Thursday, September 17, 2009

Was last year the fluke? 2009 Rays = 2007 Rays

Rays look much like the 2007 version right now. Photo courtesy of Stephanie.

To think, I thought these kind of stretches were a thing of the past.  Long losing streaks. Blown games. No offense. Players fighting in the clubhouse. Season-ending injuries. Bullpen pitchers who can't get anybody out. Career minor leaguers in the starting line-up. For a moment last night, I thought the time machine had slipped me back a few years.

Welcome to the 2009 Rays, a version of the 2007 Rays with higher expectations and a better winning percentage in June. Other than that, they seem to pretty much be the same team. And now that the Rays are at .500 with 16 games to play, they're in danger of following their magical 2008 season with a real clunker. It's a shame really, this team had all the potential to make life interesting all year. Instead, they bagged it when it counted most.

I'm not sure what's going on in the locker room right now. Nobody seems to know what prompted Carl Crawford and Pat Burrell to argue in the clubhouse before yesterday's game. But, the fact that they did argue tells me a lot about the mood in the locker room.  I'm sure the players are just as fed up as we are about their performance. But the difference, they can do something about it.

I wrote yesterday that the Rays need to play out the streak with pride and professionalism. They need to play each game like they're still in the hunt.  Joe Maddon needs to find a way to motivate a bunch of guys who seem to have packed it in. They need to do what they can to stay over .500 so this team doesn't become some sick footnote to history. My biggest fear is that the true footnote in Rays history won't be this year, it was last year.


Joel said...

My theory: both years were flukes. I think the Rays are a team somewhere between 2008 and 2009. When you deal in young players like the Rays, you are prone to a LOT of volatility: you either find some amazing chemistry and watch everything go right (2008) or expectations cause you to forget the basics that got you the expectations to begin with (2009).

I've always been on the side that thinks the lack of a salary cap is not that big a deal; but now I've realized what the big money does and why it's so important. Remember that "bad year" the Yankees had in 2008, with all the fans up in arms and the front office reacting accordingly with huge additions? They won 89 games. Most Rays fans would be thrilled with 89 wins this year.

The big money isn't a guarantee for big wins (especially if you don't spend the money right *cough*Mets*cough*); but it sure as heck gives you a much more stable base to keep you in the picture (as well as the funds to reset when the veterans start to wear). You KNOW what to expect of a Yankees team year by year, give or take a few wins, because you know what to expect from most of the players.

Meanwhile most of us clearly were surprised by a lot of players this year, both for the good (Zobrist, Bartlett) and the bad (Upton, Longoria after about June or so). And frankly, I'm no closer to knowing what will happen next year. Is Upton still dealing with shoulder issues, or is he a dud? Will Longoria stop trying to pull everything? Is Zobrist going to be a one-year wonder?

All in all though, I still say this team is better than .500 on paper. What happens with that paper is the big question.

Matty Sinn said...

I really hope the Rays front office is finally understanding the importance of chemistry. Last year's team was perfect with Hinske and Uncle Cliffy patrolling the clubhouse, along with the rest of the "practically Durham Bulls."

Think about this for a second, the majority of the team had grown up together playing minor league ball: Upton, Longo, Zobrist, CC, Gomes, Howell, Navi, Kaz, Shields, Edwin, Riggans, Sonny. All of them had bounced up and down with each other. Now you subtract the leadership in Hinske and Uncle Cliffy and an older selfish millionaire, already on contract #3, in Burrell, and boom -- things get combustible.

Remember in 2000, after Hardy Nickerson and Brad Culpepper left the Bucs, they had the same problem. The leaders were gone, and the young guys had no one to patrol the clubhouse. It resulted in an 8-8 season, one year removed from the NFC Championship Game.

Next year will be interesting. Will new leaders emerge? The talent seems to be there, but the commitment and sacrifice to winning still is in question. 2010 will say a lot in determining the true future of this franchise.

Michael Weber said...

I think you're right, Joel. Both years were flukes in the sense that they over performed last year and are under performing this year.

As far as leadership goes, this team definitely has a void. I think Pena tried to take over some of that role late in the season, but it may have been too late. The younger players need someone to lean on.

And, as always, Matt you leave out another clubhouse guy who's missing from the pitching staff this year: Troy Percival. He was the leader of the pitchers. Remember spring training last year when he mocked Kaz/Garza/Shields. This year, pitchers have nobody to turn to. Shouse, Choate, Springer, Bradford have been around for awhile but never been winners. The Rays need a pitcher with some talent who's tasted some success.

Bud Light said...

You know if you want to consider "leadership"
on a baseball team you have to start at the top!
Its nice to have a manager who is always positive and wants to be everyone's friend.....
but sooner or later it wears thin...players don't really respect that treatment...they WANT someone to be the BOSS...and tell them what is expected of them...a player (leader) can't really do that to many major leaguers...
The Rays have NO LEADER period!

Joel said...

I don't think it's a coincidence that this Crawford/Burrell kerfuffle happened while Peña was away recovering from surgery. Los strikes me as the kind of guy that can keep a whole clubhouse loose. Take him out of the clubhouse and I see a bunch of players who don't particularly strike me as personalities suited for that type of role. And I think even Carlos has probably had a hard time being that guy considering his struggles at the plate before the last month.

I definitely think you're right about Percy. I don't particularly want to see him pitch for the Rays again, but I would love it if they found him some type of job working with the team.

As for the idea of Maddon being too positive, I point you in the direction of Lou Piniella's teams of late, especially when he was with the Rays. Where did that get us exactly?

You also have to learn to differentiate the Maddon in front of the cameras and the Maddon in the clubhouse. I'm not saying he's yelling and screaming behind the scenes; but if you really think that everything he tells reporters is what he's saying in the clubhouse, you probably also believed Friedman when he said the Kazmir move was not at all about salary. It's spin, people.

Bud Light said...

Look at it this way...
In my opinion Maddons greatest "manager" decisions of 2009 are what costumes to where on road trips....I had a 3rd grade teacher that used to do the same thing for us kids!

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