As the Rays begin their 24th season of baseball, Kevin Cash and the team’s goal remain the same: win a World Series.
The Rays are the defending American League Champions as they finished 2020 with their second World Series appearance in franchise history. The Rays lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers four games to two.
The Rays will be going for their third straight postseason appearance this season. Two significant concerns going into this season for the Rays are the offense and the starting pitching.
If Yoshi Tsutsugo and Yandy Diaz can reach their offensive potential and Austin Meadows can return to his 2019 form, this offense could be the best in Ray’s history.
After winning 66 percent of their games in 2020 with a 40-20 record, the Rays traded one of their best pitchers, Blake Snell, to the San Diego Padres. They also opted not to re-sign pitcher Charlie Morton and lost catcher Michael Perez to Pittsburgh.
What was once old has become new again as the Rays signed former pitcher Chris Archer to a one-year contract. The Rays also signed Michael Wacha and Rich Hill to off-set the losers of Snell and Morton.
The Rays kept most of their offensive pieces together for the 2021 season. Catcher Francisco Meija who came to the Rays in the Blake Snell trade with San Diego will split the catching duties this season with Mike Zunino.
According to Vegas Insider, the Rays are projected to win 86 games this season and finish third in the division behind the Yankees and Toronto.
Even with all the accolades and awards the Rays received last season; many experts predict the Rays to take a step back this season and miss the playoffs.
Many forget that the best manager in baseball, Kevin Cash resides in Tampa, and he has been in the running for AL Manager of the year the last three seasons.
No one seems to gets more out of a pitching staff than Kevin Cash. The buy-in that he gets from the players is a huge part of the Ray’s success. It’s always a team-first mentality.
The Rays will start the season with Tyler Glasnow as their number one starting pitcher, followed by Ryan Yarbrough. After that, it’s anyone’s guess as to how the rotation will shake out.
Chris Archer or Michael Wacha are both candidates for the number three spot, and Rich Hill will be the number four starter.
Archer, Yarbrough, Wacha, and Hill will all pitch out of the bullpen at some point this season as the second pitcher after the opener.
This is a strategy that the Rays have a lot of success with, and they will continue with the opener strategy this season.
With relief pitcher, Nick Anderson out until after the All-Star break, look for Diego Castillo and Pete Fairbanks to get a lot of work in the late innings and high leverage situations.
Castillo, Fairbanks, Andrew Kittredge, Cody Reed, Colin McHugh, Chaz Roe, Ryan Sherriff, Jeffrey Springs, and Ryan Thompson will round out the Rays bullpen.
Manager Kevin Cash has been very impressed with the work of catcher Francisco Meija this spring. “I don’t think we could be any more excited about where Frankie is heading into our regular season.”
Meija is a switch hitter, and in 2018 was the number one prospect of the Cleveland Indians. Meija was also the number one catching prospect in baseball.
Meija has hit well in the minors but hasn’t had that success yet at the Major League level.
Meija will team up with Mike Zunino to handle the catching duties.
First basemen Ji-Man Choi will open the season on the disabled list and miss four to six weeks. Choi underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and will not be back till sometime in May.
Tsutsugo and Yandy Diaz will share time at first until Choi returns.
This is a big year for Tsutsugo as he hit just .197 last year and never seemed to adjust to Major League pitching. Yandy Diaz also needs to have an excellent start to the season, or he may be packaged in a trade to make room for the number one prospect in baseball Wander Franco.
Joey Wendle, Wily Adames, Michael Brosseau, and Brandon Lowe will round out the Rays’ infield.
The burning question for the Rays fans this season is when will Wander Franco arrive? Franco is the number one prospect in baseball for the second consecutive year, and fans are getting anxious to see him in a Rays uniform full-time.
Franco will open the season at AAA Durham. A hot start at Durham and the Rays may bring Franco to Tampa sooner rather than later.
Manuel Margot, Kevin Keirmaier, Austin Meadows, and ROY candidate Randy Arozarena round out the Rays roster in the outfield.
Arozarena is the leading candidate to win the American League Rookie of the Year, according to MLB.com.
This will be a scrappy Rays team. Pitching will have to carry this team. If Tsutsugo, Diaz, and Meadows hit the way they are capable of, that will change this team’s offensive dynamic.
The Rays will win 90 plus games this season. The New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays both made improvements this off-season, but the Rays will beat out the Toronto Blue Jays for a wild card spot but will finish second behind the AL East champion New York Yankees.
The Rays should make the American League Championship series but will ultimately bow out to the Yankees or the Astros.