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Know your enemy: Tampa Bay Rays

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Somehow, they always seem to figure out a way to contend.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know how they do it, but they do it.

When Joe Maddon managed the Rays, they had six straight winning seasons and four playoff appearances, one of which ended in a World Series defeat.

Maddon left for the Cubs and after a couple of rough seasons under Kevin Cash, the Rays returned to 90-win territory and took the Astros to five games in their division series in 2019.

And they’ve done it with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, guys you’ve never heard of, and shrewd trades.

They made another one of those deals this past winter, acquiring Jose Martinez from the Cardinals. You’ve watched Martinez botch up several defensive positions in St. Louis. He was born to be a DH. Now he’ll get the chance to do that full-time. The Rays also acquired a couple of solid outfielders from the Padres in Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe and are hoping to resurrect Jesus Aguilar’s career.

They also spent a fair amount of money — two years, $12 million — on Japanese outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, and also sent a $2.4 million posting fee to his old team, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. And per Tampa Bay’s depth chart, they don’t even have a fulltime position for him.

And keep in mind that the Rays had a 96-win season in 2019 and the 2018 Cy Young Award winner, Blake Snell, had a bad year. If Snell returns to form, the Rays could challenge the Yankees for the division title. They’ll also have a full year out of Tyler Glasnow, and Charlie Morton seems ageless. Tampa Bay pioneered the use of “openers,” and after those three, you will probably see them use that method again for their fourth and fifth starters.

An intriguing player here is Brendan McKay, who is listed as a starting pitcher for the Rays, but who is also being developed to possibly be a “two-way” player, as that new position is officially defined. In addition to pitching, McKay had 168 plate appearances in the Rays system last year and hit .200/.298/.331 with five home runs.

You’ll watch this team in 2020 and think “how are they doing this?” when they win. And they will win.

KEY ADDITIONS: Jose Martinez, Randy Arozarena, Manuel Margot, Jesus Aguilar, Hunter Renfroe, Chris Herrmann

KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Eric Sogard, Matt Duffy, Tommy Pham

The Cubs will face the Rays over a holiday weekend, July 3-4-5 at Wrigley Field.