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2006 Tampa Bay Devil Rays Baseball Preview

Tampa Bay Devil Rays PREDICTIONS – AL EAST

OVERVIEW:

The big hot stove topic concerning the Tampa Bay Devil Rays was the campaign in Florida to change the nickname to simply the “Rays,” since the word “Devil” was associated with Satan. This team has a lot more problems than its nickname (which has nothing to do with Lucifer and everything to do with a fish). In reality, the Devil Rays have made some attempts at improvement, but have they done enough?

PITCHING:

Scott Kazmir (10-9) is an ace-in-the-making with a blinding fast ball, a hard-nosed, bad ass attitude, and the ability to shut down hitters. He’s also wild, inconsistent, and petulant.

In 2005, the pitching staff had a collective ERA of 5.39 with opposing teams batting at a .280 clip, making TB second worst in the American League in both categories! Together Tampa’s pitching allowed 10 grand slams, while giving up 194 homeruns, the most in the AL.

They also had the most blown saves in the majors—26!

The problem is there’s been little to nothing done to improve the team’s starting staff.

Last season rookie reliever Chad Orvella had a very fine second half, holding hitters to a .228 average and teams to 2.35 runs per game. In January 2006, the Devil Rays traded their well-honed closer Danny Baez to the Dodgers, opening the opportunity for Orvella to step into that role. However, it will not be easy to replace Baez.

Overall, the bullpen is still weak.

HITTING:

The Devil Rays are capable of creating some offense. Last season, they were third in batting average-- .274 (2 points behind the Yankees), and that was with Rocco Baldelli (.285 lifetime BA), who was on the DL all season.

Jorge Cantu (28), Aubrey Huff (22), and Jonny Gomes (21) all have homerun power. Gomes played his rookie season last year, hitting .282 with 40 extra base hits and a .534 slugging percentage. He finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

In the lineup, Julio Lugo and Carl Crawford are steady hit-for-average guys-- .295 and .301 respectively in 2005.

If B.J. Upton makes the team and doesn’t go back down to AAA Durham (.303 BA, 74 RBI, 44 SB), Tampa will have a potential base stealing threat and another player who should be able to hit around .300.

With Baldelli back, this team will continue to be a solid threat at the plate.

DEFENSE:

Rocco Baldelli in center and Carl Crawford in left are both fine defensive players, while Aubrey Huff plays right field like a DH.

Playing second base, Jorge Cantu was erratic. He hasn’t found his position yet, but will be given time because he can hit. Travis Lee offers the Devil Rays stability and sure hands at first base, while third baseman Sean Burroughs and shortstop Julio Lugo both possess good hands but range limitations.

At the backstop position, Toby Hall continues to improve while offering some good offensive numbers.

With a .979 fielding percentage, Tampa Bay was the worst defensive team in the league.

MANAGER AND FRONT OFFICE:

• All new people.
• Grumpy Lou Piniella has been replaced by first-time manager, 51-year old Joe Maddon. He’s an enthusiastic leader with more than a decade of coaching experience.
• Original owner and crank Vince Naimoli was replaced by Stuart Sternberg.
• Original GM and yes-man Chuck Lamar was replaced by perhaps the next Wunderkind—29-year old Andrew Friedman.
• Good changes could yield good results.

INTANGIBLES AND/OR OTHER STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES:

• Twenty-two year old Kazmir may develop into the league’s next great pitcher. But on such a bad ball club is that even possible?
• Maddon has a solid plan—to stress fundamentals in terms of fielding and develop four solid relievers in the bullpen. (We’re unsure where he’s going to find those relievers to develop?)
• Maddon must keep team focused and positive, even if they do lose 90 or more games this year.
• They desperately need another solid starter.

CONCLUSION:

Hitting is great to have but if you lack pitching, how can you win games? The good news is that Maddon seems to get it and he may have an owner and GM who get it too. The Devil Rays could be a very exciting team this year, especially if these Devils can get some sound pitching performances from starters and relievers.

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For more information on the 2006 Tampa Bay Devil Rays visit their official MLB website by clicking here.

 

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