If there’s one thing we’ve all learned over the past six years, it’s that you can never count the Tampa Bay Rays out of contention.
Just one month ago, the Rays were under .500, dropping consecutive games to a desolate Royals team, with a lineup resembling the great New York blackout of 1977 and a bullpen as reliable as that friend who always promises to “pay you back in the future” after spotting them for the tenth time.
Now look at them: winners of six in a row, six games above .500, and just a game back in the American League East. The bats have been red hot (even with Evan Longoria hitting just above .200 and homerless in 10 games), the pitching has been spot on, and manager Joe Maddon seems to have his finger right on the pulse of this young squad.
Yes, the Rays have been one of the hottest teams in baseball over the past few weeks. The question now becomes can they keep it up?
The amazing part of this whole streak is that, as mentioned above, the only truly reliable weapon in the Rays’ offensive repertoire hasn’t been nearly as effective as you may think. It’s been the surrounding cast, such as Matt Joyce, James Loney, and Yunel Escobar who have picked up the offensive slack for this power-hungry lineup.
Which begs the question, if the Rays are still in contention at the All-Star break, do they need to deal a young arm for a one year rental player? It’s too soon to tell now, but maybe an Alfonso Soriano-type player combined with the promotion of Wil Myers is exactly what they need to bolster a fluctuating lineup.
Another amazing fact during this streak has been the stellar pitching, even with Cy Young winner David Price on the DL after a horrid first month and a half. Matt Moore has been unbeatable (literally), Alex Cobb has emerged as an up-and-coming stud, and the contributions from the spot-starters such as Alex Colome have been exactly what the Rays need to stay afloat. Yes, the bullpen has been quite erratic (see Fernando Rodney) and now quite exhausted, but with the starting pitching going the way it has been the Rays have still been able to right the ship.
It just seems crazy how despite all the struggles, the Rays still manage to somehow keep up with the big boys of the AL East. The credit has to go to Joe Maddon. In a world where the manager is overly blamed for a team’s failures, here is a manager who is underappreciated for the positive impact he has on his team. Somehow, some way, he always keeps his guys on the right track with a positive attitude and the idea that they can win any given day despite any circumstances.
Maddon has them thinking the right way, it now becomes all about execution by the players. The Rays have been known to be a streaky team since Maddon took over, now it’s time to start buckling down and becoming consistent on all fronts if they want to stay alive in this grueling AL East race.