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TB Devil Rays Preview
by Matt Fargo - 02/09/2008
2007 Record 66 Wins 96 Losses - 5th American League East
2007 Money -$1344 moneyline -$1694 Runline 82-72 Over/Under
It was once again another disappointing season for Tampa Bay who finished with the worst record in baseball for the second straight season. Part of the problem has been the struggles on the road as the Devil Rays have only 49 road victories over the last two years. Tampa Bay had the worst ERA in baseball and was one of only two teams with an ERA over 5.00. The offense was average although it did finish 7th and 6th in home runs and steals respectively. There is optimism on the horizon.
Offense has always been the strength of Tampa Bay but sometimes that was by default based on the fact that the pitching was so horrendous. Carl Crawford is the star and he is coming off another great season as he tied for the AL lead with 50 steals, the fourth time he's topped the league in that category, while a .358 second-half average allowed him to finish with a career-best .315 mark. He will report to spring training in the best shape of his career based on a more extensive, and intensive, workout regimen.
B.J. Upton is young with a promising upside with the ability he carries as a potential 30-30 player. Carlos Pena had a breakout season with 40 home runs but donâ€™t expect a repeat of that. Rocco Baldelli has been injury prone the last three years, playing just 263 games combined. Rookie Evan Longoria, not to be confused with Mrs. Tony Parker, is a potential canâ€™t miss prospect. Tampa Bay finished with a .268 batting average which was an increase from 2006 but still needs to get better to compete with the big boys.
2008 Starting Pitching
The rotation starts with Scott Kazmir who is still only 24 years old and now has three full seasons under his belt. His numbers got worse in 2007 from the previous year but they were still solid, posting a 3.48 ERA and 1.38 ratio in 206.2 innings, up over 60 innings from the previous season. He had a career-high 239 strikeouts which topped the American League. His best asset could be his 2.78 career ERA against the Yankees and Red Sox covering 25 starts and 152.1 innings.
James Shields is in his third year and that is when young pitchers tend to break out. Last season could be considered a breakout but things could be even better. He posted a solid 3.85 ERA and fantastic 1.11 ratio while striking out 184 in 215 innings. The acquisition of Matt Garza from the Twins gives Tampa Bay a great starter in the third spot. Edwin Jackson, Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel and J.P. Howell will battle a slew of even younger pitchers for the final two spots. This is an improving bunch for sure.
The Devil Rays had a lot of problems last season but none more so than the bullpen. Tampa Bay was dead last in baseball with a 6.16 ERA from its pen and its 28 saves were the fewest in the league. The Devil Rays bullpen was the only team to allow a .300 batting average and led the league with 77 home runs allowed. Something had to be done and Tampa Bay did just that by signing veteran closer Troy Percival. It was thought his career may be over but a solid stint in St. Louis last year brought renewed hope.
Adding Percival has allowed the Devil Rays to move last year's closer, Al Reyes, who had 26 saves in 2007, to a setup role, which adds depth to the late-inning situation. Dan Wheeler and Gary Glover along with newly signed lefty free-agent Trever Miller form a solid core of middle relief but after that, it gets dicey. As many as 10 players will be competing for the final spots including potential starters not cracking the rotation. The bullpen wonâ€™t be the strength but we should see a vast improvement.
2008 Overall Outlook
The Devil Rays have finished last in the American League East in five of the last six seasons but donâ€™t expect that this year. Improvements across the board coupled with the Orioles going through a rebuilding season should bump Tampa Bay up to 4th. Competing with the Red Sox and Yankees is not going to happen unless everything falls into to place and even that is a huge stretch. The Devil Rays will be sleeper early in the season based on last year so there will be some value in what should be some good prices.