After witnessing the Tampa Bay Rays walk-off, 10th inning win, courtesy of a home run by Gabe Gross, a Brewer at the beginning of the season, it got me thinking. Could Tampa Bay actually hold up throughout the summer and actually WIN the AL East?
Re-read that. The TAMPA BAY RAYS. A team that in the past has played the role of doormat for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees suddenly has the best record in the AL East.
What has changed? How did this franchise make such a turnaround? Let's at least attempt to find out.
With the electric mix of young players such as Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Jonny Gomes, and Scott Kazmir, and the sprinkling of veterans such as Eric Hinske, Cliff Floyd, and Troy Percival, Tampa Bay has managed to shock the baseball world and put together not only a contending team, but a team that seems to persevere in the face of pressure...so far this season.
With their surprisingly strong, young starting-rotation, which appears fearless, the Rays season has been full of proof that young, hungry players who seemingly play for the love of the game, and don't make millions of dollars like their AL-East counterparts, have just as good, if not better, a chance of being successful in the major leagues.
Let's take an in-depth look at some of these players, and hope to make a connection as to why on earth this is happening.
Carlos Pena: The Rays are his fifth MLB club. That's not even including his release from the New York Yankees' triple-A team. Pena was awarded the Silver Slugger award...the first such honor for a Ray. Five teams passed on this man. Remember that.
Evan Longoria: A rookie called up this year by Tampa Bay. Longoria's numbers might not be spectacular, but he seems to be a solid part of the team's dynamic. We'll have to wait and see. Longoria has played in the Futures Game, and for the U.S. team. If he stays put and evolves, he will become a force along with the rest of the Rays.
Scott Kazmir: Wow, this guy was traded for Victor Zambrano. Best decision ever made in Tampa Bay, though it was a few years back, it's been paying huge dividends ever since.
Cliff Floyd: Floyd, who was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the first round with the 14th pick, has bounced around the league from Montreal to Florida, to New York, to Chicago, and finally in Tampa Bay. He has accepted his role as a veteran, and has found a home in Tampa Bay, establishing himself as a leader of this young team.
With Percival closing out games when healthy, it gives Tampa Bay a dangerous bullpen capable of slamming the door shut.
With the players they have, and the way they are playing, the Tampa Bay Rays are more than capable of actually winning the AL East. The upcoming series this week at Fenway versus the now-rival Red Sox should determine just how hungry all of these players actually are.
Are they for real? We're about to find out. Nothing could be healthier for the game of baseball than for the Rays to take the series from the Red Sox. It's good to have fresh blood in there, especially in the playoffs. Can anyone imagine a Rays-Cubs World Series? Who would you root for? Wait, what? Exactly. Time to get the measurements for a new crown.