Who would have thunk it? Heading into the All-Star Game stretch, the Tampa Bay Rays are within a half game of the Red Sox in the AL East. Really?
The answer is yes, really, but with good reason. Here are a couple of glaring statistics that these drooling analysts and experts leave out:
- The Rays are 30-12 at home—huge for two reasons. (1) They have played 42 of their first 74 games in a welcoming environment (as opposed to Fenway, where they were promptly swept earlier in June, or, say, the Bronx in the soon-to-be demolished "House of Pain") and (2) they play in the AL East, where teams can get hot and make runs a la the Yankees' postseason or bust campaign after the All-Star break last season. Not to mention, the trade deadline has not yet passed. It would be unlikely to see Tampa Bay trade for the present in any scenario on the table currently, but it is not out of the question for the Yankees or Red Sox to add one more component to compete down the stretch.
- The Rays' record on the road—weak: 14-18. The argument could be made that everyone in the Major Leagues is struggling on the road this season (hovering around a win percentage of well under .500), but these road games will haunt the Rays' playoff hopes, especially in September, where they are called to make an eight-game road trip to finish off the 2008 regular season. It is in my humble opinion that their postseason aspirations will make or break during this time frame.
- The Rays aren't blowing teams away—336 runs scored, 304 runs allowed thus far into the season. Compared to division foes such as the Red Sox (390-327) or the Yankees (347-331), it seems comparable. But when compared to a team like the Cubs' ratio (411-305), it's not that great. However, teams can maintain a winning record by being outscored, currently the Twins are only two and a half games behind the surging White Sox in the AL Central while being outscored this season 364-360. So it is possible, but with bats in their division that are a little hotter than those of Jim Thome or Joe Mauer (Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, heck, even JD Drew), the Rays need to address this issue in order to make a run at the postseason.
These three points are not the only reason that I think the Rays aren't as good on the field as they are on paper, but they're a good foundation for why I think October will come and go without the Rays' new found talent.
You may be able to alter the name of your franchise, but changing the losing ways of perennial cellar dwellers isn't as easy.