but for now, the teams are gathering for “Summer Camp,” a Spring Training reboot crammed into three weeks.

MLB Opening Day – Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays | O/U 34 Wins | +2000 to win World Series

The Tampa Bay Rays are a team that has been trending upward over the last few seasons.  Despite a payroll that has NEVER been north of $80M and a practically invisible fan-base, Tampa is finding ways to win.

They have averaged 93 wins over the last three MLB seasons without any real support or superstar talent aside from Blake Snell.

Once again, the Rays have decided to spend very little in the offseason the upgrade their talent pool.  But with a 60-game ahead of us, I do feel they are well equipped to challenge New York for the AL East title.  Tampa Bay’s odds to win the AL East are 4/1 while their odds to take the division sit at 9/1.

Offseason Acquisitions:

1B Jose Martinez, OF Hunter Renfroe, OF Yoshi Tsutsugo

Offseason Losses:

C Travis d’Arnaud, C Emilio Pagan, OF Tommy Pham, OF Avisail Garcia

What Do The Rays Do Well?

Heading into 2020, the Rays’ biggest asset is their pitching staff.  For all the things the Rays don’t do well, their pitching staff has almost always been above average.

This year, the story for the Rays ahead of MLB opening day, will be no different.

The core of their staff, Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow will be leaned upon heavily this year.  Each of these guys has the arm to completely take over a game on any given day.  If they can each play up to their skillset, and stay healthy, the Rays might have one of the best 1-2-3 combos in baseball.

But what about the rest of their staff?

Guys like Brendan McKay, Trevor Richards, and Jalen Beeks will help to contribute but their jobs might be a lot easier with the compacted schedule ahead.

It is conceivable that the Rays, and other teams, could use a 3-4 man rotation due to such a condensed season.

The Rays have been at the forefront of challenging the classic five-man rotation for a couple of years now using opening pitchers.

All this is to say that the Rays’ talent and creativity on the mound might give them a significant leg up once the season eventually kicks off.

Where Can They Improve?

I know I just said that their pitching staff is this team’s best asset.  But that does not apply to each and every aspect of their bullpen exactly.

Nick Anderson is the expected closer for 2020 and that should raise a few eyebrows.

Now, Anderson is a quality pitcher and somebody I would be happy to have on my team, but not as the opening day closer for the Rays.

He did have a 2.11 ERA in 23 games last year for Tampa Bay but he was not their closer and history tells us that this transition is not always easy.  Success out of the bullpen in the middle innings does not always translate to success as a closer in the 8th or 9th innings.

If Anderson struggles early it will become a matter of whether or not the Rays can find somebody to manage late leads.

With the current state of this roster, there is no clear choice to slam the door on opponents late in games and I see that being a huge liability for them.

Opening Day Rays Season Prediction

As I stated above, I do feel the Tampa Bay Rays are put together in such a way that they have a real shot to come top of the American League East standings.  Especially if the Yankees injury woes from 2019 seep into this shortened season.

Getting 4/1 odds on a team that almost won 100 games last season is far from a bad bet in my opinion.

Sure, there are concerns on my end on how Tampa Bay will keep runs on the board.  But remember that this is a team that won 93 games last year with both Snell and Glasnow dealing with significant injuries.

If Snell, Glasnow, and Morton call all stay healthy it would not be outside the realm of possibility for them to emerge from the division on top due to this condensed schedule.

As it stands today, before opening day, I have faith that this Rays team goes over 34 wins and turns a few heads along the way.

Projected Starters:

C – Mike Zunino

1B – Jin Man-Choi

2B – Brandon Lowe

3B – Yandy Diaz

SS – Willy Adams

LF – Austin Meadows

CF – Kevin Kiermaier

RF – Hunter Renfroe

DH – Yoshitomo Tsutsugo

Projected Rotation:

Blake Snell

Tyler Glasnow

Charlie Morton

Ryan Yarbrough

Yonny Chirinos

Closer:

Nick Anderson