5 Things Standing in the Way of Another Rays Cinderella Season
2007 - Tampa comes in last place in the A.L. East and decide to become the Rays instead of the Devil Rays.
2009 - Thanks, in part, to an 11-game losing streak in September, the Rays finish the division in third place.
2010 - Tampa wins the A.L. East for the second time in three years, based on solid defense and pitching.
2011 - Tampa loses most of their pitching and defense in the offseason and has one of the worst starts in baseball history.
But, it ain't over 'til it's over, and the Rays are on the verge of a sweep of A.L. East rivals the Boston Red Sox. Stranger things have happened in Tampa. The boys in blue have gone from worst to first. The Rays can win again. They are just going to have to avoid the following hurdles.
Number 1: Offensive Production
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With the loss of Longoria due to an injury and the untimely retirement of Manny Ramirez, the Rays have lost their No. 3 and 4 hitters.
To make matters worse, the Rays are batting for an average of .201, right there on the dreaded "Mendoza Line."
If the Rays are going to have another run at a division title, hitters are going to have to help their pitching staff by putting some numbers on the board.
Ray of Light: OF Sam Fuld - This kid came out of nowhere to lead the team with a .313 batting average. He has also become somewhat of a Twitter sensation, with such Chuck Norris inspired tweets as "Sam Fuld counted to infinity. Twice." and "Sam Fuld once got intentionally walked. While he was in the on deck circle."
Number 2: Maddon Needs a Gameplan
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Tampa manager Joe Maddon has been closing and relieving games by committee The good news is that no one knows what pitcher is going to come out in a relief role during the game. The bad news is that no one knows what pitcher is going to come out in a relief role during the game.
The sooner Maddon decides on a set-up man and closer, the sooner the Rays can start trying to claw their way back up in the standings.
Ray of Light: Kyle Farnsworth has an ERA of 2.08. Jake McGee seems to be ironing out some issues, but still may fall in place by mid-season.
Number 3: Bill Foster
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Many of the Rays current woes are due to Bill Foster. For those of you not from Florida, allow me to clue you in on this.
Bill Foster is the mayor of St. Petersburg, where the Tampa Rays' Tropicana Field lies. "The Trop" is an issue of concern for legions of Rays fans, because of the complete inaccessibility of the stadium, especially during rush hours. It can take the typical fan up to two hours just to get to the field from Tampa. No fans means no revenue. No revenue means no Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, etc.
The Rays are in contract to stay in their current stadium until 2027, but have had talks to move the stadium closer to the Tampa city center. Bill Foster has fought this tooth and nail. He has threatened the Rays with lawsuits and injunctions.
The man trying to keep the Rays in his town may end up running them out for good.
Ray of Light: Mayors and City Council members can change every four years.
Number 4: Too Much Competition
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What may prove to be impossible is continuing to beat these teams, with a payroll less than a quarter of that of the Yankees. These two teams are loaded Both financially and with talent. The fact that the two highest payed teams in the league happen to be in the same division as the Rays spells bad news for Tampa.
MLB will never have a salary cap. This is okay, as long as we don't have the same team winning the Series every single year. As long as there are young teams like the Rays of the last few years, it makes baseball more fun for those who like to root for the underdog. The Rays, no matter if they win or lose, will always be the underdog to these two baseball powerhouses.
Ray of Light: Boston isn't exactly showing how good a team they can be and New York has some gaping holes in their starting rotation.
Number 5: Low Payroll
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Evan Longoria is out until mid to late April.
The Rays lost Carl Crawford to the Red Sox.
The Rays lost Carlos Pena to the Cubs.
The Rays lost six relievers from their bullpen.
This is generally not a recipe for success, however the Rays have competed, year in and year out, despite having the second-lowest payroll in MLB.
Can they do again, after losing so many stars from last years team? Maybe. In all reality, they probably will not. The Rays can't afford to keep big-name players on their roster and will always have to rely on younger, less expensive talent.
Ray of Light: The Rays have always drafted well. From BJ Upton, to Longoria, to David Price, the Rays' scouts have an amazing eye for talent. This could serve them well in the very near future, but until the Rays begin to keep the superstars they developed, they will not be a dynasty. They will be an expensive farm club for the dynasties (that occasionally embarrass these "parent" clubs).
That's why Rays' fans love the Rays. It's more fun to root for the underdog. Always.