Since we live in the age of the negative let us start with the bad news. The Rays aren’t going to repeat as American League East Champions. With just under forty games to go they aren’t in a position to make up the 10 games that separate the two teams in the standings. Luckily for the Rays they live in the age of the wild card.
That leads to the good news. Despite the impression you might get from listening to local radio, the Rays are still in the middle of the post season hunt. They took two out of three from the Rangers this weekend and closed the gap to two games behind the surprising ball club from Arlington. Both teams are still chasing Boston for the outright lead.
The Rays have a leg up in that chase as they have 6 games head to head with Boston while Texas has finished their season series with the Red Sox. Making up games is always easiest when you’re playing the team head to head. With the success that the Rays have had against Boston over the last two years it isn’t inconceivable that a 3-4 game lead can be erased within a week.
All season long fans and radio hosts have bashed the Rays to the point where one would assume the team was on pace for another 100 loss season. Why all of the hate? Well one thing you must understand about the TBA (that’s Tampa Bay Area for you new readers) is that if the team isn’t first it might as well be last.
The flip side is if the team is in last (which happens quite a bit around these parts) all the fans want is for the team to be competitive. Of course, by competitive they mean in first place. Have the Rays struggled at times this year? Definitely. Does that mean we should spew venom over the air waves and question their integrity on a day to day basis? Definitely not.
Fans let me tell you - it’s not embarrassing to cheer for a team that doesn’t end up in first place. After all, only one team gets to hoist the trophy at the end of the year. Cheer for them when they win and cheer for them when they lose. Ninety nine percent of your life is going to be spent supporting a team that doesn’t win it all.
Besides, where’s the fun in cheering only when they win? That’s like putting together a 15 piece puzzle. Sure you get the pride in putting it together, but where’s the challenge? It’s not like the Rays are a losing team this year. They are on pace to win 88 games. For those of you who have been here longer than a season and a half wouldn’t that have sounded grand in 2007 (66 wins), 2006 (61 wins) or 2005 (67 wins).
The Rays have stayed in the chase despite sub par seasons from their top two pitchers, Scott Kazmir and James Shields, and rough years from BJ Upton and Dioner Navarro. Luckily those struggles have been off-set by career years from Jason Bartlett and Jeff Niemann, not to mention the reemergence of Carl Crawford.
What happens if Kazmir continues his recent success and Shields starts getting some run support? The Rays start putting together 5 and 6 game winning streaks, that’s what happens. It’s better for your team to be hot in September than in April. Remember all of the complaining about resting starters in April and May - well this is why Maddon did it. So that his team is the freshest when the games mean the most.
The Yankees are clear and gone, but the Red Sox are still vulnerable. A strong finish and the Rays can nip the Sox at the wire. So let us turn those frowns upside down. Let us hear some Joe Maddon-ish optimism out there. I’m hoping the black hair dye catches on like the Ray-Hawk, I would find it amusing if the Trop was packed with 60 year olds looking like Death Cab-listening emo’s.
So when I tune in the radio tomorrow I want to hear some positive thoughts out there. Don’t back down to the radio tough guys and their negativity, because to paraphrase Jackie DeShannon, what the world needs now is positivity sweet positivity. It truly is the one thing that there’s just too little of.