Today I made it over to to Target Field to see the Twins hosting the Rays. The likes of LoMo and Longo (two dingers each) managed to out-slug the Twins for a late victory. Get your cowbells out, we're talkin' Tampa.
I've watched a lot of Red Sox games in my days as a baseball fan, and they have had a lot of run-ins with the Tampa Bay Rays (or Devil Rays if you are either feeling sinister, or like a marine biologist). The Rays were thought to be the team that would get beat up on in the AL East, until they started playing spoiler to the Red Sox, getting into fights, beating their best players and finishing games dramatically. Because of this familiarity, the Red Sox, and their fans, have had a fascination with the players to come through their system and the way they play the game... to the point that when Theo Epstein went to run the Cubs he made sure to steal away Joe Madden from the Rays to manage for them. They have a little bit of Moneyball in them as well, Jonah Keri wrote a very interesting book about how they managed to succeed in a small market against the richest teams in baseball called "The Other 2%."
I was quite nostalgic to see Rocco Baldelli coaching 1B for the Rays today. From his first call up with the Rays, the talk around New England was of Rocco Baldelli, a Rhode Island guy who made it to the majors based on his athleticism (stories of being a star volleyball player), and his combination of speed and power. He had two full seasons before being hit by a constant stream of injuries and ailments. The Red Sox were able to get him on their roster for a season, although he was injured, before making one last stop with the Rays before an early retirement.
There is a little of this romanticism of Rays players by the Red Sox to the point that in 2011 they threw a huge tens of millions a year contract at Carl Crawford. It turned out, as talented of a player as he is, Boston was not the place for him, as he hasn't been an All-Star since he left Tampa Bay. He had two seasons with the Red Sox with some injuries included and it was a relief for him to move on to the Dodgers before his contract was up.
Crawford was a member of the '08 Rays who made it to the World Series. That team was in the middle of the great pitcher provenance of the Rays. It started with Scott Kazmir, who was traded to the Rays from the Mets in 2004 in a move that drove Mets fans crazy at the time, and drove them madder as he debuted that year and thrived in the AL East.
Other Fixtures in the rotation were Matt Garza and "Big Game" James Shields. Garza joined the Rays in '08 from the Twins and Shields matured into a 1A ace that year as well. That year, their star prospect, former #1 overall pick from Vanderbilt David Price (another future Bostonian), made his mlb debut and pitched into the playoffs. In the years to come, Price became the ace as Kazmir and Garza left the team and Shields plateaued. Price won a Cy Young, Jeremy Hellickson won a Rookie of the Year. After both of those pitchers left, Chris Archer emerged as a bonafide ace. Last year, Pedro Martinez called Archer, and Pirates pitcher Garrett Cole the two pitchers he considers the best in the majors.
Who's Your All-Star?
Logan Morrison is having a nice season, it might especially seam that way because of his two homers against the Twins but his batting average is a little low compared to the good seasons of Miguel Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, and Eric Hosmer. Logan Forsythe, a favorite on the team, is having a nice year but he's injured and second base seems to be a helluva deep position this year with Altuve, Kinsler, Pedroia, Starlin Castro, and Jed Lowrie all having great years so far. If the Rays have a position player as an All-Star it would be Evan Longoria who is having a great year, but the depth in the AL this year when 10 out of 15 teams have a 3B who could be an All-Star.
Odds are, the Rays will be represented by a pitcher. Chris Archer is the best pitcher but isn't having the best year. Jake Odorizzi has a 3.33 ERA but only two wins so far. It might be a one player representation of the Rays with closer Alex Colome who sports a 1.13 ERA with 14 saves. It's not the best season for star power on the Rays, but they have the pieces to be good in the future, without blowing out their budget. They might just need a lucky streak to get back into the Wild Card conversation, although this might not be the year they do it.
The Rays are one of the four expansion teams from the '90's and they are included as one of three of those teams that has drastically changed their colors since they started. Only the Rockies have kept their uniform design mostly intact since their inception. The Rays have morphed from purple or yellow, to green, to navy blue as their main colors. They have also added a "throwback" jersey to their wardrobe that is a fictional take on a 1970's Padres or Astros uniform. Here's to the Rays being a middle of the pack team with the wildest throwback uniforms in baseball.