Photo courtesy of StephanieWith 17 games left, the Tampa Bay Rays 2009 season is quickly coming to a close. For most of the season, the Rays were chasing the Yankees and the Red Sox. However, recent events have left the team out of the division race and on life support for the wild card. Needless to say, it's almost time to look toward next year.
As Rays fans have learned through the years, it's never easy watching a team try to play out the season with nothing on the line. For the most part, the Rays will be playing teams that are already out of it. So, as fans, what do we look for as the season winds down?
Here's my list of 10 things I want to see over the next couple of weeks:
Hustle and Heart. How the Rays finish this season could go a long way into how they start the next season. I think it's very important for them to show hustle and heart. Guys can use this time to show management that they haven't given up and they want to try again next year. When Joe Maddon and management meet after the season, they're going to remember who showed up and who didn't.
Finish above .500. This should be a big goal of this team. If they somehow let this season end with a losing record, all the strides they've taken to be respectable will be gone. History won't remember that they were 12 games over .500 going into September. All history will remember is that a team that went to the World Series in 2008 ended with a losing record in 2009. Meanwhile, Rays fans will be left with only one winning season to remember.
Younger Bullpen. I'm not sure about you, but I'm ready to see some of the newer faces in the bullpen. Let's see some more Dale Thayer or let's see some Andy Sonnanstine in the bullpen. I'm not sure who else the Rays can bring in once Durham's season's is over, but I think the Rays should try some guys in some new roles.
Wade Davis innings. This is a good chance for the young Mr. Davis to get some innings under his belt and maybe avoid some of the early season troubles that rookies David Price and Jeff Niemann faced this year. If he can get the kinks out now and have some things to think about in the off-season, maybe he can slip right into the number 4 spot in the rotation next year.
Home crowd love. I'm guessing Tropicana Field isn't going to be busting at the seems these last few games, but this team should show some love for the die hards that are still supporting the team in the end. Keep that home record looking pretty good and look forward to next year.
Finish in at least 3rd. The Rays also need to make sure they stay ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays in the standing. Finishing 3rd looks much better than finishing 4th. The Rays have a home series against the Jays where they can make sure that happens. Plus, because of a bet I made earlier in the season, I get to go to a Bucs game for free as long as the Rays finish in third. If they drop to fourth, I'm buying tickets.
Bartlett's Average. I wouldn't mind seeing Jason Bartlett pass Derek Jeter in the AL Batting Average list. Right now Jeter is at .332, Bartlet at .327. A couple of good games could make the Bartlett the best hitting shortstop in the AL.
Longo's RBI's. With a couple of good games against some bad pitchers, Evan Longoria could make it a race for the RBI title. Before long, Joe Girardi's going to start giving off days to some of his players here and there. Longo needs to show up and knock people in. It would be nice having the RBI leader on the Rays.
Yankee Killers. I know the Yanks may be shutting it down before the final series against the Rays at the Trop. But, I would like to see the Rays redeem themselves a bit against the Bronx Bombers. The Rays haven't really played the Yanks well since early last season. A sweep or a series win to end the season could give the Rays some good Karma going into next year.
Matt Joyce, Reid Brignac, Fernando Perez, Shawn Riggans, Sean Rodriguez, etc. I'd like to see a good sampling of these guys in the next couple of weeks. I'm not suggesting that Joe Maddon go all Durham on us. I'm just suggesting he mixes these guys in a little with an eye toward next year.