2023 Tampa Bay Rays Season Preview — Optimistic for a Playoff Return

Wander Franco, a member of the 2023 Tampa Bay Rays, runs the bases.
(Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

2023 Tampa Bay Rays Season Preview

The baseball season is among us. With the start of the new season, there is a lot of optimism and excitement for every fanbase that this could be the year their team wins the World Series. One of the teams looking to win their first title is the Tampa Bay Rays, a small market team but a juggernaut in the American League.

The Rays reached the World Series in 2020 and in 2021, they won the American League East. As a team that has reached the postseason in each of the last four years, they have proved they belong among the best teams in baseball. This year, the Rays face a handful of obstacles but are optimistic about their outlook entering the season.

Rays Roster: Who Will Carry That Weight?

The Rays have a lot of star players, specifically, players that are exciting for the casual baseball fan to watch regularly. Randy Arozarena is coming off a 20-homer season where he also slashed .263/.327/.445 and locked down left field. Moreover, Arozarena is coming off a World Baseball Classic performance where he made highlight-reel plays and helped lead Mexico to the Semifinals. Along with the 27-year-old outfielder, the Rays expect to have rising star Wander Franco in the lineup and playing shortstop for a full season after playing in only 83 games last season because of injury.

The Rays’ lineup isn’t depleted of reliable hitters. Yandy Diaz, Manuel Margot, and Brandon Lowe can all get on base and extend rallies to allow them to plate baserunners. The problem is the Rays lack power, specifically, a hitter that can overwhelm opposing pitchers and singlehandedly takeover games at the plate. Last year, they saw this absence derail a strong season. The batting order averaged only 4.11 runs per game and in the Wild Card, they scored only one run in the two-game series against the Cleveland Guardians. The front office failed to add that missing piece and unless they acquire power in a trade, it could be their downfall once again.

Rays Pitching Must Carry Them Again

The bright spot for the Rays is their pitching staff, which doesn’t have a shortage of talented arms. Shane McClanahan not only tossed 194 strikeouts in 166.1 innings pitched while allowing only 52 runs last year, but he also led the roster with a 4.0 WAR. McClanahan’s year made him the best player on the Rays and sixth in the American League Cy Young Award vote. The rest of the rotation involves a theme of quality over quantity. Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs are two reliable starters that are looking to build off strong seasons while the team acquired Zac Eflin in the offseason to round out the starting rotation.

The Rays rotation is four-deep and can go toe-to-toe with any team in the American League. Unfortunately, they won’t have Tyler Glasnow in the rotation to put it over the top. Led by an overwhelming fastball and the occasional curveball, Glasnow was one of the best young pitchers in baseball. However, injuries have plagued him for the past two seasons and he will be out until at least May this year. His absence leaves the Rays with a good but not elite rotation.

The rotation is good but surprisingly, not a strength of the roster. That is reserved for the bullpen. The Rays bullpen not only has a surplus of potent arms but a variety as well. Pete Fairbanks is the long-armed right-handed reliever that defeats lineups with his fastball. Jalen Beeks on the other hand is the quick-to-the-plate left-hander that has a mix of pitches to go to. Likewise, Ryan Thompson, Calvin Faucher, and Jason Adam will all bring their various flavors to the bullpen and allow the team to mix and match their relievers depending on the opponent they face.

Optimal Rays Lineup

  1. Yandy Diaz- First Baseman
  2. Wander Franco – Shortstop
  3. Randy Arozanera – Left Fielder
  4. Harold Ramirez – Designated Hitter
  5. Isaac Paredes – Third Baseman
  6. Manuel Margot – Right Fielder
  7. Brandon Lowe – Second Baseman
  8. Jose Siri – Center Fielder
  9. Christian Bethancourt – Catcher

Optimal Rays Pitching

  1. Shane McClanahan
  2. Drew Rasmussen
  3. Jeffrey Springs
  4. Zac Eflin
  5. Josh Fleming
  • Pete Fairbanks – Closer
  • Jalen Beeks – Reliever
  • Ryan Thompson – Reliever
  • Calvin Faucher – Reliever
  • Jason Adam – Reliever

Expectations for the Rays This Year

The Rays have established themselves as one of the elite teams in the American League and in their eyes, it’s World Series or bust. They aren’t underdogs anymore and aren’t treated as such making them a team that won’t sneak up on anyone either. The Rays will be competitive once again and possibly win their division.

The problem the Rays face isn’t on their roster. Instead, it involves the teams that surround them. The American League East Division has dramatically improved since last year or even a few years ago when the Rays won the divisional title in consecutive seasons. The New York Yankees look to build off a 99-win season while the Toronto Blue Jays made significant upgrades throughout the roster. Likewise, the Baltimore Orioles are in the latter stage of their rebuild and look to make big strides this year while the Boston Red Sox, last season’s last-place team, look to bounce back. The Rays will be in the mix but they will have their hands full.

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Mike Fink

Mike Fink

Mike Fink joined Sport Relay in December 2022 and covers the New York Yankees. In addition to covering the Yankees, Fink has also covered the New York Islanders since 2020 for The Hockey Writers and has been writing about sports at large. Mike also likes to travel but has found Baltimore and Chicago are the only two cities that come close to New York City.

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