In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays were the surprise team of the year. Having finished the 2007 season with the worst record in Major League Baseball little was expected of them in 2008. However, during the off-season, the Rays made some changes. Most profoundly they changed their name from the Devil Rays to the Rays. They also changed their uniforms, which can now be found on online stores such as HomeRunMonkey, added some key free agents, and added one great prospect to their roster. Very few fans or baseball insiders predicted much success that season but the team surprised everyone by winning the American League Eastern Division and the American League pennant.
Although the Rays won the AL East again in 2010 and made the playoffs in 2011 they have not made it back to the World Series since 2008. Can the 2012 team make it back?
The pitching staff is the strongest part of the 2012 team, just as it was in 2008. Led by ace James Shields, who was an important part of the staff in 2008, the Rays pitching staff currently has the third most strikeouts and the fifth best ERA in the American League. They’ve kept their homerun stats low as well, with the fifth lowest number of home runs given up. However, it is the bullpen that is really starring on this pitching staff. Newly acquired closer Fernando Rodney, whose gear can be found on HomeRunMonkey, has had a resurgence in Tampa and is 14 for 16 in save opportunities, the best save percentage in all Major League Baseball.
Offensively the Rays are a middle of the pack team just as they were in 2008. With injuries to two of their best hitters, All-Star Evan Longoria and outfielder Desmond Jennings, Tampa’s run production and team batting average are suffering. Defense has been a hallmark of Rays’ teams the past few years, but in 2012 this team has the 12th lowest fielding percentage in the American League. There are only 2 teams worse in the AL at this point.
At 24-14, the 2012 Tampa Bay Rays are off to a great start, even with a listless offense and uncharacteristically bad defense. The return of veterans from the DL will be a big jolt offensively, and manager Joe Maddon is known for demanding good defense so that should also turn around. If these things gel around the already great pitching staff the Tampa Bay Rays should find themselves playing again in late October.