The Tampa Bay Rays are the feel-good story of baseball. So why is it that I still have a bad feeling about their chances?
Perhaps my brain is locked in on the Yankees and Red Sox, the two Goliaths of the AL East that each year morphs us into Bill Murray’s character from Groundhog Day, in which life just repeats itself over and over again.
Wake up...Yankees and Sox in the playoffs. Wake up...Yankees and Sox in the playoffs. Wake up...Yankees and Sox in the playoffs.
It’s a viciously annoying cycle.
I wake up, and every day I see a new person diving headfirst onto the Tampa Bay bandwagon. Yet, every day, I stay behind and watch that wagon leave me in its wake.
Another sweep of Boston at “The Trop,” the best record in baseball, no signs of slowing down, and here I am presenting you with the first “anti-Rays” piece of the year.
Hang on a sec: I have to make sure that my head is screwed on straight.
Yep, it is.
I don’t come here questioning Tampa Bay’s stockpile of talent—or purposely attempting to burst the Rays' bubble. I am questioning their longevity, as many have...until recent weeks, that is.
Tampa Bay’s pitching has been great, the defense solid, and the hitting's there at all the right moments. Many baseball prognosticators discuss how the youth of the Rays will help the team stay fresh throughout the long baseball season.
I instead stare Tampa Bay’s youth right in the face and can only think about how, countless times, young players wear down during that first season that features a giant workload.
Take a look at the rotation of the Rays. The oldest player on the starting staff, James Shields, is only 26. Youth usually equals inexperience. Let’s dive deeper into the starting five of the Rays.
Scott Kazmir, 24-years old
2008: 7-3, 2.63 ERA
Career Stats: 42-32, 3.50 ERA
Best Season: 2007, 13-9, 3.48 ERA
Red Flag: Over 200 innings only once in his career (2007), plus has had injury issues.
Matt Garza, 24-years old
2008: 7-4, 3.47 ERA
Career: 15-17, 4.06 ERA
Career Best: This season
Red Flag: Never pitched over 100 innings in one season, and no more than 15 starts in one year.
James Shields, 26-years old
2008: 6-5, 3.70 ERA
Career: 24-21, 4.09 ERA
Career Best: 2007, 12-8, 3.85 ERA
Red Flag: Over 200 innings only once in his career (2007).
Edwin Jackson, 24-years old
2008: 4-6, 4.33 ERA
Career: 15-25, 5.30 ERA
Career Best: This season
Red Flag: 161 innings last year (Nothing over 40 previously). Never had an ERA under 5.00 (with exception to a four-game performance in 2003 with the Dodgers).
Andy Sonnanstine, 25-years old
2008: 9-3, 4.60 ERA
Career: 15-13, 5.31 ERA
Career Best: This season
Red Flag: Only one other season in majors—130 plus innings and 22 starts.
There you have it, an inexperienced and youthful rotation, in which more than half of the group is experiencing a career year so far.
Still, we haven’t even hit the dog days of summer yet. The All Star break isn’t even here. There’s certainly a chance that any of these players could begin to struggle as the season winds down. Injuries can, and do, occur.
As we all know, when a rotation falters, the bullpen usually crashes down with it. The 'pen doesn’t get its regular rest. When the pitching struggles, quite often the offensive players may start pressing. It’s all a domino effect.
Go ahead and bring up the 2006 Detroit Tigers as an example. Fine, Verlander was a rookie and pitched well, but Jeremy Bonderman had three seasons of 160+ innings before Detroit’s 2006 World Series run. The rest of the team was speckled with seasoned veterans such as Pudge Rodriguez, Kenny Rogers, and Magglio Ordonez. Those Tigers were a different story.
Go ahead and talk about baseball’s trading deadline, and some potential moves Tampa Bay can make. I know they have the depth in their farm system to make a deal.
Still, every single one of us knows that both Boston and New York will find a way to refuel at the deadline. Players will drop their no-trade clauses and flock to each of these powerhouses. Plain and simple, the major markets will get deals done.
What I want to know is this: does the Tampa Bay front office have the stones to make a major deal?
Tampa Bay teams of the past certainly didn’t. The "Artist Formerly Known as the Devil Rays" dealt away Aubrey Huff way too late, never getting enough value for him. Then there was the injury-prone Rocco Baldelli, who was wanted by most of the league for years. Tampa Bay never moved him. Now, as sad as it is, Baldelli’s career is likely over.
Still, everyone jumps on the wagon, praising those sneaky little “devils” of the game—the Rays.
As for me, while the Rays are a fun and unexpected story, I can’t help but admit that I still see a collapse in sight. The rotation is young and inexperienced. If they falter, the bullpen will tire. Following that, the offense could begin to press.
All the while, the major markets are restocking their rosters. Maybe I’m off base. Maybe the Rays can use this piece as bulletin-board material. Maybe I’m still stuck in that Groundhog Day rut.
Wake up...“Rays of light” shining on the game of baseball. I awake and only see “Rays of Plight.”
That’s right, I’m doubting one of the better baseball stories in recent memory. Cue the Rays, who now have to prove me wrong.