The 2008 season has been a crazy one, to say the least. A season filled with surprises, competition, and team breakdowns. I think we could all agree on the biggest surprise of the year—The Tampa Bay Rays.
Over the past few years, Tampa Bay has been the laughing stalk of the MLB, finishing last in the AL East each of the past four years, and going into the 2008 season, nothing more was expected from the newly named Rays—nothing more than another mediocre 60-win season.
At the beginning of the year if I told you the Tampa Bay Rays would have one of the best records in baseball, would you believe me? I sure wouldn't, and I'm going to tell the truth, I honestly couldn't name the Rays starting lineup or starting rotation at the beginning of the year. I mean, who cared? It was the Rays. The Tampa Bay Rays!
But, now with the regular season coming to a close, who would of guessed the Tampa Bay Rays would be leading the AL East? Apparently Scott Kazmir did. Kazmir tells ESPN: "I knew we had something here. I knew we had the depth. I knew we had the pitching. I knew we had everything. We just had to put it together, and we did."
For the 24-year-old Kazmir, along with all the other Rays, it must be the best feeling in the world to shut up the Red Sox and Yankees, and prove to the world that they have what it takes to be a legitimate playoff contender. But, that is the real question: Do they really have what it takes?
Standing tall atop the AL East it looks like the Rays are one of the favorites to win it all. Who knows? They may be. But, does this young Rays team really have a legitmate shot at a world championship? Don't get me wrong, this is a young and pretty inexperienced Rays team, but they just seem to have everything going for them.
They've held a consistant starting rotation, taking a lot of pressure off of their offense. It also seems the Rays' confidence and heart has factored into the situation."We just show a lot of heart, every day—day in, day out," Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir tells ESPN.
Rays manager John Maddon also tells ESPN: "It's so special how we've come together. The way we've changed things here so dramatically is remarkable. We went from being down to being the most unified team out there."
The Rays, who went 66-96 last year, are the second team in history to make the playoffs after having the worst record in the league the previous year. Just being able to have a winning record after a season like that would be a little far-fetched, but leading the AL East and making the postseason? Unbelievable. This team has shown heart, faith, confidence, and unity to be where they are at right now.
I got to keep going back to the unity thing. Unity is one of the most important assets to building a championship team. It's hard for a team to win without having team chemistry. If a sports team is close, it just makes everything easier.
This has a lot to do with the fans, too. After the clinching game for the Rays, the team went out onto the field to celebrate where the fans were watching on a big-screen television. Living in Tampa a couple years ago, you wouldn't find many baseball fans. It is hard to imagine what this Rays team has done to baseball fans in Tampa.
During the playoff-clinching win, Tropicana Field saw its eighth sell-out crowd of the season. In previous years, there hasn't been one game that has seen nearly enough fans to even come close to a sell-out. Whether you know it or not, having a lot of fans helps players out dramatically. Fans will pump the players up, and give them something that every team needs—team pride.
Is this Tampa Bay Rays team just a pretender? Don't count this Rays squad out. Along with their great pitching, and great young lineup, they have all the right components of a Championship team—heart, soul, pride, confidence, and, hey, they even got fans! A message to all other playoff teams out there: Don't underestimate this Tampa Bay Rays ball club. The Tampa Bay Rays are for real!