MLB Notes: Rays look like they could be a problem again

Somehow, the Tampa Bay Rays always seem to find a way.

Projected to finish third in the AL East as a roughly 88-win team, Tampa Bay has gotten off to a flying start and entered the weekend as MLB’s last unbeaten team at 7-0. The Rays opened the season with sweeps of the Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals, and entering Saturday they led MLB by a huge margin for most runs scored per game (7.57) while allowing the third fewest (2.57).

Their offense has been loud too, cranking 18 home runs over the first seven games while the pitching staff had only allowed 17 earned runs total.

That’s what the Red Sox are going to have to deal with when they play the Rays four times in St. Petersburg over the next few days.

Boston was always going to have its hands full competing in a loaded AL East this season, but the fact that Tampa Bay appears to have rediscovered its mojo after a so-so 2022 is bad news. Even with fewer games against division rivals and a third Wild Card spot up for grabs, the Red Sox will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs if they can’t at least finish third in the AL East.

Beating out the New York Yankees or Toronto Blue Jays always seemed like a long shot, but candidly, the Rays seemed ripe for the picking.

The fact that Tampa Bay’s pitching has been elite isn’t a surprise. They always seem to hit all the right buttons when it comes to assembling a pitching staff and this year’s group is no exception. The trouble, or so it seemed, was the offense. Last year’s lineup was solidly below league average in runs per game (4.11, 21st in MLB), home runs (139, 25th), OPS (.686, 25th) and in most other major categories. The Rays didn’t make any major offseason additions on that side of the ball either, so it was fair to question whether they could score enough runs to truly contend.

Well, it’s still early, but so far their offense looks more than capable, and the biggest difference has been a healthy Wander Franco.

Coming off an injury-plagued 2022, the 22-year-old wunderkind has gotten off to a fantastic start and looks primed for a possible All-Star campaign. Entering Saturday Franco was batting .379 with a 1.231 OPS, along with three home runs, three doubles, eight RBI and two stolen bases.

He’s not the only one either. Eight Rays batters so far have OPS figures above .800 (in layman’s terms, really good) and six have gone deep at least twice through seven games. Luke Raley (3 HR, 1.375 OPS) and Randy Arozarena (.360, 1.084 OPS) in particular have been terrific.

If there is one hole in Tampa Bay’s resume, it’s that they really haven’t played anyone yet. Detroit, Washington and Oakland are all expected to finish near the bottom of their respective divisions, so you could argue they’ve just been feasting on empty calories over the first week.

But you can only play the teams on your schedule, and so far Tampa Bay has done exactly what you’d expect to see a good team do to bad teams, which is beat the heck out of them. With that in mind, this week’s four-game set between the Red Sox and Rays should tell us a lot about both teams.

If the Red Sox are the team their biggest defenders believe they can be, or if the Rays are actually a paper tiger, then Boston should be able to go into Tropicana Field, come out with some big wins and head into Marathon Weekend with some real momentum.

But if the club’s detractors are right, or if the Rays really are as good as they’ve looked, then the Red Sox could look up on Friday and find themselves in last place and facing some serious questions just two weeks into the season.

Whitlock to debut on Tuesday

The good news for the Red Sox is they’ll be getting reinforcements just in time for the big Tampa Bay series, as Garrett Whitlock has re-joined the team and told reporters Saturday he expects to start on Tuesday.

Coming off last fall’s hip surgery Whitlock has been brought along slowly to start the spring, but while he opened the season on the 15-day injured list he has not experienced any setbacks and has looked excellent in both of his rehab starts.

Whitlock allowed one run over four innings with six hits, one walk and six strikeouts his first outing with the Worcester Red Sox, and this past Thursday he tossed a gem for the Portland Sea Dogs, allowing one run over six innings with one hit, one walk and eight strikeouts.

He might not be the only starting pitcher returning to Boston in the near future. James Paxton (right hamstring strain) will pitch four innings for Worcester during his next rehab start today in Buffalo, and Brayan Bello (right elbow inflammation) is scheduled to throw six innings in Worcester on Tuesday. If Bello’s outing goes well it’s possible he could be activated soon afterwards.

Five Sox on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects list

Baseball America recently released its season-opening Top 100 prospects list and five Red Sox players were among those who made the cut.

Top prospect Marcelo Mayer led the way at No. 9 overall, followed by Triston Casas (No. 26), Masataka Yoshida (No. 55), Ceddanne Rafaela (No. 69) and Miguel Bleis (No. 84).

Casas and Yoshida likely won’t remain on the list for much longer, as both are now everyday players with the big league club and will soon graduate from prospect status much like Brayan Bello did towards the end of last season. Mayer, who started the season at High-A Greenville, is likely at least a year and a half away from the majors and could continue to climb the ranks as those in front of him make their MLB debuts.

Rafaela, the fastest riser in the organization last year, opened the season back at Double-A Portland to continue working on his offensive approach. The outfielder will likely earn a promotion to Triple-A soon if he continues showing progress and may have a shot at a late-season MLB call-up given his presence on the 40-man roster.

As for Bleis, he was assigned to the Low-A Salem Red Sox in Virginia and is playing his first season of affiliated pro ball after dominating the Florida Complex League last summer. The outfielder is considered a potential five-tool talent in the mold of Ronald Acuña Jr. and will be one whose development fans should monitor closely.

Farm Report: Frelick leads strong local contingent

Coming off a standout performance in the World Baseball Classic for Team Italy, Lexington’s Sal Frelick (No. 31, Baseball America) has gotten off to a strong start with the Nashville Sounds (MIL Triple-A). Entering Saturday he led the reigning International League runner-ups with seven hits and had already recorded three stolen bases. Fellow local Cam Devanney, a former Central Catholic star, is also on the Nashville roster.

Methuen’s Jacob Wallace, who spent last season with the Portland Sea Dogs before being traded to Kansas City as part of the Wyatt Mills deal, threw a scoreless inning of relief in his debut with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (KC Double-A) on Friday. Fellow Methuen native Dom Keegan, who starred at Central Catholic, made his affiliated pro debut Thursday with the Charleston RiverDogs (TB Low-A), going 2 for 3 with two runs, a walk and an RBI in his club’s 6-2 win.

North Andover’s Steve Hajjar, Keegan’s high school teammate at Central Catholic who was recently traded by the Cincinnati Reds to the Cleveland Guardians, has been assigned to Cleveland’s High-A affiliate, the Lake County Captains. Ex-St. John’s Prep great Max Burt, also of North Andover, hit his first home run of the season on Friday for the Somerset Patriots (NYY Double-A).

Norwood’s Sean Mellen will be pitching locally to start the season after being assigned to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (TOR Double-A). There’s a chance he might at some point face off against Wellesley’s Mike Vasil, a former BC High star who was recently promoted by the Mets to Double-A and assigned to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, a division rival of both New Hampshire and Portland.

Source link

Leave a Comment