Tampa Bay Rays 2021 Outlook: Free MLB Picks and Game Predictions

Tampa Bay Rays 2021 Outlook: Free MLB Picks and Game Predictions
Blake Snell #4 and Mike Zunino #10 of the Tampa Bay Rays. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images/AFP

It’s a decision that will haunt Kevin Cash and the Tampa Bay Rays all winter. Pulling Blake Snell in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series is just going to be one of those managerial moves that gets questioned for years to come, but the good news is the media isn’t going to bug Cash and the Rays too much about it since they’ll be roasting the Houston Astros once again when Spring Training rolls around.

Even better news is the fact Tampa Bay is among the favorites to return to the Fall Classic next October. In fact, if it wasn’t the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees dominating the top of the winter baseball futures, we’d be looking at a wide-open battle for the 2021 MLB Championship with the Rays among a half-dozen teams directly behind LA and New York.

Could Third Time Be The Charm For Rays?

Most of the top-rated sportsbooks with futures up have Tampa Bay in the 12/1 to 14/1 span to win a World Series on their third try, halfsies on those numbers to successfully defend the American League Pennant. The Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s are seen as the Rays’ toughest competition…other than the Yankees, of course.

And let’s start right there, with those fat cows at the top of the MLB charts. Los Angeles and New York have been there so often, we’ve almost become numb to it all. That pair won exactly zero World Series titles from 2010-19, often among the top 5 betting favorites if not the top two. The Dodgers have finally gotten the monkey off their back and, along with the Yankees, have earned a right to be the favorite.

But seriously, isn’t it time to give the Rays at least some modicum of respect here? As good as the Yankees are, the fragility of some of the big names has been a huge factor in them falling short recently. The Rays at least deserve more respect than they’re getting with the Athletics and White Sox right now, and they are not wowed by New York any longer.

Can Rays Coax Morton To Return?

Being an old-school kind of guy, I’m not a big fan of this ‘opener’ stuff and the analytics that ultimately led to Cash’s decision in the decisive World Series Game 6. That isn’t to say it doesn’t work, however, after the Rays finished second in the AL with a 3.56 ERA this past season. If a 60-game slate is too small a sample size for you, then how about the 3.65 staff ERA Tampa Bay led the AL within 2019?

Snell will be back in the rotation, along with Tyler Glasnow and the underrated Ryan Yarbrough. The Rays non-tendered Charlie Morton, and while the veteran might be interested in returning to Tampa Bay, reports are at least a half-dozen other teams are also interested in him. That leaves the Rays shopping for at least one more arm to give them 5+ innings per assignment unless they’re sure oft-injured prospect Brent Honeywell Jr. is finally ready.

Tampa Bay is also going to be hunting for another couple of bullpen arms, especially if they sling from the left side. The Rays will not have Colin Poche or Jalen Beeks until very late in 2021, if then, and they’ve also lost lefty Aaron Loup to free agency it appears.

Randy Arozarena #56 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates after hitting a solo home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images/AFP

The Sky’s The Limit For Arozarena?

The next big question for the Rays is who will catch any pitcher that takes the mound for the Rays? The cupboard is currently bare in Tampa Bay as far as backstops go after the Rays turned down their option on Mike Zunino and cut both Kevan Smith and Michael Perez. Here again, the hope is they can work out a deal to bring back Zunino’ if not, we know the Rays will not be in the mix to add a catcher like JT Realmuto, one of this winter’s biggest free agents.

The infield is pretty well set, plus there’s Wander Franco who will be in the mix to start his much-anticipated MLB career. The outfield is pretty loaded as well, led by Randy Arozarena who announced his presence, and then some, during the playoffs. After knocking 7 HR in 23 regular-season games, the young Cuban swatted 10 while batting .377 in 20 postseason tilts. There is some outfield depth, so we could see some of it dangled to potentially fill holes in the bullpen or behind the plate.

Of Tampa Bay’s 40 regular-season wins, 24 came at the expense of the Blue Jays, Marlins, Orioles, and Red Sox. How much Toronto, Baltimore, and Boston improve will play into the Rays’ postseason chances, and they’ll be taking on the NL East once again for interleague play. Getting to the postseason shouldn’t be much trouble for the Rays, and they should once again be popular MLB picks again. Returning to the World Series? Well, that depends on how well they plug the few holes they have this winter.

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