Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thunder Matt MLB Preview 2009: Tampa Bay Rays

2008:97-65, 1st place in AL Eastern Division, American League Champions

SO LONG: OF Rocco Baldelli, OF Cliff Floyd, OF Jonny Gomes, OF Eric Hinske, P Edwin Jackson, P Trevor Miller

WELCOME: OF Pat Burrell, P Lance Cormier, P Jason Isringhausen, OF Matt Joyce, OF Gabe Kapler, P Joe Nelson, P Brian Shouse

PROJECTED LINEUP (actually, this is last year's lineup. This year's lineup depends on Upton's health.)
1. Akinori Iwamora 2B
2. B.J. Upton CF
3. Carl Crawford LF
4. Carlos Pena 1B
5. Evan Longoria 3B
6. Pat Burrell DH
7. Matt Joyce RF
8. Dioner Navarro C
9. Jason Bartlett SS

Starting Rotation: James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel (Where's David Price? Check Triple A.)

Setup: Grant Balfour/Dan Wheeler

Closer: Troy Percival

Welcome to the most important year in Tampa Bay Rays' history.

When we last left the Rays, they were defeated at the hands of the World Series Champion Phillies. They were wet, tired, and probably hungry.

Now, five months later, they have returned as the model of all franchises. Although denied glory, they are the heroes of the underclass. The little market that could. They are the revolutionary who dared to challenge the twin evil empires. They envoked the audacity to upset the establishment, knowing they had little to lose but a past full of defeat.

Like the heroic Tank Man of Tiananamen Square, the Rays of 2008 stood defiant before the Red Sox and Yankees and dared them to run over their upstart season. Despite numerous challenges and scares, the Rays held their ground. While other small market teams cried for salary caps, new stadiums, and other Marxist solutions, the Rays looked for solutions from within, for the talent, drive, and heart necessary to reverse the misfortune of a decade of embarrassment.

The 2009 Tampa Bay Rays, like Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and John Jay, now have to prove their revolution was not only a success, but the beginning of a fruitful nation. Whereas a young America was allowed to prosper in poli-social-economic-military vacuum without any legitimate fears of invasion, the Rays now bear the burden of being the biggest target in the Junior Circuit. They have to protect their burgeoning reputation of success against numerous embarrassed entities with scores to prove.

The Rays enter 2009 without any significant losses. The foundation is still intact and will be for years to come. Many believe the Rays are even stronger now than at this time a year ago. They have acquired the long-range muscle of a Phillie import, while only parting ways with part-time pieces and spot starters. Of course, they also have a year's worth of experience to their credit as well as a bevy of talent in the lower ranks.

Although some might be dared to label the Rays as the benefactor of their own misguidedness, reaping hordes of quality youth through years of wayward failure, those people are fools. Never in history have youth been revolutionary due solely on their age. They need a quality environment in which to blossom and the opportunity to prove to the world they are in indeed for real.

The Rays are here to stay.

(Disclaimer: I am a Rays season ticket holder.)

Preseason Awards:
Mr. Sexy Time: Evan Longoria - How can the AL Rookie of the Year be Mr. Sexy Time? Shouldn't he have already arrived? Not so fast. To quote Rays patron Dick Vitale, Longoria is PTP. He is going to be David Wright-South. If not this year, sometime soon he will be in running for a few MVP Awards. And he drives the ladies in Tampa nuts.

The Sorry Dude, The Bandwagon's Full Award: Lil Wayne, Rob Schnieder, and Jeff Foxworthy - I don't care how "in" rooting for the Rays is. B-list celebs only look even sadder try to hype themselves by putting on Rays hats. Hey Mr. Wayne, you might have survived Hurricane Katrina, but you've never seen suffering unless you sat through a Casey Fossum start.

Best Use of an Afro: The Cowbell Kid. How much I miss the harmonious ring of cowbells.

Further reading: