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4 Tampa Bay Rays
Tom Verducci
March 31, 2008
"THEY'LL WIN (GULP) MORE THAN 70 GAMES."
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March 31, 2008

4 Tampa Bay Rays

"THEY'LL WIN (GULP) MORE THAN 70 GAMES."

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AKINORI IWAMURA 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 188 .285 7 34 12
CARL CRAWFORD LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 22 .315 11 80 50
CARLOS PE�A 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 24 .282 46 121 1
B.J. UPTON CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 42 .300 24 82 22
CLIFF FLOYD (New acquisition) DH
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 145 .284 9 45 0
JONNY GOMES RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 245 .244 17 49 12
WILLY AYBAR? (New acquisition) 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 261 .280 4 30 1
DIONER NAVARRO C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 202 .227 9 44 3
JASON BARTLETT (New acquisition) SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 194 .265 5 43 23
BENCH
ERIC HINSKE (New acquisition) IF-OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 238 .204 6 21 3
BEN ZOBRIST IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 323 .155 1 9 2
ROTATION PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
LH Scott Kazmir 34 13 9 10.4 1.38 3.48
RH James Shields 52 12 8 7.7 1.11 3.85
RH Matt Garza (New acquisition) 83 5 7 7.3 1.54 3.69
RH Edwin Jackson 240 5 15 7.2 1.76 5.76
RH Jason Hammel 252 3 5 6.8 1.65 6.14
BULLPEN PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Troy Percival (New acquisition) 96 3 0 8.1 0.85 1.80
RH Al Reyes 131 2 26 10.4 1.15 4.90
LH Trever Miller (New acquisition) 270 0 1 8.9 1.47 4.86

EVEN AS early as eight in the morning, when most of the young Rays hung sleepy-eyed over their breakfast, there was no mistaking the presence of Troy Percival, hired by Tampa Bay to be its closer, advice guru and clubhouse gadfly. "You guys have to get on the bus and get out of here," barked the 38-year-old Percival, who was not scheduled for either split-squad road game that day in spring training. "You're taking up all my air in here."

Good morning, Rays, this is your wake-up call. It is the season Tampa Bay will win (gulp) more than 70�games for the first time in franchise history. Percival was brought in not only to help patch what was the worst major league bullpen in the past half century (6.16�ERA), but also to help the Rays deal with these newfangled expectations. Lest any of the young players get carried away with their press clippings, Percival shrink-wrapped an enormous photo of himself on the hood of the BMW belonging to top pitching prospect David Price (and convinced him it couldn't be removed for days). After reading a story comparing young starting pitchers Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza with Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery, Percival worked out the next day in a jersey with the names of all six pitchers in capital letters on the back.

All kidding aside, Kazmir, Shields and Garza are indeed the foundation of Tampa Bay's climb toward .500 and beyond--just as Glavine, Smoltz and Avery launched a winning era for Atlanta in the early 1990s. The Rays trio accounted for three of the six best ERAs in the AL last year among the 22 pitchers who were 25-and-under and made at least 15�starts. Kazmir�(3.48) was also the league strikeout champion, Shields�(3.85) was the youngest starter in 40 years to record five times as many strikeouts as walks, and Garza�(3.69) was so good for Minnesota that the Rays traded hard-hitting outfielder Delmon Young to get him in November.

"At first I was really surprised to be traded because I thought, Wait a minute, how can they trade me? I'm still cheap,'' says Garza. "But after five minutes talking to [ Tampa Bay executive VP of operations] Andrew Friedman, I was excited. There's a quiet confidence building here."

The Rays were a good team last season whenever they started Kazmir or Shields (35-30) and downright dreadful when they gave the ball to anybody else (31-66). So a full season from Garza, a fierce competitor whom the Twins did not call up until June�28, is a big boost. "I was frustrated in Triple A, and I never plan on going back again," he says. "I think the days when people thought of Tampa Bay as the doormat of the league are over. Guys would make a name here and get out. But now I can see guys will make a name and want to stay."

Of course Tampa Bay must hope Kazmir's tender left elbow, which will cost him at least his first two starts, doesn't become a bigger issue. The Rays, though, do have more young arms on the way, including Price, the No.�1 pick of the 2007 draft who may be in the bigs by midsummer; 6' 9"righty Jeff Niemann; plus righty Wade Davis and lefty Jacob McGee, both of whom will begin the year in Double�A.

And that pitching staff won't lack run support. Centerfielder B.J. Upton, who hit .300 as a 22-year-old in '07, is at last locked into a position, third baseman Evan Longoria should contend for AL Rookie of the Year honors and Carlos Pe�a provides big-time power at the other infield corner. Almost forgotten in the wake of Pe�a's 46�homers in '07 was that the Rays cut him in spring training. " Greg Norton got hurt and we had to call Pe�a quickly to ask him back," says senior vice president Gerry Hunsicker. "Otherwise he would have been free to go anywhere."

And so, it would appear, the Rays finally found some luck--and now they have a plan. It starts with giving the ball to Kazmir, Shields and Garza as often as possible, and to the dynamic Price when he's ready. If that's the case, Tampa Bay could get used to winning.

CONSIDER THIS a modest proposal ...

With Rocco Baldelli sidelined indefinitely because of extreme fatigue, the Rays should consider trading for Cubs rightfielder Matt Murton, who is buried behind Kosuke Fukudome, the Japanese import whom Chicago signed during the off-season. The 26-year-old Murton is no star in the making, but he knows how to work a count (.365 career on-base percentage) and has a little power. PECOTA projects that he would hit .288 with a .354 OBP in Tampa, figures that would make for a solid number�2 hitter behind Carl Crawford. Murton is also a better defensive player than current rightfielder Jonny Gomes (left), who could share at�bats in the DH role with Cliff Floyd. The Cubs are bereft of the young pitching prospects with which the Rays are overflowing. A deal makes sense for both sides.

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