COMMENTARY: Tampa Bay Rays aim for success in post-season
The Tampa Bay Rays have been the laughing stock of Major League Baseball since the first season of their existence. The team has never won more than 70 regular season games in the past 10 years, and last season, the Rays had the worst record in the MLB with a compounded 96 losses. However, they have transformed into an almost unrecognizable team, one that has actually had a winning season. Not only did the Rays record 97 wins, they also won a division dominated for the past several seasons by the world famous New York Yankees and the current defending champions, the Boston Red Sox. Yet, the Cinderella story for Tampa Bay continues as they soundly defeated the Chicago White Sox 6–2 to win in the first round of the playoffs.
After a devastatingly unsuccessful last season, several critics wondered why Tampa Bay did not make any drastic changes to their roster but they are now lauded for sticking with their young, talented players and pitching staff. For example, Andy Sonnanstine pitched the winning game that put Tampa Bay through to the first round series, allowing only two runs and three hits. That's the same Sonnanstine that lost seven starts from the previous season and disappointed most baseball fans with his lack of improvement. Many critics questioned the team's management for keeping him but now it could not be clearer as to why Tampa Bay held on to Sonnanstine.
Tampa Bay continues to be viewed as the underdogs going into the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox, but can the Devil Rays defy the odds and do what is least expected of them: defeat the Sox and advance to the World Series?
They certainly have a chance, but a win cannot be guaranteed against a much more experienced Boston side. However, Tampa Bay has three relentless starting pitchers who consistently throw strikes: Scott Kazmir and Sonnanstine only gave up two runs in games 2 and 3 and James Shields gave up three runs against the Chicago White Sox. In addition to the effective young pitchers on the field, the strong bullpen pitchers can also support the starting pitching.
The Tampa Bay bullpen shut out the White Sox in games two, three, and four and gave up only one run in game one. It is commonly believed that pitching wins games, and the Rays certainly have the solid force of attack necessary to win. However, because their pitchers are young and inexperienced, it will be interesting to see how they fare in the next round of playoffs when the level of competition gets turned up a notch.
Anything is possible in Major League Baseball since last season after the Colorado Rockies, also a predominantly weak team, went all the way to the World Series but faltered against the Boston Red Sox. Even more notably, back in 2004, the Red Sox were down 3–0 and six outs away from opponent New York Yankees entering the World Series and came back to win their first World Series since 1918, ending the infamous Curse of the Bambino. The Tampa Bay Rays could possibly defy all odds and win the World Series in a similar fashion to the 2004 Boston Red Sox.