Posted on March 10, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
After winning 96 games and giving the Astros all they could handle in the ALDS, last year might have been the best season in Tampa Bay Rays history outside of their run to the World Series in 2008. Of course, now the small-market Rays have to find a way to keep it going. Tampa was busy in the offseason without necessarily spending a lot of money. Do the Rays have another run in them in 2020 or will they come back down to earth?
Pitching remains the name of the game for the Rays, who had the lowest team ERA in the American League last year. With Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, the Rays could have one of the best 1-2 rotation tandems in baseball. The kicker is that they only got 35 total starts out of the pair last season. That means there’s room for improvement if those two can stay healthy. Tampa also has Charlie Morton, who went 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA last season, showing no signs of aging.
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Of course, the back end of the Tampa rotation has some question marks, in part because the Rays like to use openers. But whether starting or in long relief, Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos were both solid last year. The Rays also remain high on Brendan McKay and Trevor Richards. If those two youngsters can continue to develop, the Rays will have considerable rotation depth.
In the bullpen, the Rays have said goodbye to some familiar faces, including last year’s primary closer Emilio Pagan. However, Tampa’s bullpen depth remains intact. Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, and Oliver Drake should be the main figures at the back end of the bullpen, although Castillo was also used as an opener last year. Jalen Beeks and Chaz Roe also got regular work last season and should be reliable options again in 2020.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that using openers, as the Rays like to do frequently, requires a lot of bullpen depth. The likes of Anthony Banda, Andrew Kittredge, and Peter Fairbanks will also be called upon to give the Rays quality innings. Finally, the hope is that young pitches like McKay and Richards will be able to adjust to pitching out of the bullpen when the Rays need multiple innings.
The Rays weren’t shy about trying to improve their offense over the winter, especially when it comes to adding power. Austin Meadows had a breakout season in 2019 and will continue to anchor the lineup. Tampa also brought in Hunter Renfroe and Jose Martinez to provide power. They’re also taking a shot on Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who should see action at the DH spot and in the outfield. Of course, the Rays are also set defensively in the outfield with Kevin Kiermaier and Manuel Margot.
On the infield, Brandon Lowe and Willy Adames should see most of the playing time at second base and shortstop, respectively. However, Joey Wendle and Daniel Robertson could both get an opportunity. Both guys are also options at third base, where Yandy Diaz is penciled in as the main starter. Diaz and Ji-Man Choi, who figures to see a lot of action at first base, should help add to the power in Tampa’s lineup.
Tampa’s win projection for 2020 is set at 90.5 games, meaning a small setback is likely. While the AL East should provide more competition than it did a year ago, the Rays might be better as well. If Snell and Glasnow stay healthy, Tampa’s rotation will be even better while the bullpen has almost as much depth as it did a year ago. Offensively, the Rays should have enough to compete after improving their power. Look for the Rays to go over the 90.5-win projection in 2020 and be in the thick of the Wild Card race in the American League.