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Sweep prognosis

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff April 28, 2008 12:38 PM

It is in this, their finest moment as a franchise, that we’re reminded once again just how pathetic Tampa Bay has been over the years.

We scoffed at the name change, but it apparently has made all the difference.

The Devil Rays? They were that annual bunch of losers, an also-ran in a division that demanded excellence and plenty of cash to contend. These, my friend, are the brand-new Rays, the matured offspring that has already delivered the greatest month in team history. No Devil Rays team had ever been in first place or three games above .500 this late into the season. These destined Rays, winners of six straight, accomplished the feat with a three-game sweep of the Red Sox over the weekend.

It’s April 28. The fact that this is something to be excited about comes over as kind of lame.

That’s not to say this isn’t a major turn of events as far as this franchise is concerned. The Rays are stocked with burgeoning young talent and an eye-opening pitching staff that has the second-best ERA in the American League. Their bullpen’s 2.37 ERA is the best in all of baseball. Opposing offenses are hitting just .237 against Rays pitching, the best in the AL, as the staff held Boston, which has scored more runs than anyone in the league (133), to just five runs over the weekend in Tampa’s first-ever three-game sweep of Boston.

There should be excitement. The Rays have an interesting mix on a team that is proving it might be able to contend over the next five months. It's just that based on history, it doesn’t take much to generate Rays Fever.

Nobody is exactly ready to call this past weekend a changing of the guard sequence of events by any means, but the Rays are tied for first place and it’s almost May. That's big news in Tampa, a mere footnote everywhere else. We're only about one-seventh through the 2008 schedule, and Red Sox fans have yet to witness David Ortiz overcome his Mendoza Flu or Jacoby Ellsbury walking on water. Based on the outings of Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz, the starting staff is still in fine shape, better than can be said of the bullpen. And despite the recent slumps of Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, the Sox may bust the team record for hits in the month of April, Pedroia's 36 are the most in the AL, followed by 34 from Manny Ramirez.

The Rays, meanwhile, are getting top-notch starting from the likes of James Shields and remarkable relief from the once-thought washed up Troy Percival. Carlos Pena is proving that 2007 wasn’t a fluke, tied for the league lead in home runs with six, while another former Boston short-termer, Eric Hinske, is tearing it up with a .994 OPS (in 68 at-bats). Evan Longoria is going to be such a household name that we predict it’s only June by the time he wants to punch someone for another “Desperate Housewives” quip.

The Orioles, Rays, and Red Sox are all tied for first today. You tell me which one of the three is most likely to stay.

Still, keep in mind that the Rays have gone on this historic stretch without staff ace and noted Red Sox killer Scott Kazmir, who is recovering from an elbow strain, and they are proving some preseason number crunchers a bit more prophetic than, oh, the Detroit Tigers. The Sporting News’ David Pinto gave Tampa’s pitching staff a good chance of becoming the class of the AL East, which it is so far. Baseball Prospectus predicted this would be the greatest season in Tampa Bay Rays history, which, sadly, it already is.

PECOTA predicted an 88-win season for the Rays in 2008. They’re on pace for 90-91 wins right now.

That would, of course, be the aforementioned greatest season in team history, and would no doubt be in the mix for the wild card or even the AL East title depending upon how much Tampa can win consistently against the Red Sox and Yankees the rest of the season. But must we get into fantasy right now? After all, they’re dancing on the beach over an April first-place record and three games over .500.

“The Rays have had grand moments before,” writes the St. Petersburg Times’ John Romano. “Wade Boggs gave us one night. Doug Waechter gave us another. The 12-game winning streak in the middle of 2004 was the greatest collective achievement. But there has never been anything like this.”

It’s exciting all right; a young team annually destined for the dregs of the division may finally have something to play for. But when a three-games-above-.500 mark is your franchise’s crowning achievement thus far, well, sorry that just sucks.

"There has never been anything like this."

The pennant, that's a discussion for way down the road, perhaps beyond 2008. But the Rays made it even clearer over the weekend that they are doormats no longer, and might not be going away soon. And if they keep doing to everyone else what they did to the Red Sox, that’s going to turn out to be a problem for the rest of the AL East.

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37 comments so far...
  1. Eric, it seems like you have a love/ hate relationship with the Tampa Bay Rays. One minute you are praising them, the next you are ripping them. What is the deal?
    Ever since training camp you have been either behind or against the Rays. Please tell us the real story. Yes, I agree they look like trouble over the next few years.

    Posted by The Kid April 28, 08 01:07 PM
  1. In the end, their starters really aren't that great beyond Kazmir and Shields and Percival will prove why he was not in baseball this time last year. Hinske, like Gabe Kapler will slow down, as reserve players tend to do as the at bats begin to pile up. This Rays team is a little exciting and I like the way they're developing, but there's no shot of finishing above third in the division this year.

    Of course, they should end up with a better record than a team to win the National League Wild Card by a certain columnist.

    Posted by J-Bone April 28, 08 01:10 PM
  1. Why are people surprised that the Rays are giving us a challenge?? The Rays have been a huge rival since I can remember. I was at Game On on Sunday after a nice stroll down Newbury Street and almost spit out my Stoli Vanilla and Diet Coke all over my Caprese Salad when Beckett threw the ball away. I almost took off my pink hat in shame but I didnt, after that I decided to go over to the pro shop to pickup a new pink Ellsbury t shirt, its so cute, it goes perfect with my pink Crocs. Anyway we are back in the friendly confinds of Fenway and the sound of Sweet Caroline will get us back on track.

    Posted by Caroline P. Hat April 28, 08 02:02 PM
  1. As a transplanted Bostonian livng in the Tampa/St. Pete area (remember, the team is actually housed in St. Petersburg, not Tampa), it was a pleasure to see the Rays get the experience of playing solid games with consistancy, the biggest problem any young team encounters. Don't go all Yankee fan on me saying "...don't talk to me about this year, what about all the years up to now?" The Rays had minor league ownership until two year ago. Since they got that straightened out and committed to developing their younger players they have steadily improved. We are going to be in the mix for quite some time, so get used to it!

    Posted by Gene Mac April 28, 08 02:28 PM
  1. "But when a three-games-above-.500 mark is your franchise’s crowning achievement thus far, well, sorry that just sucks. " Eric Wilbur.

    Eric,

    You are an idiot. What are the fans in Tampa suppossed to do. The team has only been around for 10 years. The Red Sox have been around since 1901, so undoubtedly have more history. Congrats Red Sox nation on your 7 world series titles in 107 years. Give the Rays time and they will win a couple, remember its only been ten years. Also the Rays don't have the same benefit the Red Sox did in their early days when MLB consisted of 12 teams. That's alot less teams to go through for a WS Ring, and is probably the only reason the Red Sox won those early 5 rings. It's funny Eric likes coming down on the 10 yr old Rays, when Boston is one of the most underachieving franchises in sports history.

    Posted by Boston Who ????? April 28, 08 03:44 PM
  1. Sounds like sour graps chowd. Where do you get off talking about a tradition of losing. 86 years. LOSERS.

    Posted by Chuck April 28, 08 03:50 PM
  1. "...we’re reminded once again just how pathetic Tampa Bay has been over the years."

    The only thing pathetic here is that you feel the need to disparage a young club that trails the Sox in the payroll department by over $90 million. They flat-out owned the series, despite your excuses that slumps have been the cause of the Sox struggles thus far.

    Posted by Dave April 28, 08 04:33 PM
  1. Listen the rays will be in last and will be a pathetic team once again by late May or June.

    Posted by Sm April 28, 08 04:42 PM
  1. This is why Rays fans can see such little difference between The Empire and The Nation.

    Posted by jim April 28, 08 04:48 PM
  1. First off, you got the "Rays" part right, so thanks for exorcising the "devil" out of the teams name; that's a deal better than most writers do. However, the team is the "Tampa BAY Rays." Do you know why? They play in St. Petersburg, a city that is NOT a suburb of Tampa; they have never played in Tampa, nor will they play in Tampa. It is a city in its own right (like San Francisco and Oakland or Minneapolis and St. Paul), hence the reason the team is named for the whole region. So, use "TAMPA BAY" in your description on how we're "dancing on the beach" next time.

    Also, you're turning all sour because the lowly Rays beat up your Bosox. The NY press was uttering the same sentiment less than a decade ago about you guys when you started finally winning. And you probably took it the same way we're taking it: with a grain of salt.

    So, enjoy your self-loathing fest in Bean Town. All I can say it won't take us 86 years to win a ring!

    Posted by Jimbo in St. Pete April 28, 08 04:54 PM
  1. Rays finally have a major league pitching staff and their defense will continue to shine. Yes our history has been terrible but the draft picks are finally here and playing well. Red Sox and Yankees will always outspend the league but baseball needs more stories like Arizona, Colorado and Tampa Bay.

    Look out over the next few years as our pitching will dominate like the Braves in the 90's.

    Posted by Rob In Tampa April 28, 08 05:05 PM
  1. I'm a Tampa Bay area citizen and a huge Rays fan as I have been for the last ten years. You were incredibly disrespectful to the team and its small but very loyal fanbase. Do you have any idea how hard it is to endure season after season with no hope whatsoever. After seeing this team play this year there is much reason for excitement becuase they will contend in the next couple of years if not this year. Their lineup is loaded with solid hitters in Iwamura, Crawford, Upton, Pena, Longoria, and Cliff Floyd when he returns from the DL. Their pitching staff is also starting to realize its potential. Kazmir and Shields both could be aces on just about any major league team, and Edwin Jackson is starting to show why he was such a highly touted prospect a couple of years ago. Andy Sonnanstine has shown moments of greatness as has Matt Garza. Their bullpen is also very good and this month has not been a fluke. So the Rays are a lot better than you think so remember that next time you make excuses and rip on them after your beloved Red Sox lose to the Rays

    Posted by TB RAYS 4 LIFE April 28, 08 05:06 PM
  1. After talking with a whole bunch of "Sox" fans at the games this past weekend, I now realize that the "B" on their cap stands for "bandwagoner". And it was great to wave the broom too.

    Posted by Ray April 28, 08 05:28 PM
  1. while i don't think the rays will win the pennant or wild card this year, i do think they may have a chance in the upcoming years. i'm as much of a die-hard sox fan as you'll ever find and i think that the sweep was a combination of some good pitching from tampa, some bad offense from boston, and some lucky hits from tampa (i'm talking about iwamura's 2 run shot vs buchholz) so while i don't think they'll get that far this year, i think they could pose as a contender for the wildcard, and who knows what will happen in say the next 5 years. for the sox sake i hope we return the favor and sweep them next week...but who knows, it's still the beginning of the season! and with the way the yankees and jays are playing (and i really don't think the orioles will be able to stay this good...i'm not sure how they're doing it now...) it may come down to tampa bay and boston...only time will tell!

    Posted by nicole April 28, 08 05:29 PM
  1. Hahaha. I love it. BoSox fan's are justifying the sweep.

    With your payroll you should NEVER loose to the Rays. Give us 87 years and we will see what the Rays can do.

    Posted by Cameron April 28, 08 05:34 PM
  1. Are sox fans so sensitive that they need this kind of stroking when they lose? Focus on your team - the Kaz is coming!

    Posted by Craig April 28, 08 05:55 PM
  1. The Rays are for real! I loved seeing the Boston fans walk out of the Trop with their tails between their legs after spending a lot of $$ to come down for the weekend. The Rays are a better team then Boston and will keep getting better. Get used to it.

    Posted by Tim April 28, 08 06:13 PM
  1. It must be very cool to get paid to sulk publicly. God forbid the Rays win a game or two next weekend in Fenway, or this character might just jump off a bridge.

    Posted by Chuck April 28, 08 08:35 PM
  1. We'll see you in Fenway...Scott Kazmir and all...And yes, we are excited. And yes, it's only April. But don't get all Yankee-like and act like Boston's been on top forever and though as if the Sox are god's gift to baseball. Which Eric, your article spewed that sort of egotistical attitude.

    But you also recognized that the Rays are a real team. And we in Tampa Bay are excited because this year's team is for real. I don't know if they're 2007 Milwaukee Brewers for real (fade in August but be on-line for contention next year) or 2007 Detroit Tiger for real (put Leyland in Cooperstown immediately because of that year alone).

    We're having fun and it's great having you guys as a rival. It was even more fun sweeping you.

    Posted by Josh Beckett wants to be a Ray April 28, 08 09:11 PM
  1. It was interesting to watch all of the "Pink Lady" fans walking out of Tropicana Field over the weekend. There was an urgent sence of disbelief. That's right schmucks, there is more to worry about than the Yankees. You guys can go and get all of those games on the Yankees/Red Sox network (ESPN), pick MVP's of each series and then sit at home and watch the Rays play in the playoffs. Get used to it.

    Posted by Mark April 28, 08 09:42 PM
  1. Its April baseball. It does not matter. Write about the Celtics, or even the Patriots draft. I know we love the Red Sox in Boston, but really, it is April 29. Write about the NBA playoffs instead of only writing Red Sox columns when something bad happens

    Posted by Jon April 28, 08 10:16 PM
  1. Funny, but any real Rays fan would simply enjoy the fact that they've some played good ball to start the year... and wouldn't be popping off 4 weeks into the season

    A real Rays fan would also realize that they caught a good Sox team when it was down, and truth be told - the series was about 3 pitches from being a sweep in the other direction. Think about that.

    But - it wasn't, so enjoy the streak. Just relax a little before you have a stroke ...there's still 130+ games to go

    Posted by GreyDog24 April 28, 08 10:44 PM
  1. So the Rays should be criticized for playing in a smaller market, and building from within, while a team with 100+ years of history has a Brinks truck full of money to spend on payroll, and buy their World Series Championships? (a pathetic run of 86 years without one by the way). I am a Rays fan, and proud of this young team, sorry for our excitement by sweeping the Red Sox in April.....the real question is, who has become more annoying the past 20 years....Red Sox or Yankees fans...

    P.S. Sweet Caroline is a crap song!

    Posted by dewey April 28, 08 11:46 PM
  1. I really have to question how you got a job in sports journalism in a respectable major city like Boston. First, get your facts straight, and second, show respect, not such bullying, child-like sour grapes. You are disrespectful of the citizens of ST. PETERSBURG, the home of the RAYS by constantly referring to the reaction of those in TAMPA??? Why? I think the other day you also wrote about the "green and white" of the Rays - their team color is now "Blue and White". Do you ever research facts about teams that play outside of Boston? The RAYS are the only major sports franchise in St. Pete, just TEN YEARS OLD, and yet you feel compelled to STOMP on their fans for supporting and cheering on this team's first breakout moment, not unlike an aging bully waiting to knock down a new kid on the block. And, frankly, you seem to do it with the same sense of growing insecurity displayed by bullies. Sure, the Rays aren't going to win the WS this year, but neither are the Red Sox. But the Red Sox, along with the Yankees, will win the pork award long before the Rays by easily wasting more than $90,000,000 in bloated salaries.

    Posted by Mary Quinlan April 29, 08 01:17 AM
  1. You say the Sox have had a lot of things to get over and the Rays are peaking? Scott Kazmir 0 Starts, Cliff Floyd on the DL, Dioner Navarro just off the DL, Matt Garza just off the DL. The Rays have been dealing with injuries since day one fo the season

    Posted by Neville Longbottom April 29, 08 09:28 AM
  1. Get use to the Rays wicked whippings S ux fans b/c there's more to come. S ux are going down this yr. & it won't take us 86 yrs to win a WS, believe that. We don't really care about garnering your respect but we'll earn it anyways; then roll it in a cigar, smoke it without inhaling & release it like the hot air you S ux fans are.

    It's another great day in St Petersburg, say it.

    Rays rock Fla style & beantown bites.

    Posted by rayray April 29, 08 11:15 AM
  1. Come on. As a Sox fan, this is an embarrassing article. Yeah we're slumping a little right now, but the Rays whooped us fair and square that series. I guess they're not as bas as they used to be. Way to make us sound like a bunch of whining babies and sore losers, Eric. When you get your butt kicked in the schoolyard, you pick yourself up and move on, not go crying about it.

    Posted by A April 29, 08 12:35 PM
  1. I wonder if other teams get this kind of reaction from the fans of their opponents. Rays fans, get in line behind the Blue Jays fans. There's a reason you feel the need to read and write about what your team does against the Sox. Will you still be here chirping at the end of the season? Doubtful.

    Posted by J-Bone April 29, 08 12:42 PM
  1. Hey Eric, is this your way of dealing with things ??? Your attitude and the attitude of the BASTAN fans here prove why we can't stand seeing Sox hats at The Trop. Yes Eric, your World Champions lost. Not once, not twice but 3 friggin' times in a row !! Your Tampa Bay jokes will end this season and you'll have to find some other way to vent your frustration. And stupid, we are in St. Pete NOT Tampa !

    Posted by Dominic April 29, 08 01:38 PM
  1. Well, if anyone would have experience with sweeping, it would be the Rays. And those cow bells are just stupid. If you had your own fans, you would not need a noisemaker like that.
    Anyway, ya won 3. Congrats. It won't happen again.

    Posted by Steve April 30, 08 01:00 PM
  1. when it takes a franchise 86 years to win a world series.....sorry that just sux....

    Posted by bucky dent April 30, 08 01:31 PM
  1. ".... But when a three-games-above-.500 mark is your franchise’s crowning achievement thus far, well, sorry that just sucks...." "It’s April 28. The fact that this is something to be excited about comes over as kind of lame."

    It's May 12 now. A few weeks have passed since your arrogant and bullying blog/article and, oh my, the Rays are now five-games-above- .500? Gasp, another new franchise mark for this lowly team that is only 11 ELEVEN 11 ELEVEN 11 ELEVEN 11 years old (--do you get it yet?) We Rays fans better not go dancing down at the beach - after all, what would Eric W. think?

    Eric W. is really thinking that the Rays are nipping at those bloated heels of the Red Sox resting inside their cushy ruby-studded socks, the Red Sox who are clicking those heels and chanting "There's No Place Like Back-to-Back World Series Championships" so so that they can't hear the Rays saying ... "Get outta the way you $140,000,000 bloated fatties - you're blocking our view. "

    Posted by Mary Quinlan May 12, 08 01:13 PM
  1. It's May 14. Rays are seven (7) games above .500 (can even you believe it?) this late into the season? Rays are first place in the AL East? Rays have the best record in the entire A.L.?

    We poor pathetic fans of a pathetic team are just asking your opinion if you still think it would be too lame to bask in the sun and go dancing on the beaches down here in TAMPA or St. PETE, or wherever we Rays fans exist.

    By the way, whose paycheck would you rather be writing right now, a Red Sox or Yankee's team paycheck, or a Rays team paycheck?

    Posted by Mary Quinlan May 14, 08 01:54 AM
  1. Its interesting to revisit this post shortly after another Rays sweep of the Red Sox. It would be nice to see if this reporter would like to write an update to this. Then again...they are still probably too arrogant to even concede any respect.

    Posted by The Yankees July 7, 08 05:32 PM
  1. July 12. C'mon, Eric Wilbur, let's get an update to this article, pleeeaze? And let us know, oh knowing one, if we Tampa Bay Rays fans who SO wannbe so cool just like Red Sox fans, do we yet have permission to go dancing on the beaches about the surprise performance of our Rays? Without looking so .... lame?

    Posted by Mary Quinlan July 12, 08 10:55 AM
  1. GASP!!!
    Dateline: August 1, 2008.
    ... the Rays are STILL IN FIRST PLACE IN THE AL EAST?

    C'mon, Eric, we are all down here sweating it out in the sun, sitting on our hands and chomping at the bit. We Tampa Bay Rays fans, who want to be just like Boston Red Sox fans, who just want to be just like Manny, who wants to be just like Manny (oops, strike that...) do we YET have YOUR permission to go dancing on the beaches and celebrate our first place position in the salary-bloated AL East Divsion, without ridicule and looking "pathetic", without looking so .... lame?

    Posted by Mary Quinlan July 31, 08 05:22 PM
  1. Dateline: October 1, 2008 (NO FRIGGIN WAY, REALLY?)

    Eric, please, we are begging you down here in Tampa Bay ... please please our Rays won something called the AL East Division Title. We're not exactly sure yet what that really really means, but we know the regular season is over and yet our Rays still have to play more games. What's that all about?
    Please, will you let us know when it will no longer be "pathetic" for us to celebrate our Rays? Do we YET have your permission to go dancing with joy on the beaches and celebrate the AL East Division title without looking pathetic, without looking ... "so lame?"

    Posted by Mary Quinlan October 1, 08 06:57 PM
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