Well, the Baltimore Orioles have basically exchanged the freshly sliced tomatoes in the Rays' post-season Hope Sandwich with the sun-dried tomatoes of a Much Regret turdwich. But, honestly, can any of us say this has been a bad ride? We Rays fans have endured a lot, going back to the ages of the Devil Rays, and 2011 -- regardless of how it finishes -- will have been another high quality season.
Consider: Though it is widely considered a "reloading" year, the 2011 Rays are on pace to win 90 games. Anyone remember when we were hoping the Rays would break the 70-win barrier in 2008? Remember Casey Fossum? Doug Waechter? Tanyon Sturtze? Tomas Perez? Brendan Harris?
Not only has the team clambered out of the outhouse of history, they are somehow improving on even their recent success. Who remembers which pitcher logged the second most innings in our magical 2008 season? It's not Scott Kazmir. Yeah, that's right, in the lone season wherein the Rays reached the World Series, they gave Andy Sonnanstine 193 and 1/3 innings regular season innings -- and three post-season starts.
Granted, the departures of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena -- as well as the down years from John Jaso, Reid Brignac, and Kelly Shoppach -- have really stung the Rays offensively. But with rising stars like Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, and Brandon Guyer poised for big years next year -- and the likes of Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, and Alex Cobb on the pitching side -- I think it's fair to assume the reloading will be finished quickly this off-season.
Let's look at how far the Rays have come statistically:
- The 2007 season may be the single most "booted season" in professional sports history. Their average age was under 27 and they were a run-leaking machine. They could not stop a motionless object from scoring. They had probably only a handful of ML-quality starters on that team: Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, James Shields, and Scott Kazmir. (You could also make argument for Akinori Iwamura and Ty Wiggington.)
This team allowed 5.8 runs per game. In late July and early June, they endured a crazy 1-16 stretch, scoring 3.3 runs per game and hitting .229/.291/.341. Yikes.
- We can clearly see the schizophrenic management style of Vince Naimoli in the 1998 through 2004 age graphs. It starts with crazy old teams, gets even older, and then suddenly gets super young. It really shows an utter lack of vision.
The Sternberg regime has a more consistent pattern -- we see the ages creeping up and then dropping a bit younger, as the vets become free agents / get traded and the young guys make the big league club (presumably in their prime). It's a model of sustainability and a beautiful thing.
- Last year's team was probably the best in team history. It's a shame they only had an ALCS loss to show for it. :(
- Steve is right: The Rays have never had such great run prevention as this year. Granted, run-scoring is down league-wide, but the Rays have sparkled where other teams have glimmered. And the rotation -- the heart of their run-prevention surge -- should only be better next year.
Indulge me as I conduct some premature 2012 rosterbation (please join in below):
The Rays have a huge pitching logjam for next year. Consider our rotation candidates:
Okay, so Price and Shields are pitchers (1) and (A) -- because they've both been aces this year and in past years and they're a lock for being some order of 1 and 2 next year, barring a trade -- and behind them we have Hellboy, about whom Dan Szymborski dotes:
ZiPS has him next year at 12-7, 3.62, 156.2 IP, 144 H, 15 HR, 54 BB, 122 K, 3.11 BB/9, 7.00 K/9.
That's what I like! There are some forgettables in there, but a 3.62 ERA and CC Sabathia and Andy Pettite comparisons suit him well -- though stuff-wise, they are nothing similar. :-/
So anyway: Run creation is going to be the issue next year -- as always with the Rays. We have great fielders at key positions, great pitchers up and down the organization, but could gain a lot with just a little power. So what should our roster look like? Well, we can safely slot these guys in:
Maybe B.J. Upton is still around in 2012, which puts Jennings in left, I would assume. If not, maybe we can platoon Brandon Guyer and Russ Canzler in left?
Maybe Casey Kotchman agrees to come back cheap in 2012? Personally, I'd rather see the Rays rob a bank and sign Prince Fielder -- HAHAHAHA!!!... :( -- or acquire some cheap power for the DH and first base slots (like a Manny Ramirez-type, sans failed drug test). Even with his great season this year, Kotchman is only at 2.5 fWAR. I'd love to see a 5 WAR player at first. *Cough, Yonder Alonso, cough.*
At catcher, maybe the Rays give Robinson Chirinos a chance to dethrone John Jaso -- who's been improving offensively lately -- but that may be an net offensive push. Over the last three months, Jaso's been over 100 wRC+, but his defense continues to be malpractice bad at times.
I'm assuming Reid Brignac figures something out with his swing and challenges Sean Rodriguez for the SS slot. Honestly, though, Sean-Rod looks like the Jason Bartlett we always wanted, so I'm fine leaving him at short until Hak-Ju Lee or Tim Beckham is ready to rock worlds.
What say you?