|Point-Counterpoint: The Rays Don't Have Postseason Power||| Print |||Send|
Written by At Home Plate Staff (Contact & Archive) on September 06, 2008
The Tampa Bay Rays, should they make the postseason, will become the ultimate Cinderella story. Yes, that phrase is thrown around a lot in the sports world, so much so that it has become a cliché. But let’s take a look at the facts. This team has never won more than 70 games in a season. They lost 96 times last year. For them to win baseball’s toughest division, after becoming the first team ever to have the first overall pick in consecutive seasons, is amazing. From worst (and that may be understating it) to first.
The Rays aren’t built to win in the postseason, however. Sure, their pitching staff ranks second in major league baseball in team ERA, but where is their staff ace? You can always point out lefty Scott Kazmir, but do you think his subpar control and propensity to run up high pitch counts is going to help him against the patient teams in the postseason?
Teams with hard-throwing pitchers also tend to have more success in the postseason. It seems as if the pitchers who perform best in the postseason are those with blazing fastballs. Take a look at Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson in 2001 or Josh Beckett in 2003, 2004, or 2007. The great Atlanta Braves pitching staffs of years past rarely advanced to the second round, despite having three Hall of Famers in their prime. Finesse tends to take a backseat to power in the postseason. Matt Garza and James Shields don’t really light up the radar gun and the former has shot way past his career high in professional innings.
And there is something to be said for postseason experience. There are a lot of veterans on this team (and there is no such thing as a clutch performer), but experience is important. In a recent article, a few Rays’ players said they enjoyed playing in front of an empty house because it allowed them to calm down and think of a game as “just another game.” Well, Tropicana Field is going to be loud in October, as Rays’ fans shake their cowbells. (We should assume that fans will show up during the postseason, unlike they have this season.) Let’s see how the kids perform under this type of atmosphere.
The Rays Are Ready For October
They are no longer called the Devil Rays but they have their share of devil’s advocates telling us that they weren’t for real and that they’d fade. Slowly those critics have fallen silent as the Rays have rampaged their way across the AL and Tampa, rather than Boston, Anaheim, Chicago, or New York, might well be the best team in baseball today. For anyone to say that this team isn’t built for the playoffs is absurd.
It doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to compare this team with the Florida Marlins team that managed to knock off the Yankees to win a World Championship in 2003. They were also a young up and coming team with some very good hitters, a solid pitching staff but without much in the way of marquee star power. The difference is that the Marlins were a Wild Card team and underdogs their whole way through the playoffs, while the Rays appear to be the class of the east and could easily finish with the best record in baseball.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better starting rotation than the one in Tampa with Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine (who’d likely head to the bullpen for the playoffs. The critics will say that there isn’t a staff ace for the Rays, but you have remember, they said the same thing about the Marlins back in 2003 when Josh Beckett finally stepped to the fore. A similar role will belong to Scott Kazmir who’s shown every indication that he’s ready to step into the spotlight for the Rays.
Throw in the fact that the Rays have one of the best bullpens in the AL, a strong defense and the only real question that the Rays have is their offense. This team has struggled to score runs as injury after injury wracked their lineup. But things are finally coming together and at the right time. Third baseman Evan Longoria (fractured wrist) will almost certainly be back by the final week of the season and the speedy Carl Crawford should be ready in time for the playoffs.
That will leave the Rays loaded for bear when they come to play meaningful games in October.