As the 2019 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.
The Rays won 90 games last season. It's true.
Figuring out how is a very difficult project that I have little interest in dedicating the necessary time and resources to at the moment. Just know that they had one of the best pitchers in baseball, Blake Snell, who won the AL Cy Young over guys like Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber and Chris Sale and Gerrit Cole because he had an eye-popping 1.98 ERA and 221 strikeouts. They traded for Tommy Pham in the middle of the season, and the former St. Louis Cardinal was sensational in 39 games with them, slashing .343/.448/.622 with seven homers after relocating to St. Pete. Joey Wendle had one of the better rookie seasons of 2018, batting .300 with a .354 on-base percentage. So that's all kind of how.
Of course, no Ray outside of Snell got more attention than the skipper, Kevin Cash, who might have revolutionized the game with the advent of the opener, basically a regularly scheduled bullpen day. It ended in Snell making 31 starts and no other regular starter making more than 17, and that was the dealt-at-the-deadline Chris Archer. Second on the team in starts was reliever Ryan Stanek, with 29. Closer Sergio Romo made five starts. It might be a new trend across the game. It might have been some silly way of avoiding the uncomfortable fact that the Rays didn't have enough viable starting pitchers to chew up all those innings. But it's viewed more as the former because it worked: The Rays had a 3.74 team ERA on the season, second in the AL to only the Houston Astros, employers of the aforementioned Verlander and Cole and one of the final two teams standing on the AL side of the postseason bracket in October.
The Rays' roster is just as head-scratching in 2019 as it was last season, but after 90 wins in 2018 — playing in a division with two 100-win teams, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees — there's reason to view them as one of the better teams in a generally weak Junior Circuit.
Snell still tops the rotation, and the Rays paired him with a former Astro in free agent Charlie Morton. He's 35 years old, sure, but he's fresh off an All-Star season in Houston, with a 3.13 ERA, a 15-3 win-loss record, 201 strikeouts and a 10.8 K/9. He's somehow been a league leader in hit batsmen in four of the last six seasons, but he was terrific in two seasons with the Astros. He's a welcome addition in starter-starved St. Pete.
Archer once looked like a franchise centerpiece, but he didn't produce like one after his tremendous 2015 season, with a 4.12 ERA in 94 starts over the last three campaigns. Will the Rays be better off with the young trio of Tyler Glasnow (who they got in the Archer trade), Ryan Yarbrough (who put up good numbers as a starter in the minors) and Yonny Chirinos (good in the minors in 2017, not so much last year)? Time will tell. Top-30 prospect Brent Honeywell could also come up and bolster the rotation at some point in 2019. He didn't pitch last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he's still highly ranked after his solid 2017 in the minors that featured a 3.49 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A.
But Cash's staff manipulation could once more help them get to where they need to be, no matter who's getting the "start." Or the "open," rather. Plus, having one of the game's best relievers in Jose Alvarado, a 23-year-old who put up a 2.39 ERA last season, is nice, too.
The Rays managed to win 90 games despite mere chunks of seasons from just about every position player on their roster. And they're now without C.J. Cron's 30 homers, Mallex Smith's 40 stolen bases and Wilson Ramos' All-Star first half. But Wendle has that solid rookie year under his belt, they expect to get way more than 39 games out of Pham — even if Rays fans might be a tad miffed at him right this second — and White Sox castoff Avisail Garcia is lighting up the Grapefruit League with a .350/.417/.850 slash line and three homers in eight games. The White Sox seemed justified in moving on from Garcia this offseason after getting just one good season out of him in six years. But if he can match the percentages he put up in 2017 (a .330 batting average and a .380 on-base percentage) with some additional pop (19 homers in just 93 games last season), the Rays could reap the rewards.
The Rays are hardly a sure bet. They play in a division with two teams that should again reach triple-digit victories, and the roster still doesn't have the initial impression of a legit contender. But the Rays are the Rays, always managing to squeeze way more wins than they should out of what they've got. Last year fit that description, and in an American League devoid of real challengers for that final wild card spot, the Rays look as capable as any team.
2018 record: 90-72, third place in AL East
Offseason additions: Charlie Morton, Yandy Diaz, Avisail Garcia, Mike Zunino
Offseason departures: C.J. Cron, Mallex Smith, Carlos Gomez, Sergio Romo
X-factor: The Rays made a silently great addition in Yandy Diaz this offseason in a trade with the Cleveland Indians. For a team like the Tribe that seems to need all the help it could get to remain a championship contender, letting Diaz slip away is a head-scratcher. But the Rays will be plenty pumped if he can replicate the .375 on-base percentage he had in 39 games with the Indians last season. Or better yet the .409 on-base percentage he had at Triple-A Columbus. Or better yet the .454 on-base percentage he had at Columbus in 2017.
1. Kevin Kiermaier, CF
2. Tommy Pham, LF
3. Joey Wendle, 3B
4. Avisail Garcia, DH
5. Ji-Man Choi, 1B
6. Willy Adames, SS
7. Austin Meadows, RF
8. Mike Zunino, C
9. Brandon Lowe, 2B
1. Blake Snell
2. Charlie Morton
3. Tyler Glasnow
4. Ryan Yarbrough
5. Yonny Chirinos
Prediction: Third place in AL East, wild card
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