Hope is in the air and the outlook on the 2012 Rays season is bright.
Projected by many to finish first or second in the revamped and powerful
American League East, Tampa will have to deal with arguably their highest expectations
since trying to follow up their World Series run in 2009. Led by Evan Longoria,
Ben Zobrist, and a strong young core of starting pitchers, the Rays look poised
to contend with the big boys for another 162-game grind. Following a thrilling
7-6 victory over the Greatest Closer of All-Time and the rival New York Yankees
on Opening Day in front of a sold-out crowd of 34,078, it’s time for the first
edition of Extreme Overreactions.
Carlos Peña is back!!! (3 for 5, HR, 5 RBI, 2
KO) Rays fans should know what to expect from Carlos Peña
by now. He is still the same player he was when he hit 28 home runs and batted
.196 for the Rays in 2010. He exemplifies the modern-day all-or-nothing player.
There will be games where he hits two, maybe three home runs and there will be
games when he strikes out four or five times. When you look at the back of his
baseball card at the end of the year, he’ll have around 30 home runs, 80-90
RBI, and a sub-.230 batting average. He’ll probably give fans a few moments to
remember and a lot to forget.
Shields is going to
experience a serious regression this year… (5 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, 10.80 ERA)
Although Shields’ first start was undoubtedly shaky and he only managed to
strike out three batters compared to three walks, it is much too early to hit
the panic button on Big Game James. He experienced a breakout 2011, throwing
more complete games (11) than the Red Sox and Yankees combined and leading the
Rays with 16 wins. He is only 30 years old and may be right in the middle of
his prime. It should be taken into account that his first start was against one
of the most potent offenses in the American League and he is still trying to
work out the kinks in his delivery early on in the season. If this type of
pattern begins to develop over a string of four or five starts, then fans
should begin to worry.
Desmond Jennings will
make Rays fans forget about BJ Upton… (2 for 4, 2 R, BB) After being able
to watch Jennings finish out August and September with the Rays last season,
hopes were high for the former 10th-round draft pick. At 25,
Jennings is starting to come into his own as a player and can bring a new
dynamic to the Rays on both sides of the ball. His quick feet and decent pop
can make him a 20-homer, 50-steal guy for the Rays in the near future. He slots
into the leadoff spot nicely and can chase down a lot of balls in center field.
There will probably be a lot of days like the one he had against the Yankees on
Mariano Rivera is
done… (0.1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 54.00 ERA) Has Father Time finally caught up with
Mariano Rivera? Baseball’s all-time saves leader is 42 years old and seems to
be leaning towards retirement after this season. The only question is whether
or not he can make it through this season intact. He looked very hittable
against the Rays as Jennings, Zobrist, and Peña all attacked Rivera’s cutter
early in the count. While it’s easy to watch this outing and rule Rivera out as
an elite closer, it is just too early to write off a guy who has made 77 saves
since turning 40 with an ERA below 2.00. Give him a few more save attempts
before considering that the end of a great career may be coming to an abrupt
Rays fans are finally
out in full force… (SOLD OUT, 34,078) For the first time that I can
remember, there seemed to be significantly more Rays fans than Yankees fans at
the Trop. Coming to St. Pete used to be a home game for the Bronx Bombers, as
Yankees fans would dwarf Rays fans on the road. With the last few years of
continued success that the Rays have strung together, it seems things have
begun to take a turn for the better. However, the combination of Opening Day and
the rival Yankees being in town won’t last much longer, and as the season
carries on into the dog days of summer, Rays fans will probably die off,
leading to another summer of new stadium talks. Although it would be great for
the Rays if I was proved wrong, I just have a hard time seeing Tropicana sell
out more than a few times this season. On a side note, if the place does
continue to sell out, I wouldn’t recommend bringing your kids to the game. The
obscenities and raucous behavior of Rays fans on Opening Day isn’t the type of
environment I would want my kid to see their first baseball game in.
This blog first appeared on tb-two.com, the
St. Petersburg Times' website for high schools.