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Grapefruit Getaway: Rays begin march back to World Series

David Brown
Big League Stew

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Big League Stew contributor David Brown continued his spring swing through Florida's Grapefruit League on Tuesday with a stop at Port Charlotte to see everyone's favorite 2008 American League champions, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Rays. Check back throughout the day for reports on the Rays, and follow Dave's Twitter feed for updates on what's happening Wednesday from Tampa and Yankees camp.

Good morning, Stewies!

Ah, the dynamics of team chemistry. I'm not sure what's happening in the above photo, but it appears that left-hander David Price(notes) (right) is irritating the team's new closer, Rafael Soriano(notes). And they manage to strike the classic TV cop show buddy pose.

• Price, the irreverent, uncouth newbie who acts out and uses laughter to compensate for insecurity.

• Soriano, the cynical veteran partner who's seen young punks before and isn't having any of Price's juvenile shenanigans.

I think NBC should have this series in the place by the time the Olympics are done. Lord knows they need the programming.

The thing is, this is exactly how Joe Maddon wants it. If Price feels loose, perhaps he won't put unnecessary pressure on himself. The sooner he does, the sooner he gets to being one of the best young starters in the league. If Soriano is no-nonsense in ninth innings, the Rays can remove much of the drama that plagued them late in games last season.

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Has Maddon come up with a new mathematical formula to define team expectations? If so, it's become an official team tradition.

In 2008, "9 = 8," meant it took a lineup of nine guys working hard for nine innings to win enough games to become one of the eight teams berthed in the playoffs.

In 2009, Maddon created " '09 > '08," a reference to the Rays wanting to improve on their appearance in the 2008 World Series with a championship.

What kind of calculations does Professor Maddon have in mind now?

Here's what he said during a 30-minute media session in his office Tuesday:

"I really want to emphasize the fine line between winning and losing," Maddon said. "I don't think people understand how closely winning and losing are situated.

"And for us being able to turn 84 back into 97, we've got to do a better job at the little components of the game and take better care of the latter part of the game — and I'm not just talking about the bullpen, either."

Wait, there it is! Turning "84 into 97." Victories! He's talking about the little things adding up to a big difference in victories.

The question: How does it look in equation form?

• 84 > 97? No.
• 84 = 97?
Not unless something very odd happens in the AL East.
• 84 x 97? 8,148. That's not it, either.
• 84 ;-P 97? Stop sticking your tongue out.

I got it: 84 - E = 97. "E" is for errors, mistakes. Erase the mistakes and 84 victories becomes 97 and, possibly enough to win the AL East. Get those t-shirts a-silkscreening!

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I'm not sure what George Hendrick (left) and B.J. Upton(notes) are discussing (I wasn't close enough to eavesdrop) but it might be something about hitting. Hendrick is a base coach for the Rays (Derek Shelton is the new batting coach) but Bossman Junior will take any kind of wisdom nuggets he can.

Upton slumped in '09, finishing with a .686 OPS, which includes a sickly .241 batting average. Upton's stats have declined the past two seasons after nearly reaching .900 OPS in his first full season.

Much more on the Rays coming up soon.

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