If the Blue Jays are going to eventually compete in the cutthroat American League East, they should start worrying about the Tampa Bay Rays, one of the most underrated teams in baseball.
The Blue Jays are in a very tough spot right now. While they play in the American League, the half of the league that features some of the worst clubs in baseball, their division is messily competitive and outrageously difficult to play in.
For starters (no pun intended), the Yankees, who always seem to have endlessly deep pockets, boosted their pitching staff this offseason by acquiring James Paxton and signing former Blue Jay J.A. Happ. Their roster also contains such names as Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar, Aroldis Chapman, and Luis Severino.
The Red Sox, despite some early struggles, should end up with close to (or more than) 90 wins this season. With an offence that potent, it’s hard to imagine they’ll stay down for long.
The Orioles, the perpetual cellar-dwelling club in the AL East, could lose 100 games yet again. Though the Blue Jays always seem to have problems with Baltimore (for whatever reason), the team is shaping up to be perhaps baseball’s worst squad.
Are we forgetting anyone? Yes, the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays might be the most intriguing and enigmatic team in all of baseball. In fact, they shockingly managed to win 90 games last season thanks to a unique blend of economic pitching and a quietly dangerous roundtable of hitters.
Of course, the Blue Jays should be worried about the Red Sox and Yankees. Those two clubs, constantly a thorn in the sides of most AL clubs, are the metaphorical two-headed beast that has ruled the division since it was founded.
But, the Blue Jays (and their fans) should really be worried about the Rays, especially as the Blue Jays’ window of contention begins to open.
The offence is steadily improving, thanks largely to the newly extended Brandon Lowe and waiver-wire pickup Avisail Garcia, and their bullpen remains a constant churning group of unknown, yet dominant, arms.
Really, where the worries should lie is in the sneakiness of this Rays roster.
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Nearly no one is expecting them to take the division, and even fewer individuals are expecting them to be as competitive as they were last year. In that sense, the Rays are as criminally underestimated as they are efficient.
With this team, the danger lies in the expectations, in the pressure. With no fans in the stands and no primetime games, the Rays can go about their business without ever making the highlight reel. Blue Jays fans have witnessed that for years, but now that Kevin Cash and company have made strategic decisions when it counts, the team could be even better than ever before.
Sure, Tommy Pham might turn some heads with his slash line and Austin Meadows might combine with Willy Adames and Yandy Diaz to form one of the more formidable young offensive trios in the game, but the big names aren’t there, and that’s what’ll lead fans, managers, and executives to underestimate the prowess of the Tampa Bay Rays.
For the Blue Jays, it’ll be important not to get too preoccupied with the Red Sox and Yankees. The major league season is a marathon, not a sprint, and with the team’s struggles at Tampa’s Tropicana Field, every single game will count.
Of course, this isn’t really applicable to this season, as the Blue Jays are likely going to sit near the bottom of the division for the majority of the year. But, in future years, the team, as young, fast, and exciting as it’ll be, should watch out for the quiet guys down in Tampa.