The Oakland A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays carry the sabermetric flag in major league baseball these days. Both lean heavily on advanced metrics to compete in divisions heavily dominated by big spending teams (Rangers, Angels, Yankees and Red Sox).

But, it may be the Rays more than any other team that has exploited the game’s new math. GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon are the mad scientists behind the curtain who orchestrate an organization that thrives while pulling up the rear as the third lowest payroll in Baseball.

The Rays use big data, The Shift, a secret conditioning program for pitchers and anything the wild and devious mind of Joe Maddon can come up with to gain and edge, build chemistry and send the other team home a loser. They have a winning culture that is the envy of every other front office in Baseball. The Reds are going to have their hands full this weekend.

The Rays have won 90 or more games four years in a row, but this is the year Tampa Bay might finally be better than every other team in the AL East and perhaps the best team in Baseball. In the offseason, the Rays improved an already strong team by increasing their payroll from $62M to $78M, bringing in first baseman James Loney, David DeJesus, Grant Balfour to close and of course, our favorite catcher, Ryan Hanigan.

Perhaps the best move was the one they didn’t make, keeping David Price, rather than trading him as he comes into his free agent year.

Price, along with Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, filling in for the injured Jeremy Hellickson, are a formidable staff, even with the recent loss of Matt Moore, who was the victim of a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, with the LHP facing Tommy John surgery, a procedure that is now claiming almost one of every three pitchers in the game today.

Expect LHP Erik Bedard to be called up from Triple A to fill in for the loss of Moore or perhaps long reliever Cesar Ramos to play the same role for the Rays that Alfredo Simon has for the Reds while they await the return of Mat Latos.

With Rookie of the Year Wil Myers (.293/.354/.478 in 2013) struggling at the plate to begin the season, Joe Maddon dropped the right fielder from second in the batting order to seventh in Wednesday’s game against the Royals. I wouldn’t be surprised if Myers remained there for the series here in Cincinnati.

Also expect Maddon to start catcher Jose Molina Friday, as he seems to be a favorite of David Price. That probably means no Ryan Hanigan sightings until the weekend. The Rays have lost 8 of their last 9 against the Royals, who they just finished a series with, so expect Longoria and Co. to come into GABP hungry.

The Lineup

DeJesus DH .200 0 0 .286 .360 .646
Myers RF .229 0 4 .289 .286 .575
Zobrist 2B .278 1 2 .366 .389 .755
Longoria 3B .371 1 4 .463 .543 1.006
Loney 1B .194 0 4 .278 .258 .536
Jennings CF .270 1 4 .357 .514 .871
Joyce LF .391 1 6 .500 .609 1.109
Hanigan C .238 1 5 .333 .429 .762
Escobar SS .147 1 1 .194 .235 .430

The Bullpen

It all starts with Grant Balfour, who the Rays uncharacteristically gave a two-year, $12M deal after the Orioles were scared off by the free agent’s physical exam. The Rays are famous for taking on reclamation projects and turning them into valuable relievers, so it’s no surprise that they brought in Heath Bell, who looked to be just about finished with the Diamondbacks. For some reason, I expect Bell to thrive in the Tampa Bay system. Jake McGee, Joel Peralta, Cesar Ramos, Brandon Gomes and Josh Lueke make up the rest of the Rays relief corp.

Last season, the Rays bullpen put up a 3.36 FIP—second in the American League.

Probable Starters

Pitcher ERA
David Price 4.05
Johnny Cueto 1.93
Alex Cobb 3.00
Alfredo Simon 1.29
To be decided
Tony Cingrani 2.45