Welcome back to our series deciding the best team in Rays history with a little help from our good friends at OOTP Baseball 21, the best baseball sim on the market.
When we last met, we covered the six play-in games to leave us with a clean 16 different iterations of Rays rosters. In Round 1, there was so much action—and so much chaotic action—that it demanded two articles written up by DRB Rays historian, Adam Sanford.
In Part 1 of this breakdown, we’ll cover four of the eight first-round matchups:
2007 v 2008
2009 v 2017
2000 v 2013
2004 v 2011
Just a friendly reminder, these are seven-game series with end-of-season rosters in effect. The combined box scores for each series is embedded at the end of each write-up. Enjoy the chaos to come!
2008 Rays def. 2007 Devil Rays, 4-2
Everything clicked for the first incarnation of the Rays to drop the Devil, as the pitching was dominant, the offense was on point, and the overall outcome was a series victory in six games.
Leading the way for the Rays was the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria, who hit .348/.407/.826 with three home runs over 23 at bats en route to earning the series MVP. B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena also had strong offensive showings for the ‘08 squad. Meanwhile, the pitching was phenomenal with six pitchers on the staff being able to deliver scoreless outings, a total of 18 1⁄3 shutout innings of work.
The 2007 squad did have some excellent performances from the likes of Akinori Iwamura, B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, and James Shields, but it just wasn’t enough to overcome the 2007 AL Champions. Then you have pitchers like Grant Balfour, who although didn’t allow a run, allowed four hits and walked two batters and didn’t record a single out in the series.
Really, this sim encapsulated the 2007 team perfectly. Plenty of offense, tremendous but limited starting pitching, but just an albatross of a bullpen.
The matchup between these two sides went as expected with the 2008 squad being known as one of the best, if not the best, team in franchise history; the 2008 team is the only Rays team in the bracket to have advanced all the way to the World Series.
2009 Rays def. 2017 Rays, 4-1
The 2009 team MVP, Jason Bartlett, went off for the ‘09 squad, as he hit .550/.565/.850 over 20 at-bats. His performance garnered him the series MVP award, but there were plenty of worth candidates for the 2009 team; among them, Evan Longoria, who also had a solid series, blasting two home runs. The pitching was fantastic with the bullpen dominant: J.P. Howell struck out five over 2 1⁄3 innings of scoreless work. Jeff Niemann was fantastic, despite allowing seven hits, he didn’t walk anyone and struck 11 during 7 2⁄3 innings on the mound.
For the 2017 Rays, not much went right. They stuck to their script of slug or bust with three players posting slugging percentages above .500, including Corey Dickerson who hit .421/.476/.632. But only three of the regulars in the lineup were able to post averages above .222.
The 2009 team was heavily supported by their pitching staff as the offense managed meager numbers during the five games series. Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria were both incredible, but everyone else was pretty lackluster in their performances.
On paper, the 2009 team on paper was much better than how they performed in actuality. This simulation will give that squad their chance at redemption. Meanwhile, the 2017 Rays in reality were in the playoff chase for awhile and even made a flurry of trade deadline deals to bolter their roster before a historically bad offensive August destroyed their hopes of postseason glory.
2000 Devil Rays def. 2013 Rays, 4-2
The Hit Show moves on after defeating a playoff team!
In the first major upset of the simulation, the 2000 Devil Rays were able to overcome the 2013 American League Wild Card winning Rays in six games. The 2013 squad did take the first two games of the series, but the 2000 team was able to claim the next four in consecutive order to advance.
Gerald Williams, he of charging Pedro Martinez fame, had the best series of any player as he hit .333/.346/.667 with two dingers over 24 at-bats. Miguel Cairo is proving to be an amazing player during simulation, regarding of which year he is playing on, as he hit .391 for the 2000 squad.
The remnants of the Hit Show (Greg Vaughn, Fred McGriff, and Vinny Castilla), finally had a strong showing; At least, one of them did as Vaughn hit .292/.346/.500 while McGriff hit .205 and Castilla hit .095.
The 2013 Rays offense was non-existent over the six games, with Jose Lobaton being the team’s best hitter. The ‘13 Wildcard-winning Rays just couldn’t do anything against the rotation of Cory Lidle, Dan Wheeler, Paul Wilson, and Tanyon Sturtze.
A truly shocking upset as the 2013 Rays were ranked among the franchise’s best teams of all time. However, prior to the sim, I noted they were probably the most overrated and clearly the 2000 Devil Rays were able to pretty easily dismantle the 2013 squad.
2004 Devil Rays def. 2011 Rays, 4-1
The 2004 Tampa Bay Devil Rays are known as the best team to don the Devil Rays namesake. However, in another shocking upset, the 2004 team was able to overcome the 2011 American League Wild Card-winning Rays in just five games.
The 2004 squad had some truly excellent offensive performances with three players slugging .590 or better over the five-game series. Carl Crawford was named the series MVP for his performance in which he hit .478/.500/.957 with a pair of long balls over 23 at-bats. Toby Hall and Rocco Baldelli were right behind him as the other two players to slug over .500.
The ‘04 bullpen was in top shape as well as the combination of Bobby Seay, Franklin Nunez, Chad Gaudin, Jesus Colome, and Danys Baez combined to throw 16 1⁄3 scoreless innings.
The ‘11 squad was a miracle team in real life, but they were heavily supported by what just seemed like magic towards the end of the year. Both David Price and James Shields failed to perform to what was needed and despite solid offensive contributions from Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist, it just wasn’t enough for them to be able to overcome the ‘04 Devil Rays.
Check back in a bit for the second half of the Round 1 results.