Think back to March. The Rays had lost many players over the winter out of necessity. The roster they came to play with on opening day looked vastly different than the one that lead them to the best record in the American League in 2010. Only two of twelve writers at Sports Illustrated picked the Rays to make the playoffs. At ESPN the number was just four of forty-five. In each instance it was for the wild card, not the division. Las Vegas set the over/under for a win total at 84.5. With the assemblance of talent the Rays had at the time that was not an unreasonable prediction. A survey of writers of this site and experts from around the area was a bit more optimistic in the wins department but realistic in the playoff race; 37% predicted 91 wins, but 50% predicted a third place finish.
No one was sure where the runs were going to come from, and the bullpen had been entirely rebuilt. If the Rays got a little lucky and things broke in their favor they could contend for a playoff birth. If not, they wouldn’t contend for a playoff birth (largely thanks to the division they play in) but would remain a good team. You can say that for many teams, but with the Rays it’s especially true. Expectations should have been tempered from the start. Yet, somehow, that’s seemingly changed.
Many people are upset with the team’s performance. Is it frustrating to watch them lose back to back one run games at home to the Red Sox and Yankees? Of course. Is it surprising that they’re 4-4 against Boston and 2-4 against New York? Not in the least. They’re simply better teams. The play of Casey Kotchman has been a pleasant surprise, but for the most part things haven’t gone the Rays way offensively. Manny Ramirez retired. Dan Johnson didn’t give them anything. The shortstop play has been terrible. Ditto for the catchers. Left Field has mostly been barren of offensive life. Evan Longoria has been injured. Even the starting pitching has had its share of issues, with Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and Jeremy Hellickson all experiencing ups and downs. It’s remarkable that they’ve been able to keep the record they have.
I’m not trying to call anyone stupid for having high hopes for the season. It’s natural to get excited about your favorite team. I get it. But if you expected the Rays the seriously contend for a division crown you were living in a fool’s paradise. And that was with the opening day roster. The team currently has eight rookies on the roster. That’s not going to cut it in the East, and that’s fine. Joe Maddon and the front office have done an excellent job. You can argue that Friedman and Co. should have put a better product on the field, but for the money available to them there isn't much more they could have done.
It boils down to the process vs results argument that so many people can't seem to understand. All we can ask of the Rays, as fans, is to use the correct process when making decisions (as Maddon kept eluding to last night). In the long run that will lead to positive results. The correct processes were used this season and things didn't work the way the Rays needed. They're headed for ~85 wins and a third place finish...just like most expectations heading into the season.