After winning a weekend series against the Houston Astros, the Tampa Bay Rays could be finally heading in the right direction.
While still possessing the worst record in baseball, the Rays can be encouraged somewhat by winning two out of three games against the Astros, who many predicted would have the worst record in baseball for the fourth straight year.
The thrill of victory will be short lived though. Fresh off of the series win, the Rays return home to Tropicana Field tonight to host their American East Division foes the Baltimore Orioles.
Tonight will mark the sixth time that the Maryland based team and the Florida based teams have met this season, with the Orioles winning all five of the previous match ups.
Back during their Devil Rays days, the Orioles and Rays would often be battling each year for the second to last spot in the division and bragging rights over the team that finished last.
In recent years, the Rays and Orioles have both been among the top teams in the division making this season a bit of a historical mix up.
While the Orioles currently sit in second place within the division a mere 4.5 games back of the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rays are 13.5 games back and in last place.
As often noted, I am always torn whenever the Rays and the Orioles play each other since I have deep rooting ties to both franchises.
In the past, I have tended to root for the home team during head to head match ups, or I will often find myself pulling for the team with the best chance of representing the division in the playoffs.
Using that formula, it should be a no brainer that I would root for the Orioles to sweep the Rays over the next couple of games since the Orioles stand the best chance of making the playoffs this season. However, I just can’t seem to discount the Rays yet.
I guess there is part of me that does not want to believe that the Rays, who many people felt had the roster to propel them to the World Series, are finished in mid-June.
That is not to take anything away from the success of the Orioles, or to suggest that I do not bleed Orange and Black. But, I really am finding it hard to believe that the Rays are struggling as mightily as they are.
Granted, the Rays have had to deal with the death of Don Zimmer and a string of injuries that have exposed their lack of depth in certain areas. Then again, many teams deal with injuries and tragedies each year and still manage to win games.
In a way, my struggles with the unexpected fall of the Rays is similar to what many fans of the Miami Heat might be feeling following the five game series loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals last night.
The Spurs dominated the Heat throughout the series and posted the highest per game margin of victory in NBA Finals history. So, it was not a close series and even fell two points shy of ending in a sweep.
Prior to the series, many Heat fans likely thought that the series would go to seven games like it did last year.
The Spurs and Heat are two of the best teams in the NBA and have been accounted for eight titles since 1999, with three for the Heat (2006, 2012, 2013) and five for the Spurs (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014).
Each team made it to the finals in years where they did not win the title as well. So, one could make the case that the Heat and the Spurs have been the teams to beat for much of the 21st Century.
Despite those years of success, there will be those that look at the “collapse” of the Heat as a sign that the roster needs to be ripped apart and rebuilt from scratch. What that approach fails to consider is despite the Ricky Bobby mantra of “If you ain’t first you’re last” there are second place finishers each year that in many cases were just as talented as the ultimate winners but fell short in the end for whatever reason.
Just as there will be calls from some fans to implode the Heat roster and rebuild following the finals loss, there will be those who feel that the Rays will need to go back to the drawing board following the below expectations season they seem likely to finish with.
The Rays are known for late series miracles. Therefore, I am not discounting that they can’t finish strong. However, I do think it is safe to say that a World Series game at the Trop is unlikely this year.
Personally, I do not subscribe to the theory of imploding rosters after a single bad year and prefer to look at the bigger picture and a team’s entire catalog of work.
The Rays can and will win again with the bulk of the players that they currently have on the roster just as the Heat can likely be a threat for the NBA title again next year with a few tweaks here and there.
Time will tell what those changes will be. Management of both clubs should take a scalpel to the roster to make fine adjustments versus performing roster surgery with a chain saw.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to flip a coin to decide whether I am wearing my Orioles hat or my Rays hat tonight.
Copyright 2014 R. Anderson