When the Rays made the World Series last year, my friend Ian, the only real ESPN caliber Rays fan in Tampa, looked at the TV during Game One, shook his head, and called it an abortion of baseball.
Something about Game One in the Sam's Club of stadiums was just weird to us. Exciting, kind of cool, even frightening, but still weird. The Rays used a combination of Moneyball and drafting high from being in last to assemble a team the least baseball loving city in the country could bang thunder sticks together for.
Nothing summed up this team's mindset like the Garza/Bartlett-Young/Harris fleecing we pulled on the Twins. Goodbye, strikeout king Delmon Young; hello great, young, cheap pitching and a shortstop with terrible range who gets on base.
If that's not textbook Oakland A's philosophy, I don't know what is.
But this team was also built for a drop-off. Price wasn't going to be in the bullpen to save us from Troy Percival's Zombie. We couldn't keep developing Edwin Jackson, which killed me personally, having gotten into numerous message board wars with idiot Rays fans calling for Niemann's promotion despite mediocre Triple-A numbers.
And the rest of the bullpen, which had no major additions but produced drastically differently than the last place seasons, wasn't going to keep it up. Sorry fans of Grant "Australia's National Treasure" Balfour. He's not a closer-in-waiting unless you're looking for closer for the second half of a Mets season.
And that was just with the team. Let's not forget the division, by and far the best in baseball.
Toronto's been running the Moneyball model for years to stay just competitive enough to keep Halladay from demanding a trade. The Sox have Theo, the smartest GM in baseball, with a payroll that almost makes it unfair...almost.
And then there's the Bizarro Yankees. I call them Bizarro because Cashman has destroyed their legacy single-handedly. The line after he pulled the Pudge and Nady trades: "When Cashman sees something he wants and his team needs, he gets it."
Sure, if Cashman is your friend who sees the super high maintenance girl at a bar who won't sleep with him for six months, yes, he does get what he wants. He's been trying to outspend Theo's smarts for the better part of this decade. And while the 8-0 record against the Sox proves it's not working, it's looking like it might be enough to keep other teams out of the wild card, the bastard.
So where does that leave the Rays this season? In the Pedro Hunt. And that's where it gets sad.
Gammons does a piece on SportsCenter around this time of the year where they crush the bobbleheads of teams who can't make the playoffs because they're too far back. It's depressing. And the Rays are in this group.
Can they compete? Yes. Can they make the Wild Card? I wouldn't put money on it, and I put money on everything. Are they a closer away from making a real run? A month and a half ago, maybe, and even then it would be iffy.
They led the league in RBI for a good part of the season, and that was with the Yankees playing the new Coors Field. But things have to fall into place to get into the playoffs.
The rotation has not repeated as the best in the majors. Kaz, whose control was questionable to begin with, has shown it, and was rewarded with a Chien Ming Wang trip to the DL.
The pen tried to crash down to Earth, but burnt up on reentry.
Bradford's on the DL, Percival is an aforementioned zombie, and the Isringhausen experiment failed. He's not Al Reyes.
We're not striking gold twice from the St. Louis scrap heap. Baflour, Howell, and Choate? They are who we thought they were. For every Zobrist, there's an Aki injury that's dragging this team down.
Right field's still empty, since Zobrist, Bart, and Aybar will need to platoon second rather than have Zobrist take over. The $4 million mistake that was Aki's transfer fee when they already had Longo coming up in the minors has hurt the Rays in the long run.
Pedro will not pull this team past the threshold. No closer will. K-Rod from last year couldn't fix the holes in the Rays pen.
Sorry to be the downer Gammons this year, but I just threw the bobblehead I got for free from Tropicana down the garbage disposal.