I won't be the first person to draw the analogy, but the Tamp Bay Rays meteoric rise is unlike any seen in baseball for 40 years. Teams like the Diamondbacks, Jays and Marlins discovered success almost instantly while the Mariners slowly improved, posting a few winning seasons before finally breaking out in 1995. The only team that can relate to a decade of futility giving way to a dream season are the Miracle Mets. The Rays didn't even have the dignity of being lovable losers, they just lost. Over and over again. In new and dramatic ways. They tried spending money, but it didn't work, so they opted to spend none and build from inside.
The Rays came into this season as the sexy pick of clever writers everywhere, but with many questions surrounding their pitching. "Troy Pervical is still alive?" they asked. "I saw Scott Kazmir throw 75 pitches in one inning, no way will he last the season." they said. Their bullpen ended up being one of the best in baseball while Kazmir's season started late but ended without missing a start.
We all waited for the inevitable collapse but the Rays started hot and stayed hot. They overcame key injuries, BJ Upton's aversion to effort and Rocco's illness scare to stay in first all summer. They signed an unproven but massively hyped rookie to a massive contract and he responded with a 130 OPS+ season. Just when it looked like they were going to roll over in Boston, they took two of three from the Sox and didn't look back.
There is a lot to like about this team. They grew beards in support of their ailing teammate and then grew mohawks in support of Indigenous peoples and their struggle all over North America. They have a wacky manager that walks in runs to avoid facing sluggers and is more of a cork dork than Rob & Kris combined. They are an exciting mix of high draft picks (not as many as you'd think) and shrewd waiver-wire pick ups that play a free-swinging, exciting brand of baseball. Their playoff rotation of James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and Andy Sonnanstine is a good combination of control and power pitchers. Their bullpen was bolstered by that submariner that's played for half the teams in the American League.
Just in time for the playoffs, the Rays are getting healthy. Carl Crawford will be in the starting lineup for game one after missing almost two months. BJ Upton and Evan Longoria both missed time in September but have bounced back in time for the second season.
The Rays are playing with nothing but house money at this point. No matter how sexy a pick they were, nobody expected them to be here. They will be playing in a sold-out Trop, but for the first time those in attendance will be cheering for them! The infernal cowbells will be clanging, the young Rays might not have to good sense to be nervous.
Special thanks to the Che Guevara of the Rayvolution David Chalk for the spiritual guidance.