Pick your poison ? Is it better to be insulted by ownership or by the management of a professional sports franchise ? That’s the question that the Tampa Bay Rays’ fans have to be asking themselves right about now.
Here’s a team that sits in the midst of a wild-card playoff mix. And in essence their ownership has basically given up on the season. The Rays at (71-59) sit some 5 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox within the AL East division. The division leading New York Yankees (83-48) are a further 11 1/2 games ahead of the third placed Rays. So , effectively the Rays are in effect playing for a wild-card berth and not much else beyond that at this juncture.
That being said , in the midst of this all the Rays, its ownership and their remote but loyal band of followers , have to be asking themselves. How differently might things have turned out had this team played with a great deal more resolve ? They have in effect been somewhat complacent as to their play. So much so , that the fans , as well as management and ownership included, may have felt that all they had to do, was to turn up at the start of the regular season.
Granted , their unexpected win of the division, the AL pennant and then their appearance in the World Series. Which culminated in a loss to the Philadelphia Phillies . It led to a great deal of exposure for the team and its young cadre of players. That being said that sense self importance may well have gone to their heads far too quickly than their manager, Joe Maddon, may well have wanted. His mastery of cajoling and fostering team spirit led to exemplary and exceptional play from a number of members on this team. That being said , when complacency sets in , bad habits tend not to be too far behind. And that has been definitely the case with this Rays’ team this season !
Now , in the midst of the a three horse race for the wild-card berth in the American League. The Tampa Bay Rays now find themselves up against a rock and a hard place. And now comes the even more daunting task, as they face off against the Boston Red Sox . In what might be their most important series of the season. Failure to make up ground on the Red Sox as well as the Texas Rangers (72-58) . And in effect, their season is all over , bar the shouting !
Pitching and timely hitting thereof, has been one of the major letdowns on the team. And when the offense has been on fire , it has been the pitching which has let them down. And when the pitching has been stellar , the bats all of a sudden has become all too silent. What might be even more scary is the bullpen , which many thought last year would be their achilles’ heel. In effect it, withstood the pressure and was one of their saving graces. This year that hasn’t been always been the case. It has fluctuated between being average and barely above that.
Granted , this season several of the team’s stars have performed above and beyond the call of duty. But at the same time a great deal more had been expected of some. As to whose fault this might’ve been is open to a great deal of debate and conjecture. What we do know is this, the team for all sense and purpose has regressed somewhat. Whether it was the high expectations placed upon them their fans and perhaps management and ownership as well. What we do know is that the team was found wanting in a number of areas. Roster-wise this team can measure up against the elite of the MLB teams within the game. But somehow , they can never seem to orchestrate the consistency needed to win multiple games and even more earnestly multiple series. If they were able to do that with even greater consistency. Then the Tampa Bay Rays wouldn’t now find themselves on the outside looking in, with the regard to the potential playoff scenario as it now stands.
What , I for one find more surprising with this team is the lack of a true leader, on it. Not only terms of their being a vocal leader but also one, who leads by example. Certainly that hasn’t been forthcoming from Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford , or even a seasoned veteran such as Pat Burrell. And though it’s often said that a team tends to reflect the persona of its coach or manager , as the case may be. It could well preclude to the fact that it’s left to Joe Maddon to communicate what’s needed on the field of play at any given moment. If that is indeed the case. Then Maddon, being too laconic may well be the real problem. He’s a man of few words in terms of his needs from the players. He’s certainly not as rambunctious as his predecessor , Lou Piniella . But then again , Piniella has never been known to be a patient man to begin with.
Maddon said and did all the right things that turned this team into winners. And he is to be off-course commended for that. As good as it was, a great deal more was expected out of this season. That being said, winning for the Rays as an organization hasn’t been ingrained as a template. Wherein, it becomes a thing of regularity. It’s still learning from the success of last year and that may well be the overall problem. But what’s now needed is for both the manager and team to raise the level of their intensity and not just rest on the laurels of last season.
This now leads me to my final point , insofar as the team is in the midst of a playoff scenario as to its ambitions. If they weren’t said to be giving up on the season . Then why indeed did they trade away their pitcher Scott Kazmir ? The player was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for three players to be named later. Call me naive’ , but at this juncture wouldn’t it have been better to retain the player until the season had ended ? When at least then we’d have known you gave it your best shot in trying to acquire a postseason berth. Instead, for all appearances it becomes apparent that in essence you’ve waved the white flag of retreat and basically surrendered your season. Fate as complicated as it can sometimes be. In essence it is what you make of it . Either you grasp it or you can essentially walk away. That on appearance seems to be what the organization has done with this maneuver.
Salary cap dumping , call it what you will. It’s now bringing back the type of maneuver one equates with that of the previous ownership of the Rays under the auspices of then,Vince Naimoli .
The Stuart Sternberg regime, as astute on the face of it , as they might appear to be. They can ill afford to fall out of the good graces of a select but small and loyal fan-base. It is one thing to try and allay their fears but it’s another to try and sell them a bill of goods . Which is essentially what the team GM , Andrew Friedman is saying when he states “… that the trade of Kazmir gives the team a chance to call up players whom we feel can contribute to a playoff run.” Isn’t that akin to saying that it’s our intention not to give up. But we’re going to try something new down the home stretch because we can’t see the finish line clear enough ahead of us.
I only call it like I see it ! So let me know what you think as to the Rays’ aspirations at this juncture ? It ought to make for a great topic of discussion , don’t you think ?