Baseball has been fun so far, but I imagine that's about to change.
For the first five weeks of the season, there have been low expectations. Everything was a lark. If Tim Beckham hits a game-winning home run? Great. Who needs Buster Posey! If Logan Forsythe turns into Ben Ben Zobrist? Of course! No one ever doubted Frosty around here. If Jake Odorizzi rocks a new cutter? Yeah, Rays pitchers improve—what about it?
Every win has been a bonus, and every loss could be shrugged off, because pretty much the whole team was on the disabled list. "Just keep it close for awhile," we said, because the league would be in trouble when Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly came back.
But now, Cobb and Smyly are not coming back. Who knows about John Jaso's wrist, and for that matter Desmond Jennings's knee. The wagons are circled, but there is no cavalry on the way.
That means that if this team is going anywhere, it's up to the guys here right now. Asdrubal Cabrera and Rene Rivera must hit up to their expectations. Steven Souza needs to figure out how to strike out less often. Erasmo Ramirez needs to show that his recent flashes of command are real, and the rotation as a whole must continue to be the best in baseball despite the absence of its two best pitchers.
When Cobb and Smyly went down for good (probably), I immediately started sifting through historical metaphors.
- In 1745 the French facilitated a Jacobite uprising in Scotland in favor of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The highland Scots met with initial success, even threatening central England, but by the time the French decided to send real troops as opposed to simply sending a figurehead, the Scots had been defeated at the Battle of Culloden, and the highland clans ceased to exist as a center of political power.
- During the American Revolution, British General John Burgoyne marched down from Canada and into upstate New York with the understanding that he would meat up with General Henry Clinton sailing up the Hudson River from New York City. Clinton never even tried to navigate the Hudson, and by the time Burgoyne realized this, his army was encircled and he was forced to surrender at Saratoga.
- In 1798 the United Irishmen rose against the English. This came two years after the French had failed to land a large army in Ireland due to bad weather, and many in the uprising thought that, were they to carve out a bit of independence, the French would come again. The French did come, but with only 1,000 soldiers, and several months after the rebellion in and around Dublin had been crushed.
I could go on.
It's easy to think of examples where a spirited effort was undercut by the cavalry never arriving. It's more difficult to think of examples where the relief expedition was canceled or arrived late, but it turned out that no one really needed their help after all.
That would be something along the lines of Patton's tanks arriving at Bastogne to find the 101st Airborne sunbathing in a field and munching on schnitzel, totally at their ease having already accepted the surrender of the German Second Panzer division.
Baseball Prospectus's playoff odds report doesn't think that the Rays are in trouble, and gives them a 54% chance of making the playoffs. FanGraphs playoff odds, which have never especially liked the Rays, still do not believe, giving them only a 25% chance.
Even a one-in-four shot is well within the realm of possibility, so not all is lost. A successful run isn't out of the question. But starting now the season has gotten serious. Treading water in April was a success, but these stacked injuries have become the new normal. What we see is what we have with this team, that situation is not entirely comfortable.
When the Ottoman Turks laid siege to Vienna in 1683, cutting off the food supply and making the inhabitants, dare I say it, "beyond uncomfortable," the Austrians asked Poland for help, and King Jan Sobieski arrived with his winged hussars to bail them—and European Christendom—out. Now, the pitcher named after the patron saint of Poland is probably available and owed only $11 million for this season. Will Matt Silverman try to capitalize on what the Rays have already accomplished and pick up the phone, or are the rookies on their own?