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Major league baseball preview: Gimme 5

Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio.

1. Going up or coming down: The Rays won 97 games last season with three of their most notable players — Carl Crawford, Scott Kazmir and B.J. Upton — performing under expectations. So, the theory goes, the Rays should be better in '09 because that trio is bound to rebound. It's a fine theory; just remember the Rays also had a number of players — Grant Balfour, Gabe Gross, J.P. Howell, Dioner Navarro and Ben Zobrist — exceed expectations in '08. Which means there's always a chance they come back to earth.

2. Starter's kit: Want to know how important it is for Tampa Bay's rotation to remain intact the way it did in 2008? Over the past two seasons, the Rays have a .560 winning percentage in the 209 games started by Kazmir, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine and Matt Garza. They have a .400 winning percentage in the 115 games started by anyone else.

3. Bartlett vs. Jeter: He is six years younger and makes $18.1 million less per year. That alone makes Jason Bartlett a little more attractive than Derek Jeter. But, according to a Baseball Prospectus stat that measures a player's worth in victories both offensively and defensively, Bartlett has been just as effective at shortstop the past two seasons.

4. One of a kind: If he gets back from Triple A by May, David Price should still have a fairly good shot at the rookie of the year award. If so, it would be a history-making turn. Not one of the 12 previous pitchers taken with the No. 1 pick in the draft has gone on to win the award.

5. Worst-case scenario: Ownership has made it clear it does not have the payroll flexibility to make midseason acquisitions if the Rays are in contention. What has gone unsaid is whether the team will get rid of players — perhaps Akinori Iwamura or Crawford — if Tampa Bay falls out of contention by late July.

Five signs Hank Steinbrenner is losing it.

5. Arranged for Peter Gammons to interview a Steinbrenner thoroughbred that tested positive.

4. Outraged that Melky Cabrera was left out of Yankee Stadium's Monument Park.

3. Pictured in Details magazine kissing A-Rod's reflection.

2. Stuck in an elevator for 31/2 hours — and didn't notice.

1. Asked Congress for a bailout.

Five things to fear in '09

1. One-run games: The Rays were an AL-best 29-18 in one-run games last season. Their bullpen is deep enough to pull it off again, but that's the kind of stat you worry about evening out over the course of a couple of seasons.

2. Empty seats: Check out the attendance for the April 18-19 games against the White Sox. The Rays played the White Sox at home on the same weekend last season and drew around 17,000 for the Saturday and Sunday games. If they are not well over 20,000 on that same weekend this season, it will not bode well for the future of the payroll.

3. A Curt Schilling blog or an Elijah Dukes text: Don't know which is scarier.

4. Navi's health: Depth is fairly good around the infield and outfield, but the Rays remain untested when it comes to catcher. If Navarro, right, goes down, it puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Shawn Riggans, who has about 50 big-league starts to his name.

5. Cheers in Boston and New York: If the Yankees and Red Sox are playing .600 ball, it may not matter for the Rays. It hasn't happened a lot — once each in the AL Central, AL West and NL West since realignment in 1994 — but there is a chance three teams will win 90 or more games in the division.

Five World Series picks

1. Red Sox: Just because they have money, history and fan support doesn't make them evil. Really. Seriously.

2. Rays: MIT will be studying Joe Maddon math equations by midseason.

3. Cubs: You can't keep the Cubs down for more than four (maybe five) decades at the most.

4. A's: Billy Beane lives again.

5. Mets: Looking into the possibility of playing their September games in July.

Final five words

A better time in '09.

MLB preview 2009 | rays.tampabay.com

Major league baseball preview: Gimme 5 04/03/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 3, 2009 6:28pm]

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