- The Rays have something happening:
Even though the Rays have been nothing short of a laughingstock for the first ten years of their existence and their current string of excellent play is still being looked at with a “wait and see” attitude from voices credible and not, there is a precedent for teams to come out of a similar swamp as the Rays have and vault into contention. Two teams that immediately come to mind are the 1991 Braves and the 1984 Mets.
All three teams had been annual losers of 90+ games with little hope and little attention paid to the good things they were doing; all three had built an impressive array of young pitching that had matured while enduring those years of endless losing; all three had management that believed in their players while naysayers doubted them; and all three imported high-character veterans to lead and teach the youngsters how to play and win.
I’m stunned by the Rays sudden leap into contention, but probably shouldn’t be. Having believed they would improve, but that they had too many question marks to jump to the front of the line in a division that included the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays, I felt that a season record of 76-86 was likely and could be seen as progress. The Rays have had other ideas.
The years and years of accruing top draft picks and making good moves (mostly by the ridiculed former GM Chuck LaMar) are paying off now that they’ve made smart, lucky and necessary trades and signings—-dumping Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes; acquiring Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza; signing journeyman Carlos Pena and getting an MVP-quality season in 2007; and acquired gregarious, well-liked veterans like Cliff Floyd; in addition to the development of home grown players like Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton , Carl Crawford and James Shields.
The Braves and Mets had made similar veteran acquisitions as they rose into prominence. The Mets had Keith Hernandez to lead the team out of the wilderness and the Braves had Sid Bream, Charlie Leibrandt and Lonnie Smith. The Rays are now eleven games over .500 and are drawing similar attention as those Braves and Mets teams did.
Understandably, many won’t take them seriously unless they continue this solid performance past the All Star break, but I doubt I’m the only one sensing the winning aura emanating from Tampa Bay. And it should be remembered that even the Mets and Braves fans were reluctant to start investing their emotions into those teams when their hearts had been broken by unfulfilled promise so many times; it was when the season wore on and the teams hung around and continued their solid play that the fans started showing up; I would expect a similar reaction from the Rays fans. It doesn’t look like the team’s going to fade out anytime soon.
- The Reds are about to leap into contention:
The Cincinnati Reds are thisclose to jumping into contention. Their young players like Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez are gaining experience and Jay Bruce has injected
life into the offense. Once Aaron Harang starts winning some games (and he will start winning some games), they’re going to be hard to handle. The Cubs are looking like they may run away and hide in the division, but the Wild Card is going to be up for grabs and it doesn’t look like any team is ready to take control yet. Dusty Baker’s teams are always there at the end of the season, especially in his first season. They’re going to be heard from before this season’s over and those that keep repeating that they’re “not very good” are going to regret it.
- Would Greg Maddux accept a trade to some unusual venues?
The obvious assumption has been that when the Padres begin their sell-off, Greg Maddux will head back to the Braves. That’s still where I think he’ll end up, but one has to wonder if Maddux would be willing to go to the American League. He’d want no part of New York, but would he be willing to go to Boston? To Tampa Bay? Or would he want to go to Philadelphia or Houston? I don’t think Maddux has a no-trade clause, but I’m sure he has a gentlemen’s agreement with the Padres that they won’t send him to New York, but if not the Braves, there are other teams with strong bullpens that could use Maddux’s six innings of work and a pennant race might get his adrenaline flowing. He’s been inconsistent for the latter part of his career, but he looked good last night against the Giants weak-hitting lineup. He might have a few big games left in him and that might be all one of the above-mentioned teams would need from him to put them over the top.
- The Mariners have the wrong guy on the firing line:
Historically, Bill Bavasi has been a competent GM, but his explanation that so many
prognosticators had picked the Mariners at or around the top of the AL West as justification for the type of team he put together is a bit weak. There have been continued rumors that manager John McLaren’s job is hanging by a thread, but how is Bavasi not under the same scrutiny? The team is constructed in a quirky way and if there’s someone to blame for that, it’s not the manager, it’s the GM.