Red Sox Opponent Profile: What to know about the 2022 Tampa Bay Rays
Oct 7, 2021; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Randy Arozarena (56) celebrates after hitting a home run during the 5th inning of game one of the 2021 ALDS against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay in 2021 continued a stretch of dominant play through a young core molded in a talented player development department. The Rays ran away with the division, winning the American League East over the Red Sox by eight games in 2021, in a 100-win season. Despite being upset by the Red Sox in four games in the American League Division Series, the Rays return in 2022 as postseason contenders once again.
Corey Kluber #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays delivers a pitch to the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning at Tropicana Field on April 10, 2022 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay opted for two signings to bolster depth instead of making a big splash. In the rotation, the Rays added Corey Kluber on a one-year deal for $8 million. After two forgettable seasons, Kluber held his own in 16 games with the Yankees in 2021, pitching to a 5-3 record with a 3.83 ERA. The veteran right-hander struck out just over nine batters per nine innings and tossed a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers.
If Kluber can continue to bounce back, Tampa Bay’s deep analytics department that has created a machine of elite arms can certainly help. In the bullpen, the Rays signed Brooks Raley to add a lefthander in relief. Raley served as a valuable arm for Houston last season, striking out 11.9 batters per nine innings and offers versatility for Kevin Cash this season.
Apr 15, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Nationals designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) hits an RBI single against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
After slugging 13 home runs in 55 games following his acquisition at the trade deadline, Nelson Cruz departed for Washington on a one-year deal to join his seventh team in his career. Depth arms such as Michael Wacha, Collin McHugh, Chris Archer and David Robertson all departed as well. But if their history is any indication, the Rays should be able to replace those arms from within.
Oct 11, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco (5) hits a two-run home run against the Boston Red Sox during the sixth inning during game four of the 2021 ALDS at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Two young superstars drive this Tampa Bay offense in Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena. Franco made the most of his call to the big leagues in 2021 as baseball’s top prospect posted a .810 OPS in 53 games. Franco also served as a thorn in Boston’s side throughout 2021, delivering a series of big hits against the Red Sox, from his first career home run to two big flies during the ALDS at Fenway.
For Arozarena, the outfielder followed up his historic 2020 postseason by winning Rookie of the Year in the American League. Arozarena hit. 274 with 20 HR and a .815 OPS. Bats such as Brandon Lowe (39 HR in 2021), Brett Phillips and Yandy Diaz are all capable of legitimate production when they find their names in the lineup.
Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora (20) and Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) shake hands before the start of the home opener at Fenway Park.
As an annual candidate for Manager of the Year, Kevin Cash combines a high baseball IQ from his catching background with an understanding of how to best utilize modern analytics. Cash is the right man to script and direct a low-payroll team of developed players into perennial contenders. Cash looks to make history and win his third consecutive Manager of the Year award.
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Red Sox opponent profile: What to know about the 2022 Toronto Blue Jays
As one of four AL East teams with 90 or more wins in 2021, the Toronto Blue Jays return in 2022 poised to make another run and reach the playoffs for the first time in two seasons. With young stars and new acquisitions, Toronto could take even another step forward this season.
DUNEDIN, FLORIDA – APRIL 02: Matt Chapman #26 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates with teammates after hitting a home run in the fifth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies during a Grapefruit League spring training game at TD Ballpark on April 02, 2022 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Infielder Matt Chapman and starter Kevin Gausman headline the wave of new talent heading north of the border. Chapman was one of the multiple talented players traded from the Athletics in Oakland’s recent fire sale. Chapman is one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball and has potential at the plate. While he has struggled offensively over the last two seasons, Chapman can still make an impact in the lineup and has power with 27 home runs a year ago.
Gausman was one of the top starters on the market after experiencing a career renaissance under the Giants’ analytical movement. As a part of the group that won 107 games and an NL West title, Gausman went 14-6 with a 2.81 ERA in a league-high 33 starts with 227 strikeouts to just 50 walks. Each player looks to make an immediate impact with a Blue Jays team on the rise.
TORONTO, ON – SEPTEMBER 29: Marcus Semien #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays rounds the bases on his home run in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre on September 29, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Infielder Marcus Semien and starter Robbie Ray headline the key departures from Toronto this offseason. Both had career years with the Blue Jays in 2021. After signing a one-year deal and switching positions from shortstop to second base, Semien excelled. He played in all 162 games, posting a .873 OPS with 45 home runs, the most all-time in a single season for a second baseman. The season paid off to earn Semien a seven-year deal with the Texas Rangers for $175 million.
For Ray, the left-hander shined on the mound, posting a 13-7 record and a league-best 2.84 ERA. Ray also led the league in strikeouts (248), innings pitched (193.1), WHIP (1.045), and ERA+ (154). The season culminated with Ray being named the 2021 AL Cy Young Award winner.
TORONTO, ON – AUGUST 06: Alek Manoah #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the first inning of their MLB game against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre on August 6, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
Gausman joins a deep rotation with Hyun-Jin Ryu, Alek Manoah, Jose Berrios, and Yusei Kikuchi. Ryu had a terrific 2020 season with a 2.69 ERA and still won 14 games a year ago. Berrios, fresh off of signing a seven-year, $131 million extension, came over at the trade deadline last season, went 5-4 with a 3.58 ERA for a Toronto club that barely missed the postseason. Kikuchi comes to the Blue Jays from Seattle on a three-year deal to add another left-hander to the rotation.
Manoah has the sequencing and stuff to become one of the best young pitchers in baseball, posting a 9-2 record and a 3.22 ERA while striking out 10.2 batters per nine innings in 20 starts last season. With pieces such as Jordan Romano and David Phelps, the bullpen will look to back up quality starts to lock down wins.
TORONTO, ON – AUGUST 20: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a home run against the Detroit Tigers during the fourth inning at Rogers Centre on August 20, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
The Blue Jays offer one of the most complete lineups in baseball. Led by AL MVP runner-up Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the young slugger belted 48 home runs last season while hitting .311 and leading the league in runs (123), OBP (.401), slugging percentage (.601), OPS (1.002), OPS+ (169) and total bases (363). Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio round out a core of young talent with Bichette providing a mix of contact and power (.298, league-leading 191 hits, 29 HR) while Biggio developing with the bat.
If he can stay healthy, George Springer has the potential to more than live up to his six-year, $150 million contract. Chapman looks to bounce back in a new home and Teoscar Hernandez continues to grow as an underrated player in the AL East (.296, 32 HR in 2021). The lineup could look something like this:
ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA – JULY 09: Manager Charlie Montoyo #25 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on July 09, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Charlie Montoyo enters his fourth season as Toronto’s manager with plenty of promise. With young talent beginning to make an impact in the majors, Montoyo’s club is poised to make a playoff run and get back to the postseason. Toronto did make the postseason in 2020 before falling to Tampa Bay in the wild card round.