The 2018 Tampa Bay Rays currently sport a record of 1-8, the worst record in the majors as of now. It’s been over a week since the Rays have won a game, and even that victory was pulled back from the jaws of defeat.
The offensive production has been atrocious, with the entire team sporting a .201/.272/.295 line (with most of that held up by yesterday’s 7 run scoring afternoon). The Rays of course blew their 7-1 lead and fell to Boston, 8-7.
But the Rays have been here before.
The last time the Rays had a start to this season this bad, they made the playoffs, after the 2011 team started the season with a 1-8 record, culminating in the dramatic Game 162.
What lessons are there to be learned from the 2011 Rays?
Looking back to April of 2011, it was a tumultuous time for the Rays.
The prior off-season, there was an exodus of the team’s core talents as the likes of Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, and Carlos Pena all left the team and that just’s naming a couple of the names to depart. The Rays did try and recoup some talent as they brought in Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to hopefully help rebuild the lineup, but mainly the Rays were relying on failed former top prospects, minor league major league hopefuls, and of course the few core guys that were left over from their 2010 division championship team.
The season started off about as poorly as one could, as the Rays dropped their first three games of the season at home to the Baltimore Orioles. During the second game, Evan Longoria suffered a strained oblique and would have to be placed on the disabled list.
Manny Ramirez was expected to take the 3rd spot in the lineup in Longoria’s absence, but just a few days (and a few more losses) later, he abruptly left the team due to personal reasons.
While on their flight to Chicago where they’d eventually take on the White Sox, the team learned that Ramirez had tested positive for a performance enhance drug, meaning he’d be suspended 100 games. Rather than serving the suspension, Ramirez retired, leaving the Rays without the 3-4 punch in the lineup.
The team’s losing woes then continued in Chicago as they dropped their first game, giving them a six game losing streak to start the season. That team as a whole was hitting .163/.232/.284 after nine games, it was not a good situation.
Then Dan Johnson happened. Then Sam Fuld happened. Then Casey Kotchman happened. Everything clicked.
The Rays started to win after Dan Johnson provided a clutch three run HR to give the Rays their first LEAD of the season, and eventually their first victory. Sam Fuld rejuvenated and reinvigorated the team and its fanbase with his all out style of play and became a #Legend.
Kotchman took Ramirez’s place on the roster and was hailed as the team’s savior as he nothing but hit through the rest of the 2011 season.
Longoria soon after returned and was a man on a mission as the team marched towards the end of the campaign and after a historic month of September and even more historic final game of the year, the Rays were the American League Wild Card winners.
After their 1-8 start, the Rays went 90-63.
Is this Rays team as good as the 2011 squad?
The Rays will need the emergence of some key role players to make it happen, and they’ll need to win some games now to bridge the gap to the many mid-season promotions anticipated, so who knows?
Maybe Joey Wendle is the next Sam Fuld. Maybe CJ Cron has some of Kotchman’s magic in him. Maybe Ryan Weber finally translates his minor league success into major league performance. Maybe this whole 10-man pitching rotation thing works out!
Injuries happen, promotions occur, role players break out. It all takes time.
Over a 162 game season, Rays fans should have a long enough memory to know to never count a team out, no matter how bleak things appear after nine games.