Last fall, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays were two of the best teams in the majors; the Red Sox wound up with the very best record, and won the World Series.
This spring, the Red Sox and Rays were again supposed to be two of the best teams in the majors. And I’m not talking about some blind bandwagoneering; all the objective analytical methodologies said the same thing.
Last month, the Red Sox lost 10 straight games. Now they’ve got the third-worst record in the American League. Last night, the Rays lost their 10th straight game. Now they’ve got the worst record in the major leagues.
For a moment, let’s leave aside exactly how all these things that weren’t supposed to happen have, in point of painful fact, happened. Now it’s all history, and there’s nothing to be done about it. Let’s instead think about what’s next, because that’s what the men who run these teams must be thinking about. As opposed to, say, what happens in the near future ...
I agree that the Rays have 2 much talent 2 play this poorly all season. Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist will hit better, and someday Wil Myers will return to the lineup and reëstablish himself as a fine hitter. The clutch stats will come around some, too. Jake Odorizzi might figure out the majors, and Matt Moore will someday recover from his Tommy John surgery.
But all these things are in the future. Some (Longoria and Zobrist) in the near future, some in the relatively distant future. Either way, the future’s just not soon enough.
Even in this strange season, it’s going to take at least 88 wins to reach the postseason. Probably a few more than 88, but we’re trying to foster hope and faith. After losing their 10th straight, the Rays are 23-38. To win 88, the Rays would have to win at a .644 clip the rest of the way. So far this season, only three teams have won even 60 percent of their games: the Blue Jays (.607), Athletics (.617) and the incredible Giants (.650).
Even considering our preseason optimism, can we really take seriously the notion that the Rays, without Myers and Moore, are a .644 club over the next four months?
Hey, that’s probably just as likely as the Rays being a .377 club over these last two months. Which is to say, not very likely at all.
So what’s next? You can’t blame Joe Maddon for pushing and you can’t blame Rays fans for hoping, but you also can’t expect the front office to think about playing baseball this October.
The good news is the Rays have a fair number of desirable players. James Loney, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, Matthew Joyce, and David DeJesus are all past their physical primes and draw reasonably small salaries while playing at least reasonably well.
The bad news is the Rays don’t have any hitters waiting in the wings. Their top prospect, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, is struggling terribly in the minors this season. They do have some other interesting hitters, but none profile as Rookie of the Year candidates in the next two or three years. Hitting-wise, the well is practically dry. And the same is true on the pitching side, as the Rays’ top pitching prospect is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and has to serve a 50-game suspension for drugs.
Since vaulting to contention in 2008, the Rays have never suffered through a lousy season. Even in 2009, when they finished 19 games out of first place, they won 84 games. And since then they’ve won at least 90 games in each season. But that streak’s going to end this season, and this time a nifty bounce-back seems unlikely unless the Rays are willing to pay David Price something like $20 million in his walk year ... which is something they’ve not been willing to do before. It seems to me the time for trading Price is now. Along with at least a couple of the Rays’ past-their-prime hitters.
I believe the Rays will be back. But not this season, and probably not next season. Hey, 2016 will be here before we know it.
Also in 2016, Rob Neyer’s Twitter feed will have been scrubbed of all non-baseball opinions and hobby horses.