The Blue Jays last trip to the Tampa-St. Pete area this season. After an amazing finish last year, to get into the playoffs, this year's Rays haven't had the same late season magic. But they still 12 games left to pull it out. This 3 game series against the might have a lot to say about whether they can fight their way back.
I sent some questions off to Erik Hahmann of DRaysBay SB Nation's Rays blog.
Do Rays Fans still harbor any hope that they'll sneak into the last wild card spot?
Sure, there's going to be hope because of how last season ended and the fact that they finish the season with three home games against Baltimore. There are certainly more teams in the mix this season which makes things harder, but we're still holding out a bit of hope.
Is B.J. Upton still a Ray next season? How about James Shields?
There's a zero percent chance Upton is back next season. He's a free agent centerfielder who doesn't get injured, will steal 35-40 bases, hit 20-25 home runs and play good defense. He'll frustrate you at times with his extreme highs and lows - he's the most manic depressive player in baseball. Four win players who are entering their age 28 seasons get paid. It's the cruel reality of being a Rays fan.
You really have no idea with Shields, or any of the Rays pitchers outside of Matt Moore. The Rays' front office doesn't have rumors leaking from it. The major trades they've made - Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza - came out of nowhere. Shields has a $9 million club option for next season and David Price is going to get a raise from his current $4 million salary through arbitration. If the team stays with a ~$60 million payroll next season I find it hard to believe that two pitchers would take up roughly a fourth of it.
Who is your MVP this season?
Ben Zobrist, easily. The popular pick, and the pick I suspect will when the award from the local writers, will be Fernando Rodney. While he's having a great season, he's not more valuable than someone who is going to play 150+ games for the fourth straight year and contribute to the team in so many ways. Primarily a right fielder and second basemen, he's been the starting shortstop since August which has allowed Joe Maddon even more flexibility with this lineup. He's also topped 5 WAR for the third time in four seasons. He's the heart of that team.
Who has been the biggest disappointment?
Luke Scott. Granted he's had two stints on the disabled list, but that's part of the disappointment. The Rays brought him in to be the DH and provide some needed power and he hasn't provided that. When he's been on the field he's hit .223/.274/.430, a far cry from his days in Baltimore.
What positions do you expect the Rays to try to upgrade this off-season?
How they choose to construct their roster will be interesting. They're perpetually in need of catching help. That's a given. But first base, left field, shortstop and second base are undecided at the moment. I doubt Carlos Pena and Jeff Keppinger will be back, though for different reasons. We don't know if Zobrist will continue to play shortstop next season or who is going to play left field when Desmond Jennings moves over to center. Luke Scott has a team option that could be picked up. As usual they have a lot of moving parts to nail down.
Attendance still hasn't been great at Tropicana Field. Is there anything the Rays could do to draw crowds there, or is that stadium a lost cause? Would they draw with a different stadium?
Other than give out free tickets to every game I don't know there's much the team could do to increase attendance. I don't have a problem with the Trop - it's air conditioned and 10 minutes from my house - but I understand the want and need for a new stadium. It's simply in a bad location. It has the lowest surrounding population within a 30 minute drive of all 30 stadiums. Then again, the Marlins didn't draw after they scammed the community into buying them a new stadium, so what do I know.
Anything else we should know about the Rays?
Their defense isn't as bad as fielding percentage and errors would lead you to believe. The return of Evan Longoria to third base, at least most of the time, has helped solidify things.