Springtime Storylines: Will B.J. Upton finally break out for the Rays?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  I started with the Yankees, so I bet you thought I’d go Red Sox next, eh kitty cat? But I pulled the string like Johan Santana, didn’t I? Is your mind blown?!

The big question: Will B.J. Upton finally break out?

Just because I don’t have an answer to a question doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of being asked. And truth is, I have no idea if Upton is going to do more in 2010 than he did in what was a very disappointing 2009. Disappointing in part because his 2007 regular season and 2008 postseason were so great. Disappointing because he’s obviously got power, plate discipline, speed and the defensive skills to be a game-changer, yet last year he was utterly flaccid, with the biggest concern being the drastic falloff in his walk rate.

Upton was coming off labrum surgery entering last season and, by all accounts, he’s working his tail off this spring.  If that translates to something approaching his 2007 production the Rays are going to be scary as all get-out. If he puts up another .241/.313/.373, the Rays’ offense — while still impressive — will remain a step or two behind their big brothers in the AL East.

So what else is going on?

  • The acquisition of Rafael Soriano changes the complexion of the Rays’ bullpen.  Soriano split time with Mike Gonzalez as the Braves’ closer last year, but he’s better than a lot of guys other teams will trot out in the ninth this season. He has a lot of mileage on that arm, however — Bobby Cox has a thing for treating relievers with a history of arm trouble as so much Kleenex — but if he stays healthy he moves J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, Lance Cormier and Randy Choate down in the hierarchy, which improves things nicely;
  • Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena are likely in their last go-around as Rays.  It seems like a foregone conclusion that Crawford will leave via free agency after this season. If you’re the Rays you probably keep him and accept the picks whether you fall out of the race or not. Pena may be a different story. He’s not exactly a sterling free agent candidate — there are a lot of big name first basemen coming available soon — so he could very well accept arbitration if offered.  The Rays will obviously need him in a race, but if they disappoint this year, he could be dealt;
  • Joba and Phil get all the press, but there’s been a much less-publicized fifth starter race in Tampa Bay between Wade Davis and Andy Sonnanstine.  Davis got shelled the one day I saw him this spring, but most folks think that he has the edge. Ahead of them, you can expect James Sheilds and Matt Garza to be solid. Jeff Niemann and David Price have tremendous upside — with Niemann having realized more of his than Price has thus far — so how the Rays pitching fares probably depends a lot more on those two than anyone. If any of them falter, Jeremy Hellickson is waiting in the wings.
  • Wild cards:  Even if Carl Crawford hangs around, it’s not beyond credulity to think that heir apparent Desmond Jennings will see some time in the Rays’ outfield, most likely in right if Matt Joyce and Gabe Kapler can’t cut it.  Late pickup Hank Blalock has turned heads during his brief time in camp and could make the roster, pushing Pat Burrell into a platoon situation at DH and shuffling the Rays bench.  Don Zimmer is still coaching, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen closeups of his ugly mug in the playoffs and, quite frankly, I miss it.

So how are they gonna do?

There are a lot of guys on this team that can be expected to take steps forward this year and none that I can think of who should be expected to take a major step back. Maybe Zobrist. They have a lot of premium talent that is just about major league-ready. Assuming nothing but the positive is a good way to find disappointment in this ugly world, but I think that the Rays are going to be a significantly improved team in 2010, and they were already pretty darn good.

Prediction: Second place in the AL East and Wild Card winners.  That’s right, ahead of the Red Sox in what I think will be the closest race in baseball this year.  Sox fans may now commence their whining. But save some, because I’m doing the Sox preview next and you don’t want to tire yourselves out.

Adrian Beltre leaves Game 1 of ALDS with back injury

Adrian Beltre
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Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who’s been playing through an assortment of injuries for much of the season, left Game 1 of the ALDS in the third inning after tweaking his back on an RBI single.

Beltre grimaced in pain during the follow-through of his swing and could barely make it down the first base line. He remained in the game, but looked even worse trying to go to second base on Prince Fielder‘s ground out and was removed after the half-inning. He exited the field in tears.

Beltre is one of the best all-around third basemen in MLB history and even at age 36 had a fantastic season, hitting .287 with 18 homers and a .788 OPS in 143 games. That includes hitting .318 with 11 homers and an .884 OPS in the second half.

His pain threshold has been extremely high over the years, but based on how bad Beltre looked before exiting the game it’s hard to imagine him being available for a while. Texas has the option of removing him from the ALDS roster and adding another player, but doing so would make Beltre ineligible to return for the ALCS.

Hanser Alberto replaced Beltre and the Rangers are short on infield depth, making it an especially tough loss. According to the team, Beltre first hurt his back sliding into second base in the first inning and then worsened it with his third-inning swing.

Cardinals playoff roster: Wainwright and Molina in, Adams and Choate out

Adam Wainwright

St. Louis announced its roster for the NLDS and the biggest news is the inclusion of Adam Wainwright as a reliever.

Expected to miss the entire season following a torn Achilles’ tendon in April, he instead returned to make three relief appearances in the final week of the season and now may be counted on to get some key late-inning outs against the Cubs.

Right-hander Steve Cishek and left-hander Randy Choate are not on the NLDS roster, losing their bullpen spots to Tyler Lyons and Carlos Villanueva. Outfielders Jon Jay and Tommy Pham both made the roster, which had been a topic of much debate in Cardinals nation.

First baseman Mark Reynolds made the roster, but first baseman Matt Adams did not despite returning from the disabled list for some late-season action. And of course catcher Yadier Molina is on the roster and will give it a go playing through a sprained left thumb that’s sidelined him since September 20.

John Lackey will start Game 1, followed in the rotation by Jaime Garcia in Game 2, Michael Wacha in Game 3, and Lance Lynn in Game 4.

ALDS, Game 1: Rangers vs. Blue Jays lineups

Toronto Blue Jays' starting pitcher David Price works against the Baltimore Orioles during first inning of a baseball game in Toronto, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Here are the Rangers and Blue Jays lineups for Game 1 of the ALDS in Toronto:

CF Delino DeShields
RF Shin-Soo Choo
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Prince Fielder
1B Mike Napoli
LF Josh Hamilton
SS Elvis Andrus
2B Rougned Odor
C Robinson Chirinos

SP Yovani Gallardo

With left-hander David Price on the mound for Toronto the Rangers are going with Mike Napoli at first base over Mitch Moreland. Beyond that it’s a pretty standard lineup for Texas, or at least standard for what manager Jeff Banister used down the stretch once Josh Hamilton was healthy enough to play left field.

LF Ben Revere
3B Josh Donaldson
RF Jose Bautista
DH Edwin Encarnacion
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Justin Smoak
C Russell Martin
2B Ryan Goins
CF Kevin Pillar

SP David Price

After returning from the disabled list for the final weekend of the regular season Troy Tulowitzki is in the lineup and batting fifth. That allows Ryan Goins to play second base in place of the injured Devon Travis. Justin Smoak gets the nod over Chris Colabello at first base against a right-hander.