Sunday, June 22, 2008

Are the Rays Winning Ugly?

The big question circulating around the majors is when will the Rays fold? Major league baseball has almost reached the halfway mark, and Tampa Bay is still nipping at the heels of the defending world champion, Boston Red Sox. A near billion dollar franchise with a multi-million dollar payroll is being hunted by a team - that until this year - couldn't be sold at a yard sale. How have the Rays stayed in contention? Pitching also defense; but when will the roof cave in? It could be soon. In the American League East, the Bosox can be expected to play at a .600 clip for the rest of the season; the Yankees are warming up; meanwhile the pesky Orioles refuse to go away. The Rays, on the other hand, remind you of the words of former Texas manager, Doug Rader, who coined the phrase, "They winning ugly." That was Rader's way of discrediting the Chicago White Sox who won the division before being swept aside by the Baltimore Orioles. Considering Tampa's 43-wins, 7 have come during their last at bat. In one run games, they are 9-5. Only Baltimore, 10-2, Boston, 8-1, and Chicago 4-1 have a better winning percentage. The Rays, furthermore, have played fewer road games where they are four games under .500. Both the Red Sox and Yankees have played more games away than the Rays; the Yanks, however, are the only team with a winning road record. Away from Fenway, the Red Sox are one game under .500. When it comes to scoring runs, Tampa is in the middle of the pack; but their pitching, particularly the bullpen, is extremely stingy at home allowing a piddling 3.4 runs per game. When the Rays venture away from Tropicana Field, their young inexperience pitching staff surrenders a whopping 5.1 runs per game. So what's to be expected in the second half? At times, manager, Joe Maddon, looks like a genius by calling on his bullpen, but will they be overworked before the dog days of a pennant race? On the flip side, will Maddon's peculiar habit of resting his starters eventually catch up to him? Secondly in August, will the Rays' pallid bats fail when opposing pitchers ratchet up the heat? No one really knows how this team of juniors will respond to a grueling pennant race. In retrospect, the youthful Dodgers of Cey, Garvey, and Bill Russell, only needed to blow one division lead before vanquishing a combative Pete Rose and the Cincinnati Reds. The sprightly Oakland A's of Joe Rudi and swaggering Reggie Jackson surrendered one division title to the Minnesota Twins before maturing into a dynasty. The only difference between those clubs and Rays: no one said, "They winning ugly."

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