Well, it’s time to party like it’s 1998. The time has come for Opening Day at Tropicana Field for the Tampa Bay Rays. There will surely be a retro feel this weekend as the team will be honoring Don Zimmer, wearing throwback uniforms this afternoon, and playing the team they opened their inaugural 1998 season against in the form of the Detroit Tigers.
There are many eyes on this ball club heading into 2023. The Rays seek their fifth straight playoff appearance, which would be the longest run in franchise history. They will need a combination of skill and luck if that is to happen, as the AL East will be as competitive as ever heading into 2023.
Rays Opening Day Preview
Shane McClanahan will make his second straight Opening Day start for the Rays here in 2023. With that also comes some big shoes to fill this season, particularly his own from last season. “Sugar Shane” put together a Cy Young-caliber season in 2022, finishing with a 2.54 ERA and posting an opposing batting average of under .200, adding an All-Star start as well. The big key for today is to see how he can build on what was a great season for the USF product. It’s hard to judge how a player will do in his first start, especially a starting pitcher. But if McClanahan can come out like he did last season time and time again, it could be a special season for him.
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) March 30, 2023
McClanahan will have another local product next to him in Zach Eflin, who signed the largest free agent deal in Rays history this offseason. Eflin, whose numbers weren’t the prettiest on paper during his time in Philadelphia, comes in showing a lot of confidence. He could gain an advantage playing for his hometown team. Eflin and McClanahan will be fun to watch on opening weekend, and it should create some interesting storylines if the hometown boys can impress in their first starts of the season.
Wander Franco is heading into his second full season with the Rays, and although Randy Arozarena has had a lot of hype this spring, there is also some intrigue surrounding Franco entering 2023. His numbers last year weren’t horrible, hitting for a.277 batting average, but with the injuries that plagued him last season, Franco truly didn’t get his fair share of playing time.
That is why for this season, especially this weekend, it will be good to see Wander Franco back in the lineup and hopeful for an injury-free year. Although he has already been hit with a bit of a “sting” if you will, Franco will hopefully be a key contributor in the field and at the dish for the Rays this year, and we get our first glimpse of it this weekend against the Tigers.
Wheelin’ and Stealin’
The Rays have already shown their aggressiveness on the base paths in spring training. For example, Jose Siri stole 10 bags in Grapefruit League play. With bigger bases now being used in the big leagues, teams will be more tempted to send runners than ever before, perhaps none more than the Tampa Bay Rays. With baserunning threats such as Arozarena and Siri, the team will be relying on some of these take-a-base opportunities to move runners, especially if the offense comes out quiet.
Game Information & Betting Lines
- Game Time: 3:10pm EST
- Location: Tropicana Field (St.Petersburg, FL)
- Starting Pitchers: Tigers LHP #57 Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Rays LHP #18 Shane McClanahan
- Betting Lines: Tampa Bay Rays -1.5. Over/Under: 7
Fantasy Starts & Sits
Starts: Randy Arozarena, Brandon Lowe, Shane McClanahan, Isaac Paredes
Sits: Wander Franco, Harold Ramirez, Jose Siri
- First of six meetings for the 2023 season (3 home, 3 away)
- The Rays won the season series vs. the Tigers last season with a 5-2 record.
- The Rays have opened the season four times (including this year) against an AL Central opponent (Tigers 3x, Minnesota Twins 1x).
- There is no player on the active rosters for the Tigers or the Rays who played when the first Rays game was played in 1998. The longest-tenured player on either roster is future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, who started playing pro ball in 2000.
- The Rays recently traded minor leaguer Grant Witherspoon to the Detroit Tigers for cash considerations, an interesting move especially with the Rays-Tigers series being this weekend.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports