Season preview: Rays

A young team looking for another big season

April 05, 2010|By Dan Connolly | dan.connolly@baltsun.com

There was a time, say, two years ago, when 84 wins would have been considered a tremendously successful baseball season in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Then came 2008, when the newly coined Tampa Bay Rays shelved their "Devil" moniker and their losing ways, won 97 games and took the American League crown before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

So when the Rays followed up that breakout season with 84 wins - their second most in franchise history - and placed third in the AL East, it was viewed as a disappointment.

That's how progress is gauged in the toughest division in baseball. And that, again, will be the Rays' largest obstacle as they will again trot out a young team filled with rising stars and inexpensive fill-ins.

They splurged this offseason on a closer, trading for the Atlanta Braves' Rafael Soriano and signing him to a one-year, $7.25 million deal to avoid arbitration. Otherwise, it was an understated offseason for an understated club that has enough talent to make a playoff run but might end up being the third-best team in the AL, with the other two sitting directly above it in the East.

Tampa Bay Rays
2009 record: 84-78, third in AL East

2009 record vs.

Orioles: 10-8

2010 estimated

payroll: $72 million

Key additions: RHP Rafael Soriano, C Kelly Shoppach

Key losses: 2B Akinori Iwamura, C Gregg Zaun, OF Gabe Gross, LHP Brian Shouse

Projected lineup: SS Jason Bartlett, LF Carl Crawford, RF-2B Ben Zobrist, 3B Evan Longoria, 1B Carlos Pena, CF B.J. Upton, DH Pat Burrell, 2B Sean Rodriguez or RF Gabe Kapler, C Dioner Navarro

Projected rotation: RHP James Shields, RHP Matt Garza, RHP Jeff Niemann, LHP David Price, RHP Wade Davis

Projected closer: RHP Rafael Soriano

2010 schedule vs. Orioles: At Tropicana Field, April 6-8; Aug. 13-15; Sept. 27-29.

At Camden Yards, April 12-14; July 19-21; Sept. 3-5.

Outlook: This is a good young team and, as in 2008, if everything goes right, the Rays could challenge the big boys in the division. More likely, they'll get stuck in third again.

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