The Rays are experiencing a new phenomenon: disappointment
The Rays are mired at 29-30, six games behind the Yankees in the AL East
Injuries (Akinori Iwamura, Evan Longoria, Scott Kazmir) have been critical
Tampa is also 6-12 in one-run games, next-to-last in the major leagues
The quote of the day posted on the Tampa Bay Rays lineup card on their clubhouse door at Yankee Stadium on Sunday may have been just the latest bit of homespun wisdom from an organization owned by a former Wall Street executive, run day-to-day by a 30-something wunderkind and managed by a maverick in horn-rimmed glasses. But it also may have spoken to exactly what is ailing the defending American League champions one year after electrifying the baseball world with a stunning run to the World Series. It read: I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to simply depend upon himself.
In the great undertaking that is a 162-game baseball season, it is never enough to rely on one man, or even two or three men, and expect to find success. It is a lesson the Rays learned well last season, when they surged from last place in 2007 to their first-ever postseason appearance despite not having a single player bat .300 or reach base 40 percent of the time, and not having a pitcher win more than 14 games.
It is a suddenly apt message for a team that is threatening to do something never seen in the history of baseball: have four different players lead their league in batting average (Jason Bartlett, .373), home runs (Carlos Pena, 17, tied with Mark Teixeira), RBIs (Evan Longoria, 55, tied with Jason Bay) and stolen bases (Carl Crawford, 34). Yet because the Rays have been forced to depend on that cadre of individual performances, and have not gotten the same balanced effort that carried them to the Fall Classic a year ago, they sit mired at 29-30, in fourth place in the AL East, six games behind the Yankees and five games out of a playoff spot. They no longer resemble the bungling, dysfunctional Rays of their early existence, but they are still a far cry from the powerhouse that flowered a year ago and was a popular pick to return to the postseason this year.
A little more than one third of the way through the first season they have ever entered in which they were considered a legitimate contender, the Rays are something they never were during 10 consecutive losing seasons at the start of their franchise's existence: a puzzling disappointment. The same question that was asked with such regularity during their march to the postseason a year ago must now be asked again, as they have tumbled back toward the middle of the pack: Are these the real Tampa Bay Rays?
The early returns offer a snapshot of the Rays' potential, as well as their predicament. They have beaten the Yankees and Red Sox, their chief competitors in the AL East, nine of the 16 times they've played, yet they are just 19-22 against teams at or below .500, a winning percentage that ranks last in American League.
Further, the chances of duplicating last year's 97 wins is fading rapidly. The Rays would have to play .654 baseball the rest of the way to match that mark, which may be a prerequisite to even have a shot at making the playoffs in the steel cage match that is the AL East.
Sunday's loss to the Yankees was notable for its vintage-Rays feel (four walks and an error helped turn a two-run lead with six outs to go into a loss in which they never even got the chance to record the last three outs) and for the fact that it denied Tampa Bay a chance to soar two games over .500, heights to which it has yet to ascend during this most puzzling season.
MLB Truth & Rumors