There’s an interesting song by Baz Luhrman named “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen” where at one point he says:
“...Prices will rise, politicians will filander, you too will get old…”
He should’ve followed those three statements with:
And the Rays will outperform their projections.
It’s been a running joke among baseball circles that the Rays will find a way to perform better than their projections would indicate. This is an organization that’s been known to extract the most out of its players, and who has been able to compete year in and year out despite a minuscule budget compared to some other teams. That was evident in 2021.
The Rays followed up a World Series appearance and a .667 winning percentage in the shortened 2020 season with a 100-win campaign and another AL East crown despite playing in a division with four legitimate playoff contenders. Keep in mind this happened after cutting ties with Charlie Morton and Blake Snell. Remaining ace Tyler Glasnow got hurt 14 starts into the season as well.
Although a lot can happen between now and the start of the season, I don’t expect to see the Rays making major moves via trade or free agency. Heading into 2022, this roster will retain much of its core although it will miss its ace, Tyler Glasnow, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery and won’t be a factor in 2022.
Mike Zunino had the best season of his career and even if you expect some regression from the bat, Francisco Mejia was also an above-average hitter and between the two the Rays have a really solid situation behind the dish. Yandy Diaz and Ji Man Choi should remain contributing unspectacular above-average production which is invaluable on a major league roster.
The core of this lineup has some exciting names. Brandon Lowe is one of the better power-hitting second basemen in the game. Although in different stages of their respective careers, both Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena played their rookie year in 2021. Both were extremely successful and should only get better moving forward.
2019 Austin Meadows may not return, but he remains a productive hitter. Other outfielders such as Manuel Margot and Kevin Kiermaier provide good value defensively without compromising the lineup.
Ultimately the Rays lineup is not gonna wow anybody like their division rivals, the Blue Jays, but it has enough good enough players, surrounding their core of Brandon Lowe, Wander Franco, and Rany Arozarena to be a threat against opposing teams and not a liability.
The number one pitching staff in ERA and WHIP in the American League last year won’t have nearly the same amount of turnover as he did entering that season. It won’t flash like the Brewers trio, but it will certainly get the job done.
A rotation with a blend of evolving arms and veteran innings eaters will dominate. Shane McClanahan showed tremendous upside during last season and should continue to evolve as a leader in that rotation, Shane Baz is a step or two behind him and likely won’t get the same workload, but he’s also another exciting young arm.
A healthy Corey Kluber should eat up some of those innings and other names such as Luis Patiño and Drew Rasmussen will be important. The bullpen lost Collin McHugh, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Brooks Raley has a breakout year to contribute alongside names such as Andrew Kittredge, Pete Fairbanks, and Jeffrey Springs,
One of the things that the Rays do very well and this is evident in a pitching staff that continuously dominates most categories is in their ability to maximize the 40 man roster with a plethora of players on the fringe in AAA ready to jump in and if nothing else, not be a liability.
Keep an eye out for names such as Tommy Romero and especially Colby White possibly making an appearance in the big league pen sooner rather than later.
Despite my reservations about the Red Sox pitching staff, the AL East has four legit playoff contenders even if in different tiers, and it is one of the more unpredictable divisions in baseball. The Rays are the back-to-back winners and need to be respected.
Although my pick to take the East in 2022 was the Toronto Blue Jays, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rays winning it for a third straight time, and even if not, I fully expect to see Tampa in the postseason, it’s mainly a matter of how they get there.
Any team outside of the AL East is going to have a tough road ahead, making the playoffs outside of winning their division.
Win Total Prediction: 94-66 (.588)*
The regression from 100 to 94 wins shouldn’t be taken as a statement that the team got all that worse, far from it. However, even with a steady core, winning 100 games consistently is a very difficult task and in a division with the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Red Sox, the Ray face a gauntlet.
*For our season previews, we’re predicting wins based on a 162-game season. Obviously, there won’t be a 162-game season this year. Seeing as we don’t know how long the campaign will be, we’re defaulting to 162 for consistency.