Matt Moore

Springtime Storylines: Do the Tampa Bay Rays have the best rotation in baseball?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Tampa Bay Rays.

The Big Question: Do the Rays have the best rotation in baseball?

The Phillies and the Giants certainly have something to say about it, but the Rays have a great claim to the title.  And even if they don’t fit your definition of “best,” it’s hard to argue that they’re not the deepest.

Last year the Rays had the best ERA in the American League, and they had to face the two best offenses in baseball — the Yankees and the Red Sox — a lot. This year, with the addition of Matt Moore, they’re likely better. Add in David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson, it’s hard to find a better 1-4 than the ones the Rays have. As for the fifth spot, they’ll go with Jeff Niemann, but if he doesn’t work they could use Wade Davis, who would make most teams’ rotations.

But the depth doesn’t end there. As Jonah Keri put it recently, “The Rays’ second five: Wade Davis, Chris Archer, and the three Alexes, Cobb, Torres, and Colome … could very well be better than the Orioles’ actual rotation.”

The point here is that the Rays never seem to run out of arms.  And if for some reason the bats are lacking, they have all of the pitching depth in the world from which to deal.  And that’s the stuff that makes a team that can’t compete on the balance sheet into one that has competed and will continue to compete in the toughest division of baseball for the foreseeable future.

So what else is going on?

  • To go with that pitching is the game’s best defense. I think that a lot of people who never seem to think the Rays can compete and then act shocked that they do are discounting just how much being able to pick it helps a team. How many games do you watch a year where it all turns on one big inning and that big inning happened because of an inning-extending error? I see a few from every team. And then the Rays go and make the playoffs by a single game. This is not an accident.
  • Kyle Farnsworth surprised us all by being a fairly reliable closer last season. How much confidence should we have that he’ll continue that? Maybe he can — at times it looked like he actually learned to pitch instead of throw last year — but if this team has a potential weakness, it could be the pen.
  • Pitching and defense is nice, but not enough, and the Rays had a pretty power-deficient lineup last season. Out goes Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman, in comes Carlos Pena and Luke Scott. Both have struggled quite a bit this spring, but if they’re their usual selves, the lineup is gonna have more thump. Not sure it’s better, however.
  • Evan Longoria had a slight down year last year in terms of OPS and average, thanks in part to some injuries. But he hit 20 homers with a .907 OPS in the second half last year and is having a great spring. It’s weird to talk about an established star having a breakout year, but part of me smells an MVP campaign in the offing.

So how are they gonna do?

They always find a way, don’t they?  If Pena and Scott have decent years, this could be a special team. If they don’t, they can still be quite good thanks to that rotation.  They should be in it all year, and with the added wild card this season, they have to be considered strong playoff contenders, even in that stacked AL East.

Dodgers’ Josh Ravin suspended 80 games for using a banned substance

Los Angeles Dodgers' Josh Ravin, right, reacts as New York Mets' Lucas Duda (21) runs the bases after hitting a home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 25, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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Update #2 (6:53 PM EDT): Ravin released a statement through the players’ union. Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times provides it:

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Update (6:35 PM EDT): MLB made the announcement.

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Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports is reporting that Dodgers pitcher Josh Ravin will be suspended 80 games after testing positive for a banned substance. When it is made official by Major League Baseball, Ravin will be the sixth major league player to earn a suspension after testing positive, joining Dee Gordon, Chris Colabello, Abraham Almonte, Daniel Stumpf, and Jenrry Mejia.

Ravin, 28, hasn’t pitched this year as he broke his arm in a car accident during spring training, but was expected to return before the end of May. He debuted in the majors last season, making nine relief appearances for the Dodgers. He yielded seven runs on 13 hits and four walks with 12 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. Ravin made 22 appearances for Triple-A Oklahoma City as well.

Ravin will be eligible to return in early August.

The Braves made a flurry of roster moves ahead of Monday’s game

Atlanta Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz throws against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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On the heels of Sunday’s transaction snafu, the Braves made a flurry of roster moves — seven, to be exact — on Monday, the club announced. Pitcher Mike Foltynewicz was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett. The contracts of utilityman Chase d’Arnaud, outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo, and infielder Reid Brignac were selected from Gwinnett. Pitcher John Gant and utilityman Jace Peterson were optioned to Gwinnett. Outfielder Drew Stubbs was designated for assignment.

Whew.

Foltynewicz is starting Monday night’s game against the Mets, opposite Bartolo Colon. In four starts with Gwinnett, Foltynewicz put up a 2.05 ERA with a 20/14 K/BB ratio in 22 innings. Control has always been an issue for the right-hander, though he was able to limit the walks to 29 over 86 2/3 major league innings last year.

The Braves enter play Monday at 6-18, the worst record in baseball. The club is reportedly embracing the tank and is now trying to buy draft picks by taking on bad contracts.

J.J. Hardy to miss four to eight weeks with a hairline fracture in his right foot

Baltimore Orioles' J.J. Hardy watches his double during the second inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Wednesday, June 10, 2015, in Baltimore. Delmon Young scored on the play. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is expected to miss four to eight weeks due to a hairline fracture in his right foot, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports. Hardy suffered the injury fouling a ball off of his foot in the fourth inning of Sunday’s game against the White Sox.

The Orioles have some options when it comes to replacing Hardy. Third baseman Manny Machado could move to shortstop, his natural position, and Ryan Flaherty would cover third base. Paul Janish is another option, but he’ll be leaving Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday for the birth of his child. As Kubatko notes, both Pedro Alvarez and Chris Davis could also play third base in a pinch.

Hardy, 33, is batting .244/.291/.410 with a pair of home runs and eight RBI over 86 plate appearances to begin the season. That’s markedly better than the meager .219/.253/.311 line he put up last year.

Manny Machado, Jake Arrieta highlight MLB’s monthly award winners

Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado celebrates scoring on a two-run double by Gerardo Parra during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, in Toronto. The Orioles won 10-2. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP
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Major League Baseball announced the winners of its monthly awards today. Your April standouts…

Player of the Month

American League: Manny Machado

All Machado did in April was play his usual elite defense while hitting .344/.394/.667 with 10 doubles, seven home runs, 16 RBI, 20 runs scored in 104 plate appearances.

National League: Bryce Harper

Harper followed up his MVP award winning 2015 season by looking arguably even better in April 2016. The 23-year-old hit .286/.406/.714 with nine home runs, 24 RBI, and five stolen bases in 96 plate appearances.

Pitcher of the Month

American League: Jordan Zimmermann

Zimmermann didn’t get a lot of fanfare for his dominant opening month. The right-hander went 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA and a 23/7 K/BB ratio over 33 innings. The Tigers signed him to a five-year, $110 million contract back in November. Hard to ask for a better start.

National League: Jake Arrieta

Yes, it was the Reds. Yes, he walked four. Still, it’s impressive that Arrieta threw his second career no-hitter, just nine starts separated from the first one, authored on August 30 last year against the Dodgers. Arrieta finished April 5-0 with an even 1.00 ERA and a 32/10 K/BB ratio in 36 innings.

Rookie of the Month

American League: Nomar Mazara

Mazara debuted on April 10 against the Angels, going 3-for-4 with a homer. He hasn’t cooled off much since. He went hitless in only four of the 17 April games in which he played, racking up a .333/.392/.460 line. The Rangers made a blockbuster trade last year for Cole Hamels and they made sure to hang onto Mazara. It’s a good thing they did.

National League: Trevor Story

Depending on how much one values recency, Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz was arguably as or more deserving of the honor. Story, however, grabbed headlines for more than a week after opening up the season with homers in each of his first four games, two of which featured multiple dingers. He finished the month with 10 homers, tying a rookie record. Along with that, he hit .261/.324/.696.

Diaz, in April, hit .423/.453/.732 with eight doubles, a triple, four homers, 13 RBI, and 18 runs scored in 75 plate appearances.