On Friday morning, the Rays social media team released a short video via their Twitter account that very quickly had the internet up in arms. In the clip, shared below, the team collected a variety of headlines, tweets, and video clips that were shared ahead of the season, or early into their bullpen experiment.
Naturally the bulk of the sentiment is negative, implying the team is set for failure, and repeatedly scolding them for their attempt at trying something new. In retrospect, of course, it’s sort of funny, because the Rays had a tremendous 90-win season, and were down to the wire on potentially heading to the Wild Card game against the Yankees.
Of course a lot of the response online immediately points out that the Rays placed third in their division (true, behind two teams that won 100+ games). They seem to want to use this as ammunition that the Rays shouldn’t be proud of what they accomplished due to extended bullpen use and experimentation. Yet we saw two different teams lean heavily on their bullpens already in the postseason (the A’s and the Brewers), and there has yet to be a broadcast that hasn’t discussed bullpenning and its impact on the season.
What the Rays did this year, beyond winning 90 games, was prove that you don’t need to stay on the path well-worn in order to succeed. The team did something that everyone said would fail, and they won 90 games as a result. In the AL Central or NL East they would have been right on the heels of the Cleveland Indians or Atlanta Braves for a division win.
This is a team that had enough wins to stand alongside many that are currently in the postseason. They just had the bad luck of being in the single best division in baseball. Being the last team eliminated from playoff contention is plenty reason to celebrate.
If making the playoffs is the barometer of success, then 2018 Rays = 2018 Cubs.— DRaysBay (@draysbay) October 5, 2018
Yes, the video is throwing shade, but those who are calling the Rays out for not winning the East, or for finishing third, are missing the entire point. When this season started, the rebuilding Rays were supposed to be a “tanking” team. The only expectation across the board from experts seemed to be that it was a season built for failure.
Instead the Rays won 90 games, have a Cy Young candidate pitcher, a surprising Rookie of the Year consideree (Wendle won’t win, but there will likely be some top-five votes with his name on them). The team also completely changed the baseball conversation about bullpen use, and established a whole new way of doing things with the Opener. They won 90 games in a season where three starting pitchers were lost to Tommy John surgery during the Spring, and every single starter was on this disabled list at some point in time.
The Rays have earned their right to call out those who said they would fail.