The Rays are going through the worst stretch of play in their history. With a record of 34-54, the Rays would need a miracle to get back into contention. And oh yes, it's happened before.
How do they compare at this point in their season to some of the other "Miracle Teams" in seasons past?
Perhaps the most famous Miracle team was the 1951 Giants, . That team, managed by Leo Durocher, started out losing 12 of their first 14 in April. Durocher made some moves in May, including bringing up the Giants best prospect to the big club – a thin center fielder by the name of Willie Mays. Mays didn’t hit like he would in later years, but he defended like it.
Still, even with Mays, Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, Alvin Dark, Eddie Stanky and Sal Maglie pitching, the Giants were 13.5 games behind the first place Dodgers on August 11. Still the Giants were in second place, and had a winning record, 59-51. The Giants started a miracle run after that date, including winning 21 of 27 games in September. They caught the first-place Dodgers, who just played .500 ball, on the last day of September. That forced a three game playoff, won by the Giants with Bobby Thomson’s "shot heard around the world." Thomson’s three run homer won the game and the pennant for the Giants, who went on to lose the series to the Yankees. The Giants ended the season with 98 wins.
In 2011, the Rays had their own last-month miracle to gain a wild card win. The team started well but after a losing record in July they started August 11 games back of the first-place Yankees. More importantly for our story, on September 3rd the Rays were 9 games behind the second place Red Sox.
You may remember that Rays went 35-20 in August and September, the Red Sox lost 18 of 24 games in September, and the Rays won the pennant by beating the Yankees in extra innings (thank you, Dan Johnson!) while the Red Sox blew a lead to Baltimore in the ninth inning. The Rays record was 91-71. It’s too early to know if that Rays team had any Hall of Famers, like the Giants above, but I think we can say that David Price and even Evan Longoria may be candidates someday.
The Rays, like those Giants, have been miracles before.
Could 2016 be a Miracle Year?
To find a proper comparison, we need to really utilize the time machine.
One of the first teams to earn the nickname "Miracle" were the 1914 Boston Braves ,and their situation does have some similarities to the Rays’ current situation. The Braves were in last place in an eight team league on July 4, 2015. Their record was 26-40, they were 15 games behind the first place NY Giants, and their winning percentage of .393 was a couple points lower than the Rays’ .395 (as of July 9). The Rays are currently 17.5 games back in a five team division, with a .386 percentage just two games later.
Braves Manager, George Stallings, earned the nickname "Miracle Man" with his adroit handling of the team over the second half of the season. He acquired some new players, and took advantage of a relatively new strategy, platooning, to get the most out of them. Some managers had platooned at one or two positions before, but Stallings was the first manager to platoon at all three outfield positions in a season. He also got an MVP season (they called the MVP the Chalmers Award, since it was sponsored by the Chalmers automobile company) from Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers. The Braves started another Hall of Famer, Rabbit Maranville, at shortstop.
The Braves played .782 ball over the second half of the season and finished with 94 wins, climbing over seven other teams to win the pennant and beat the heavily favored Philadelphia Athletics, in the World Series.
The reason, of course, that these are called "miracle" teams is that for most teams, coming back to win from so far down hardly ever happens. Those teams also had the type of quality players the current Rays team honestly lacks. Other than perhaps Evan Longoria, no one on the current squad looks likely to get any Hall of Fame attention.
Both the Braves and the Giants benefitted from mid-season trades or call ups of quality. So far the only player the Rays added by trade is Oswaldo Arcia. Nick Franklin has hit well in his most recent call up, Blake Snell is still coming into his own, but no one is suggesting that either player will have the impact of a Willie Mays.
The Rays may play better when Kevin Kiermaier comes back, but to match the Miracle Braves, the Rays would be allowed just 16 more losses to finish the year, and even that would provide the Rays with just 92 wins.
Given the current roster I’d say a Rays ‘Miracle’ will have to wait for another year.