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2010 MLB Playoff Preview - Tampa Bay Rays
Nate Springfield | Friday October 1st, 2010
The Rays are in, but how far can they go? (AP)
The Rays are in, but how far can they go? (AP)
AL PlayoffsThe Rays are rolling into the postseason once again (AP)
The Tampa Bay Rays clinched the franchise's second ever playoff birth by defeating the Baltimore Orioles in typical Rays fashion, good pitching.  David Price and Rafael Soriano (MFIKY) combined for a shut out, allowing only 6 hits.  The Rays have had many different players step up throughout the season and have consistently been at the top of the toughest division in baseball, the American League East.  At this time it is still unknown if they will win the division or get into the playoffs via the Wild Card but they are in, and once you are in you have the chance to win it all.

After each team clinches a playoff spot, Baseball Press will break down their strengths and weaknesses as they head into the post-season.

The Rays offense, well it is not very consistent is a nice way to put it.  The only Rays hitting above .265 are Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria , which is why their team batting average sits at a mediocre .249 on the season.  With that being said they do find ways to score runs, ranking third in the Major Leagues in runs scored behind the New York Yankees and trailing the Boston Red Sox by less than 10 runs.  How is it possible to be in the top 3 in Runs with that team batting average?  The Rays manufacture runs better than most teams.  They lead the majors in base on balls and stolen bases.  Mix in a little bit of streakiness at the plate, where multiple players have put the team on their back throughout the season, and you have a team that can score runs.  Carlos Pena has a dismal .198 average on the year but he posted an OPS North of .850 in June/July while hitting 15 home runs.  Ben Zobrist has really been a shell of the player he was last year but in May he hit .352 with 4 home runs, 4 stolen bases while driving in 16.  These are just two examples of how if a couple guys get hot in October the Rays offense will be a huge strength and take some pressure off of the rotation and bullpen in the playoffs.  The most consistent hole this team has had offensively speaking is the DH, which really may be their Achilles heel in the post season.

Overall the Rays have a very good and above average defense among their regulars.  The only obvious hole found among the projected starters is Carlos Pena at first.  The rest of the infield are by no means all gold glove candidates, but their above average play in the field helps out with the lacking first basemen.  The Rays may have the best defensive outfield in the playoffs, with Carl Crawford being one of the best Left Fielders in the game.  B.J. Upton has tremendous speed to cover the ground in center field, but is still learning the position and takes some interesting  routes to balls and lacks the judgement needed to be at the level Crawford has achieved.  In right field there will be a mix of Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce, both of whom are above average outfielders and definitely will not make any plays to hurt the team in the long run.

It is really hard to rate Tampa's bench because it is hard telling who exactly is going to be there on any given day.  Joe Madden mixes it up and puts quite a few different line-ups together depending on who is hot, who is not and match-ups.  It keeps a lot of the guys fresh, similar to but more effectively than Tony LaRussa .  Now even though it is someone different coming off the bench at any given moment, as a team they are hitting .241 in a pinch hitting situation with a .762 OPS.  August call-up Dan Johnson, who should get a spot on the playoff roster, could be a huge boost off the bench especially in a long ball situation.  Defensively speaking off the bench Reid Brignac has done an exceptional job filling in on the infield as well as Matt Joyce if he isn't starting in right.

Starting Rotation

Even though the rotation has had a bit of a revolving door for some performance issues, it is definitely one of the strengths for the Rays in their 2010 campaign.  David Price , Tampa's first overall pick of the 2007 amateur draft, leads the staff with a 19-6 record, posting a 2.73 ERA while tossing 2 complete games - 1 of which was a shut out.  Price really came into his own this year, improving in every possible aspect of pitching.  The other 2 guys they will be depending on in the ALDS are Matt Garza and "Big Game" James Shields .  Like Price, Garza has taken some strides in improving his performance on the mound this season.  Even though his ERA and WHIP numbers look the same he has lowered his walk rate and been more efficient with his pitches.  He carries 2-1 record in post season starts over his career.  Out of the three Shields is the weak link, regressing this year from last years performance and his career averages.  As the season went on he has become more and more hittable with his ERA and batting average against inflating as the calendar turned.  In August the rotation got a nice boost from rookie Jeremy Hellickson, who has now been moved to the bullpen to control his work load.  In his 4 August starts he posted a 2.05 ERA striking out 25 in 26.1 innings and collected 3 wins.  Since his move to the bullpen he has not been as effective.  If the Rays make it to the ALCS Hellickson would have to be considered for the fourth starter spot. 

The strength of this bullpen - which is a biggest strength of this team - is the depth, along with the experience they have in pressure situations.  The luxury the Rays have had this year in their bullpen, that most teams don't, is the health and consistency factor.  They have only had to carry 12 different relief pitchers throughout the entire season.  Anchored by closer Rafael Soriano , who has converted 44 of 47 saves at this point in time, the bullpen is made up of former closers, accomplished specialists and young arms.  Chad Qualls and Dan Wheeler both have experience being the 9th inning guy.  Randy Choate , the lefty specialist of the pen, has recently been supported by another south paw rookie Jake McGee who has battled through injury problems in the recent past.  McGee may not be suited for the post season roster, but both have done an exceptional job getting tough lefties out this year.  And maybe the biggest surprise of the bullpen this year is Joaquin Benoit .  A converted starter in the Ranger organization has been phenomenal as the set-up man for Tampa Bay.  He owns a 1.39 ERA with a 72/11 strike out to walk ratio over 58.1 innings pitched this year.  It is pretty clear that if the Rays own a lead into the 6th inning, there is a very good chance they are going to walk away with a win.  Any team that does not get the job done early at the plate have little chance against this exciting bullpen - and that is not something you hear often.

Nate SpringfieldNate Springfield joined the Baseball Press crew for the 2010 season and hosts the site's podcast. His love for the game has grown thanks to fantasy baseball, with a specialty in NL-only auction leagues. You can contact him at nate@baseballpress.com or follow him on Twitter @NateSpringfield.