Sports columnists John Romano and Gary Shelton discuss this year's Tampa Bay Rays:
JR: Trivia time, Gary. Can you remember the last Tampa Bay player other than Carl Crawford to start in leftfield on opening day?
GS: Why, John, that would be Ducky Bobo back in 1962. Or Quinton McCracken. But he may have been '64.
JR: Ooooh, sorry, that's incorrect. Turns out, it was Jason Tyner in 2002. But don't feel too badly. My personal recollection was that leftfield did not exist in Tampa Bay before Crawford.
GS: If it wasn't for a warehouse full of bobblehead dolls, I would think you made Tyner up the way I did Ducky. It really was a place for forgettables with Rich Butler and Danny Clyburn. Crawford made you forget them, but $20 million is a lot for amnesia.
JR: The sad thing is Crawford wasn't alone on that exit ramp. It's pretty remarkable to think the 2008 World Series was just a little over two years ago, and seven of the 10 players in the lineup for Game 1 of that Series are no longer around. It's even more remarkable to think Tampa Bay has had that much turnover and is still a contender.
GS: Ah, but isn't that the big question? ARE the Rays a contender? Despite the defections? Despite a bullpen where only one player — Andy Sonnanstine — recorded a save last year?
JR: I suppose it depends on your definition of contender. Do the Rays look like the best team in the AL East? No. But are they capable of reaching the postseason? Absolutely. The odds are not in their favor, but they're better than, say, you or I running a 5K. Without respirators.
GS: Unfortunately for the Rays, there is even more athletic ability in the AL East than you and I coming down the stretch. It's a lot to ask for what's left of the Rays to get into the postseason. Who closes? Who brings the power? And do Reid Brignac, Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez and Jeremy Hellickson all meet expectations?
JR: All legitimate questions. But do the Rays have a better chance of making the playoffs than the Orioles? The Blue Jays? The Royals, Tigers, Indians, Mariners or Angels? I would say yes. And if you order me four more Bud Lights, I might even say they have a better chance than the Yankees.
GS: Only four? I don't drink, but that seems like a six-pack hypothesis to me. The Yankees have a roster filled with players getting paid for what they used to be, but they can still buy an arm or three over the course of the season.
JR: For instance, Matt Garza. In July. When the Cubs are buried.
GS: The Cubs will live 'til July?
JR: Only because the networks will insist on it.
GS: Ah, that explains why the Cubs plan to sign Charlie Sheen.
JR: Bottom line: Will you still be checking the standings every morning in September, or will the lights already be out in Tampa Bay?
GS: Being close enough for math in September is possible, I think. But if the Rays make this year's playoffs, the next big contract the Yankees offer may be to Andrew Friedman.