The Tampa Bay Rays begin their 20th season in Tampa on Thursday. The team’s first series will be against the Boston Red Sox at home. First pitch for Thursday’s game is 4:10 p.m.
A Different Rays Team
In the 2017 campaign, Tampa Bay was led on offense by Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison and Evan Longoria. In the new season, all three will be gone.
The Rays designated Dickerson, who led the team in batting average with .282, for assignment on Feb. 17. The outfielder, however, found his new team not long after in Pittsburgh with the Pirates.
Tampa also allowed its 2017 homerun leader, Logan Morrison (38), to walk in free agency. The Minnesota Twins quickly signed the first baseman on Feb. 28. Morrison had a career year last year with career highs in home runs, RBIs (85), walks (88) and hits (126). However, the most significant loss for the Rays was their franchise third baseman.
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) December 20, 2017
The team traded its long-tenured leader, Evan Longoria, to the San Francisco Giants in a five-player deal Dec. 20 that included shortstop Christian Arroyo and outfielder Denard Span coming to Tampa. Longoria played ten seasons with the Rays.
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) December 23, 2017
The Rays will have a lot of new faces but will have a familiar one on the mound. Ace Chris Archer will receive his fourth Opening Day start.
“It’s the most important game of the year,” Archer said.
Against the Grain
After the controversial moves, many experts have ruled Tampa Bay out of competing for the World Series in 2018. The Rays organization is more optimistic than that.
While the team may have lost some key veteran players on offense, but the organization had prided itself on defense and pitching. The Rays were able to keep most of their pitching staff while improving defensively.
Carlos Gomez, who was acquired in free agency March 5, has a career fielding percentage of .985. After a year of errors in the field, the Rays may finally have a solid defense to back up their strong pitching staff.
Even with these improvements, Tampa still has an uphill battle. It will be difficult in one of the strongest divisions in baseball. In the past two years, two teams have represented the AL East in the postseason.
With strong lineups in both New York and Boston, Tampa has a tough road ahead.