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Rays Opening Day: Five Questions for 2015

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

At long last Spring Training is done, and the regular season is just around the corner! Even though our small market team was able to end its Grapefruit League season with a winning record, it's going to take a lot for the Tampa Bay Rays to end the regular season with a plus .500 record -- or make it to the postseason, if you'd prefer.

And while Spring Training can offer some insight into what could be expected, certain quantifiables lay in the wake... Quantifiables that can only be fleshed out during the regular season.

With this in mind, consider this to be an experiment of sorts. Several questions/quantifiables that cannot be answered by the team's spring performance follow. My intention is to revisit these questions at the end of the season in order to see where to proverbial dominoes may have fallen.

1. How well will Kevin Cash manage the team?

Despite his 754-705 record with Tampa Bay, former manager Joe Maddon was not free of criticism. Maddon averaged over 137 different lineups over the past five seasons; a strategy that lent a feeling of instability to many players on the roster. Moreover, Maddon had a penchant for the unconventional which could be viewed both in a positive and negative light.

There seems to be a good amount of organization-wide support of Cash, however, the true test of the rookie manager will begin Monday afternoon at 3:10 pm.

2. How will the starting rotation fare throughout the season?

The dreaded injury bug bit Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly and Alex Colome pretty hard during Spring Training, leaving the trio to start the season on the disabled list.

The good news: Tampa Bay posted a combined 3.12 ERA and 2.44 FIP during Spring Training, while racking up a healthy 239 strikeouts and only allowing 89 free passes (2.69 K/BB) without the above mentioned hurlers. Yet those numbers tend to be skewed because of the nature of preseason baseball.

Will the front four pitchers -- including Erasmo Ramirez, who pitched well enough Saturday to be the favorite to start Friday -- be able to keep the team afloat during the first month of play, then throughout the season?

3. What about the relievers?

Grant BalfourJeff BeliveauBrad BoxbergerErnesto FrieriSteve GeltzKevin Jepsen and Kirby Yates have a tall task ahead of them, especially with Jake McGee on the shelf for the first month of play.

With the exceptions of Balfour and a couple of players who are no longer on the team, the bullpen was pretty solid in 2014. In an ideal world, Jepsen would be able to post similar numbers to his 2014 campaign, and both Frieri and Balfour will bounce back from their poor performance last season.

4. Will the new and improved offense be more productive?

Even with the roster turnover, the both PECOTA and Steamer projected Tampa Bay to be an improved team.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs, projections courtesy of Steamer.

They averaged close to five runs per game during the spring, and that's encouraging.

The Rays look to be a much better team on the base paths, grounding into the fewest number of double plays in the American League (9) and swiping 24 bags (in 28 attempts, an 86% success rate) in Spring Training.

A quick and smart base running team is a good team -- just ask the 2014 Royals. Even so, Spring Training isn't wholly indicative of what to expect in the regular season.

5. Are the Rays ready?

Will the offseason moves reignite the Rays' sense of urgency and swagger past the honeymoon period?

Evan Longoria seems to think so, at least in the short-term:

Guys are kind of more, I don't know if intense is the word, it just seems like there's a little bit more purpose to everybody's work this year, Longoria told Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times). That's not to say that wasn't there last year, it's just whether it's the new front office, whether it's the new coaching staff, sometimes some guys feel like, and, myself — I feel the same way, you kind of have some proving to do.

Whatever the case, the outside expectations placed upon the Rays have been lowered by the major media outlets who were (are?) truly confounded by the direction Matt Silverman took the team during the off-season. Suffice it to say, this is the perfect opportunity for the team to exceed those expectations, however great they may be, while quietly defy the critics who think Kevin Cash's boys will be irrelevant in 2015.

Rays News

- Steve Kinsella (Sports Talk Florida) wrote about five bold predictions that could alter the Rays 2015 campaign, including a 30 save season for Grant Balfour, and a potential Cy Young Award winning Chris Archer.

- Make sure to check out the entertaining Meet the Rays video series put together by Marc Topkin and the Tampa Bay Times. They have several up on the site:

Links

- Last night was Opening Night between the Cubs and Cardinals in a complete snoozer, with Jon Lester unable to go five innings and lots of defensive blunders by the North Siders. ESPN has improved their broadcast with many fancy new additions to their strikezone that really enhanced the pitching experience. Rosenthal closed it for St. Louis by striking out the side. Even worse than the show on television, however, was the state of the stadium: Wrigley Field fans faced two hour restroom waits, and many resorted to relieving themselves in cups.

- It's a tarp!

- Never forget:

Moving on: The Angels are pissed that the third party arbitrator did not find Josh Hamilton guilty of breaking his unique substance abuse policy, due to his early confession. Here are two reads on why the Angels brass would be so upset.

- The Padres landed Craig Kimbrel and our other old friend Melvin in a big contract swap that cost the Padres much to make sure they are contending today.

See you at the Trop!