1. Rays

Tom Jones’ Two Cents on the upcoming baseball season

Times columnist Tom Jones tells you which teams will tank and what former Rays likely will come up big.
The Kansas City Royals watch from the dugout steps during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
The Kansas City Royals watch from the dugout steps during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Published Mar. 24, 2018

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones gives his Two Cents preview of the Major League Baseball season:

AL team that won't be as good as you think
Not many are expecting much from the Royals, but look for this franchise to take a nosedive to the bottom of the standings for the next several seasons. The small-market Royals are paying for the success they had earlier in the decade.

NL team that won't be as good as you think
Everyone seems to think the Padres are a dangerous rebuilding team, especially since adding free agent Eric Hosmer. It's not that San Diego isn't getting better. It's more that they are in a loaded division with the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Giants and Rockies. The Padres might play really well and still finish last.

AL team that will be better than you think
The Twins, surprisingly, made the postseason in 2017. There will be nothing surprising about them making it this year. An already good team had a nice offseason, adding a couple of former Rays in Jake Odorizzi and Logan Morrison. Meantime, ask baseball folks and they'll rave about the offseason the Angels had, including picking up Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani.

NL team that will better than you think
It's easy to sleep on the Mets because the Yankees get all the back-page headlines in New York, but the Mets' pitching staff is so good that they can't help but win their share of games. And watch out for the Phillies, too. I picked them as a team to watch in 2017, and I might have been a year off. This team is slowly building something special and should be serious contenders by 2020.

Player you need to watch
Check out Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. He was just shipped to the minors, but that's a free-agency clock thing. He'll be back before you know it, tearing up the bigs. He's already being compared to Mike Trout. He hit .344 in Triple A last season, then was the MVP in the Arizona Fall League. This spring, the 20-year-old racked up a .432 average with four homers, 11 RBIs and four stolen bases in just 16 games. Let's just hand him the Rookie of the Year award now.

Which former Ray will have the best season?
There are plenty to pick from: Evan Longoria, Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Alex Cobb, Wade Davis, Jake Odorizzi and Steven Souza Jr. among them. But look for David Price to have a comeback monster season in Boston — as long as he is healthy. Really, it's health that has limited Price since leaving Tampa Bay. But when he's healthy, he remains one of baseball's premier pitchers.

Which current Ray will have the best season?
Pitcher Blake Snell will build on his good ending to 2017 and establish himself as the ace of the Tampa Bay staff.

Team you should root for
The Giants, for two reasons: Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. These are two of the classiest veterans in the game who spent their entire careers making small-market teams competitive — Longo in Tampa Bay and McCutchen in Pittsburgh. Both have had very little postseason success and neither has a World Series ring. It's unlikely, but it would be cool to see them get a championship together.

Team you should root against
If the Marlins are going to go full-tank mode and sell off all their pieces, including an in-the-prime Giancarlo Stanton, then they should get what they deserve, which is 100-plus losses. And before Tampa Bay fans start jumping up and down about its team giving up, the Rays' offseason was nowhere near as depressing as Miami.

Beltway blues
This likely will be the final season for Bryce Harper in Washington and Manny Machado in Baltimore, so Nats and O's fans need to take one good last look. The early scuttlebutt is that Harper will end up with the Phillies, while Machado will wear Yankee pinstripes. And speaking of goodbyes, this could be the last season for Ichiro. Go see him if you get the chance.

Team you want to see all the time
Sorry, folks, but the Yankees again are baseball's most glamorous team. When sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton come up to bat and you don't care, then you might want to check the obits to see if your name is in there.

Team giving you no reason to watch
The Reds continue their perpetual rebuilding process, and they remain boring and bad. Other than the occasional highlight play from speedster Billy Hamilton, why would you ever tune in to watch this team?

Three things that popped into my head
1. The defending champion Astros still feel like the team to beat — by a mile. They have baseball's best line and a pitching staff that is among the top three in baseball, if not No. 1.
2. Yet, my World Series pick: the Nationals over the Astros in seven.
3. The Rays won't lose 100. But they won't go .500 either. Split the difference. They will go 72-90.