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Rays camp report: Likes, dislikes

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Matt Moore is an improvement to a rotation that topped the AL in ERA in 2011. (Getty Images)  
Matt Moore is an improvement to a rotation that topped the AL in ERA in 2011. (Getty Images)  

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- What I like, and don't like, about the Rays:

Likes

 It's not fair. The Rays rotation had the best ERA in the American League last year, and that was with Matt Moore starting only one regular-season game. Moore will take a regular turn this year, and the Rays even have 11-game winner Wade Davis stashed in the bullpen. Starting pitching is the Rays' strength, and now they're even stronger.

 The completely-rebuilt bullpen was a big question for the Rays heading into 2011. This year, instead of rebuilding, the Rays simply added, bringing in Fernando Rodney as a setup man and moving Davis from the rotation to the pen. I'm still not sure I feel comfortable with Kyle Farnsworth as the closer, but he did well last year.

Tampa Bay Rays
Danny Knobler
The Rays are a problem for folks who want to complain baseball is unfair. Camp report >>
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 The Rays have learned to win in the American League East, and manager Joe Maddon deserves a lot of the credit. Maddon has a way of bringing his teams together, and also of getting them to believe that they can win in places as tough as Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. "If we have a big game, you see Joe and you can't really tell a difference," reliever J.P. Howell said.

 Carlos Pena left the Rays for a year to go to the Cubs, but now he's back, and they can use his power. Pena averaged 36 home runs a year in his first four-year stay with Tampa Bay; Evan Longoria led the Rays with 31 homers last year.

Dislikes

 What is it about catcher? The Rays are so good at finding pitchers, and so bad at finding catchers. They've gone with Jose Molina this year, which would be fine if Molina could play regularly. The thought is that he'll probably play a little more than half the schedule, although Molina says: "As soon as the season ends, I'll tell you how many it is. I'm ready every day."

 What is it about shortstops? That's the other position the Rays have struggled to fill. Rays shortstops had an MLB-worst .539 OPS last year, which would be fine if they were great in the field. They're not. And the same guys are there again, with Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez and Elliott Johnson.

 The Rays haven't given up on B.J. Upton yet, and neither have I. But Upton still hasn't come close to fulfilling the potential he showed during the 2008 postseason. The Rays kept him, even as his salary has risen to $7 million this year. But you can bet that this is the year they expect -- and need -- to see more.

 The Rays cite a Scarborough Research study to say that more people in the Tampa Bay area follow them than follow the NFL's Buccaneers. If that's true, where are they? The Rays fell back to 13th in the American League in attendance last year. The team has been good since 2008, so either the stadium is the problem or the area is.

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