SportsPickle is previewing each MLB team in the lead up to Opening Day 2010. Today:Tampa Bay Rays (2009: 84-78, 3rd in AL East)
STARTING PITCHING … In James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis the Rays have a very effective rotation, if not one full of household names. Although perhaps that's more of a reflection on us than them. Maybe if these guys didn't spend all their time logging quality starts and instead dated a reality star or two we could respect them. Come on, losers! Send a sext message that gets leaked to TMZ like a man!
LINEUP … Two guys to keep an eye on this year are Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. Both are free agents at the end of the season and Tampa likely won't pay what it will take to re-sign them. So if the Rays don't trade them before July 31st, you'll know Tampa thinks they can win it all this year. If do they trade them before the deadline, you'll know they're giving up on 2010. And if Tampa acquires Crawford and Pena at the deadline, then you'll know something weird is going on.
BULLPEN … The Rays traded for Rafael Soriano in the offseason, giving them a "true closer" for the first time in years. I'm not sure what a "true closer" is, but I think we can assume that Soriano has a good fastball, some sort of douchey facial hair, and that he requires Tommy John surgery if he pitches to more than five or six batters.
BENCH … Starting catcher Dioner Navarro was awful in 2009, so the Rays traded for Kelly Shoppach to provide some insurance on the bench. Shoppach hit 33 home runs the past two years, which is some nice pop, especially for a man named Kelly. Gabe Kapler gives the Rays some outfield depth and probably brings in 10 or 11 Jewish fans every night, thereby single-handedly doubling Tampa's attendance.
OVERALL … The Rays surprised everyone in 2008 by making the World Series. There's no reason to think they can't get back. And with the Buccaneers and Lightning down again, the people of the Tampa-St. Petersburg region desperately need a team to pretend they have always loved.