Don’t laugh yet. In 2008, the Tampa Rays were supposed to be at best, the middle of the pack. Sure, many scouts and writers believed that young talent would start to develop. But a World Series Birth? I doubt it was even thought of. They stole the glory that the Tigers had hoped for going into the season. The highest payroll in history to finish last in their division.
And national writers really believe this squad could be the ray of light in Detroit in 2009?
Ok, you can laugh now, becuase I continue to find myself buying into this idea. Probably becuase when it comes down to it, there is only one place to go. It is much like the kitties across the street. The only difference being that that Tigers have some talent. Do we really believe that Justin Verlander is going to have the type of season that he did last year? Isn’t Gary Sheffield going to rebound? How about Jeremy Bonderman? He is going to come back with that strong slider of the past…. right?
None of this is definitive, but here is how the two teams match up:
1.) Young talent is starting to develop- Ok, so it isn’t B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and co., but the young talent we do have is coming around nicely. Curtis Granderson continues to get better as he matures offensively. Miguel Cabera has one year under his belt in the American League. Young pitching looks promising. Justin Verlander, a Healthy Jeremy Bonderman, and the combo of Edwin Jackson and Nate Robertson, could compete with the Ray top three on a good day.
2). Who the heck is in the Bullpen?- Going into 2008, the Rays were in this same situation that Detroit is in now. There were a few for sure names, such as Troy “buy my a sportster” Percival, and Grant ‘Ball Four.’ But Really? Did anyone expect a pen that had a 6.16 E.R.A the year before to continously shut down opponents? Ok, not shut down… but get the job done. I think we could see this type of thing in 2009 here in Detroit. Can Fernando Rodney get back to form? How about Joel Zumaya? Guess what? We even have a pretty prospect in the pen with Ryan Perry (David Price? not quite but hey).
3.) We have their winningest pitcher in 2008- Edwin Jackson won 14 games for the Rays in ’08, tying him with Matt Garza on the team. Maybe I’m not looking at the whole picture here, but Jackson had less hits allowed that James Shields, and only 7 more walks than Scott Kazmir. Granted, Kazmir wasn’t on his ‘A’ game in 08, but at only 24 there is at least something to work with here. Even though he did have the highest ERA of all the Rays starters.
4.) Defense (Run Prevention) wins championship[s]- Notice how Orlanda Cabrera and Rafael Furcal were never on the Tiger’s radar? They went and got theirselves a ‘Jason Bartlett’ in Adam Everett (notice both last names end in double Ts), and Brandon Inge will return to the position that makes his bat (or lack thereof) forgiveable. Matt Treanor and Gerald Laird are supposed to be pretty good defensive catchers. Add on the fact that pitching, (I pray and hope) will be giving up less hits in tight situations, and you have yourself a champion contender… [or at least the hope of one].
5.) Teams that lose, often win big- How many losses did the Rays have in ’07? 95. How about the Tigers in ’08? 84. So it is possible. Throw in this fact. Since 1995, 29 teams have made the playoffs after having a losing season. So hey, anything can happen right?