JR: I'm confused, Gary. After reading all the stories from the baseball experts, I'm not sure if the Rays are supposed to win the World Series in a sweep, or if it will go seven games.
GS: The preseason predictions are a little different, aren't they? For a decade, all we have read about Tampa Bay is one punch line after another. Suddenly, it's like the national pundits are playing poker: "I'll see the Rays' 80 wins, and I'll raise to 83." Suddenly, the Rays are the flavor of the day.
JR: And that flavor would be Upton Jubilee? Cherry Mocha Crawford?
GS: As long as it isn't Crappy Frappe, I'm happy. This is a lot of fun. We've seen the Bucs rise out of the muck, and we've seen the Lightning learn to stand up. Is everyone fooling themselves, or do you think the Rays can make a legitimate run at a .500 season?
JR: It can be done, but it will take some breaks along the way. Seeing Scott Kazmir on the sideline and Rocco Baldelli in limbo is not the way you want to start a season, for instance. But, having said that, I still kind of like this better than having Josh Phelps, Chris Singleton, Dewon Brazelton and Foghorn Leghorn in the opening-day lineup.
GS: No cartoons of any kind. To me, that's the difference. In years past, you couldn't imagine a way that the Rays would finish out of the cellar. For a change, you can at least see a plan at work. You can see a way a franchise might get better.
JR: You can see the middle infielders — which was sometimes difficult when Wilson Alvarez and his hips were on the mound.
GS: I remember. Many were the times we thought Wilson had actually eaten the second baseman. Speaking of the middle, do you think Aki Iwamura is going to be comfortable enough playing second? Do you think Jason Bartlett really carries another two victories in his glove for each of the top of the rotation pitchers?
JR: Heck if I know, but I do think Jonny Gomes is the best middle infield/bodyguard the Rays have ever had.
GS: You don't think Ben Grieve would have come sprinting in from rightfield to defend a teammate? And if so, would he be there yet?
JR: This may be the best indication the Rays are becoming respectable — there's nobody on this roster we can point at and laugh. We're reduced to recycling Alvarez and Grieve jokes.
GS: Are you kidding me? If the Rays are decent, there is an entire league filled with punch lines out there. It's just that, when you live around here, you were the target making fun of the bullet.
JR: Okay, it's gut check time. Where does Evan Longoria finish in Rookie of the Year voting, Scott Kazmir in Cy Young voting, B.J. Upton in MVP voting and Josh Hamilton in Boy-The-Rays-Screwed-That-Up voting?
GS: Longoria? First. Kazmir? Let's wait until we see if this elbow thing is scarier than the Rays are letting on before we see him with any votes. B.J. finishes seventh. Josh gets more votes than, say, Elijah Dukes, but Bobby Abreu's legacy is safe.
Okay, four for you: Does Carl Crawford make the All-Star team? How many saves for Troy Percival? Do we see David Price in 2008? And most of all, do the Rays finish as high as third place?
JR: Crawford? Yes, because the Rays will get more than the obligatory one All-Star. Percival gets 31 saves. Price reaches Triple A, but the Rays shut him down because he has pitched too many innings. And the Rays give Toronto a scare, but finish fourth. Of course, I'd feel better about these predictions if I hadn't also predicted years of wedded bliss for Paul McCartney and Heather Mills.
GS: Poor Paul, all alone with his silly little love songs. Just like Vinny Castilla.
MLB preview 2008