From Revival to Burnout

After ten straight losing seasons and being perennial cellar dwellers, the Tampa Bay Rays experienced a revival in 2008. They smashed numerous franchise records, and won 97 games en route to the first ever AL East crown, becoming the first team since 1997 not named the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to win it all.

As the Rays kept winning, the fever and euphoria of the success was felt all over Tampa. For the front office, it was years of stockpiling young talent through the MLB Draft finally paying off, and taking “Devil” off the team name and changing a new look and image was the goal of the team from the announcement. For Joe Maddon and his players, it was a rewarding feeling seeing all the hard work from Spring Training pay off. For the long time Rays like Carl Crawford, it was a weight off his shoulders after experiencing the pain of losing for years.

The Rays phenomenon swept past Tampa, and into the rest of the country (except for the teams Tampa Bay beat in the playoffs). The team won its first playoff game, and then their first playoff series, en route to its first AL Pennant. The young team was not used to playing this late into the season, and despite the poise of veteran-like team, the joy and great feeling and being in awe of being in the World Series was taken advantage of by an experienced and hungry Philadelphia Phillies team who was looking for their first World Series in 28 years and the city’s first championship in 25.

This season, the Rays stayed in contention for most of the season, and are currently nine games behind Boston with 22 left to play. It appears that even though the Yankees made significant improvements, and the Red Sox have played well throughout the season. The Rays have played hard like the defending champions, but they just look burnt out. The ups and downs and the inconsistencies of the team have reflected it, and the current 72-68 record and eight game losing streak has shown that this team will just need to recharge and look forward to next season.

Tampa Bay is still going to be a great team for years to come, Maddon’s managerial style and the team play has turned them from laughingstock to relevant. The players have shown that a team bond and a farm system pays off, as they get used to each other coming in the system. It has been a model that has resulted in lots of suffering, but the end result has paid off. The joy and jubilation of 2008 was a hangover into 2009, but the Rays will still be a contender in 2010, depending on the moves that they make in the offseason (if any), and if payroll increases.

Barring a systematic collapse by the Red Sox and the Texas Rangers, this is the recovery period that is needed for this team. It will help them out in the long term, and make them motivated to prove that 2008 was not a fluke. Just look at the fact that they are not in last place in the division. That speaks in its own right.

  1. September 10th, 2009
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