Rays Not The Same Without Evan Longoria

The Boston Red Sox opened the 2018 season at Tampa Bay by taking 3-of-4 games against the Rays. While the Rays were paying tribute to the 1998 inaugural team, they were doing so without Evan Longoria.

The Rays were one franchise before Longoria and a completely different one during his decade long tenure at Tropicana Field. In Tampa Bay’s first 10 years in MLB, they were known as the Devil Rays and their lone highlight was Wade Boggs hitting a home runs for his 3,000 hit.

Longoria made his MLB debut in 2008. The Rays, dropped the “Devil” and clinched their first winning season, division title, and World Series appearance. The Rays were on the other side of the Red Sox’s 2011 “chicken and beer” collapse. Their last playoff appearance was a ALDS loss to the Red Sox in 2013 but they were close to returning last year.

Longoria is a career .270 hitter who led the Rays with 261 career home runs and 892 RBI. He was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Denard Span and a crop of prospects. Span hit a clutch 3-run RBI triple to cap off a 6-run eighth inning, leading the Rays to a 6-4, come from behind, Opening Day win.

The Rays also shed a lot of their power by trading Corey Dickerson to Pittsburgh and letting Logan Morrison and Lucas Duda walk in free agency. They will once again look to rely on pitching and defense. The Rays lost three straight games against the Red Sox despite holding them to three runs or less each game.

Longoria, meanwhile, went hitless in his first series with the Giants. But that hardly makes the trade a big victory for Tampa Bay.

Red Sox-Rays Is An Underrated Rivalry

The Rays began in 1998 but it seemed like it didn’t take long for the franchise to choose Boston as their rival.

The two teams were initially linked when legendary third baseman Wade Boggs christened the franchise’s arrival to MLB in 1998 and capped his Hall of Fame career with a home run as his 3,000 career hit in 1999. He wears a Red Sox cap in his HOF plaque but originally wanted a Rays cap.

The battles truly began in 2000, when Pedro Martinez beaned Gerald Williams and started a brawl. The Rays were in the midst of their first winning season in 2008 and established themselves as a legit contender in a fight that had Red Sox outfielder Coco Crisp dodge a punch thrown by Rays pitcher James Shields like he was in the Matrix. Their most recent scuffle came in 2014, when David Price was still the Tampa Bay ace. Price joined the Red Sox in 2016 and patched things up with David Ortiz.

The Rays and Red Sox will face off at the Boston home opener in Fenway Park this afternoon.

 

A Deep Red Sox Lineup is Farrell’s Biggest Weapon

Red Sox lineup

As Boston pounded Philadelphia on Opening Day, churning out eight runs on nine hits, baseball fans were reminded how, despite incessant worries of porous pitching and overcrowded outfields, the Red Sox have a stacked lineup this year that will be extremely difficult to navigate.

Red Sox LineupThree of the first four hitters, namely Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez, combined for seven hits, five home runs and eight RBI, largely off Cole Hamels, one of the premier starting pitchers in baseball. Such a profound offensive barrage sent shock waves reverberating through the American League.

Meanwhile, David Ortiz, playing first base in a National League park, and newcomer Pablo Sandoval, making his Red Sox debut, went hitless and registered six strikeouts between them. The fact that the Sox hammered the Phillies despite two key guys struggling shows just how deep the Boston lineup is, and how frightening it will become when all of the aforementioned hitters, plus Mike Napoli, find their groove.

The hypothetical top six of Betts, Pedroia, Ortiz, Ramirez, Sandoval and Napoli is quite possibly the most fearsome in all of baseball. It forces a pitcher to deal with a wide array of threats, from the speed and dynamism of Mookie to the switch-hitting and raw power of Pablo; from the patience and hunger of Pedroia to the experience and production of Ortiz. Even Hamels, an elite ace, struggled out of the gate on Opening Day, when faced with the prospect of running Boston’s offensive gauntlet, causing many people to sit up and take notice.

This year, the Red Sox’ lineup will wear down a lot of pitchers and, judging by the early results, collect a lot of big hits. Following a dismal 2014 season, during which Boston lurked near the bottom of every offensive category, it will be a welcome relief for fans to finally have hitters to believe in and rely upon.

It must also be a pleasant change for manager John Farrell, who now has the luxurious ability to mix and match his lineup. For instance, if Ortiz struggles to hit for average, Ramirez could easily move up in the order, just as Pedroia could move down to be replaced in the two hole by Shane Victorino or Xander Bogaerts, further lengthening Boston’s attack.

Certainly, the Red Sox stand out as an offensive force in the American League East, and, if healthy and consistent, the string of prolific hitters atop their lineup could negate the lack of pitching depth to make Boston a serious contender, especially playing their home games at hitter-friendly Fenway.

Regardless of how the season ends, be it with celebrations or commiserations, Sox fans can rest assured that the start was explosive, exciting and entertaining. For the first time in a long while, Boston was back in the baseball spotlight, garnering positive attention for an offensive onslaught rather than negative criticism for hitting profligacy.

Quite frankly, Ben Cherington couldn’t have dreamed it up better.

Heath Hembree: A Bullpen Possibility

heath hembree

For the most part, the Boston Red Sox have their Opening Day roster set in stone— with two minor exceptions.

The team’s bullpen has five of their seven spots secured and as a result, two spots are up for grabs. It might not sound like major news, but whoever fills these two positions will have an important role with the Boston Red Sox this season.
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Sure Koji Uehara, Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, Alexi Ogando and Craig Breslow are Heath Hembreeall locks this season, but right-handed reliever Anthony Varvaro looks to be a near lock. Allowing an earned run in four appearances this spring, the northpaw pitches like a southpaw, and boast excellent splits against lefties. From 2013-2014, Varvaro posted a 2.74 ERA in 123 games for the Atlanta Braves.

Looking to fill that last bullpen spot, it appears as though Boston would go with another righty since having both Breslow and Varvaro is like having two lefties. Sorry Robbie Ross Jr., but you’re out of luck.

From the looks of it, Heath Hembree could be an appealing option for the Red Sox. Closing out Wednesday’s win over the Minnesota Twins, the 26-year-old reliever owns a 2.55 ERA in 15 career big league outings with 18 strikeouts and profiles as a future MLB setup man and potentially even closer.

Gauging ability from Spring Training stats has little merit for position players but if a reliever is struggling in the spring, it tends to be a bad sign. In limited work, Hembree has tossed three scoreless— but it is his raw ability that Boston should find appealing.
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Topping out around 95-96 MPH with his fastball, he also throws a slider which scouts describe as plus. The only issue here is that he lacks a third pitch— Brooks Baseball had him throwing just four change-ups last season, but even those might have been sliders that did not break.