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Rays of hope for comeback season?

Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville was the fulcrum for the team the Rays hope to emulate, the 1914 Miracle Braves.

Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville was the fulcrum for the team the Rays hope to emulate, the 1914 Miracle Braves.

After the Rays were no-hit for the second time midway through the 2010 season, manager Joe Maddon began paying homage to Clarence Henry "Pants" Rowland. He planted a photograph prominently on his desk and dedicated a road trip in honor of Rowland, who managed the 1917 White Sox into the World Series after being similarly blanked twice that season.

Expect the Rabbit Maranville photos to pop up any time now.

The Rays made it to the playoffs in 2010, though not the Series. And if they are going to get back this year for the fifth time in seven seasons, it's going to take a truly historic performance, the kind of thing that might happen once every 100 years.

That's because no team has ever come from 18 games under .500, as the Rays were after Tuesday's loss, to reach the postseason (although there obviously weren't as many opportunities to make the playoffs, back in the day).

The closest to do so were the 1914 Boston Braves (led by Hall of Fame-bound shortstop Maranville). They were 16 under (12-28), but from June 9 on went 82-31 (.726) to finish 94-59 and win the NL pennant by 10½ games. They then swept the Philadelphia A's to win the World Series.

Brave new world?

Having been a bad team most of the previous 10 seasons, the Braves weren't expected to be any better in 1914, much less to become part of baseball lore known as the Miracle Braves.

But they did just that, led by a quirky and unconventional manager in George Stallings, who had taken over the previous season and nudged them to fifth place after four straight years in eighth (last).

Stallings was known for his temper but also a few quirks, such as wearing suits in the dugout and having an aversion to anything yellow. He also employed some innovative strategies, being one of the first to platoon his players.

And, for further sake of comparison, they were a team that didn't hit much and relied heavily on their pitching, specifically Dick Rudolph and Bill James, who combined to go 35-2 down the stretch (52-17 total).

With Maranville at the start of his stellar career, and Johnny Evers (of Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance fame) coming over from the Cubs, the Braves won only four of their first 22 games and were still a dismal 26-40 (and 15 games out) after play on July 4, then were pretty much unstoppable from there.

Short stops

• LHP Jake McGee could pitch his way into the July 16 All-Star Game but might not get there. His wife, Morgan, is due to deliver their first child July 17, and though they are considering inducing the week before, they obviously can't be sure or plan too far ahead. "I might be the first person to miss the All-Star Game on paternity leave," McGee said.

• Wouldn't it be ironic if the Rays and Royals end up "competing" next month to trade aces David Price and James Shields?

• Rookie OF Kevin Kiermaier's all-out hustle reminds many of Super Sam Fuld, though manager Joe Maddon makes a more intriguing comparison to the more accomplished Darin Erstad, an All-Star and Gold Glover with the Angels.

Historical perspective

The Rays are in double trouble because of how badly they've played and how far back they've fallen. Here is a look at some teams that were similarly buried (GB is games back of a postseason berth) and managed to make it to the postseason:

Year Team Predicament Outcome

1914 Braves 16-40, 15 GB on July 4 Won NL pennant, WS

1973 Mets 34-46, 12½ GB on July 9 Won NL East, lost WS

1974 Pirates 28-40, 8½ GB on June 25 Won NL East, lost NLCS

1984 Royals 40-51, 8 GB on July 18 Won AL West, lost ALCS

1989 Jays 23-33, 9 GB on June 6 Won AL East, lost ALCS

2003 Marlins 19-29, 11½ GB on May 22 Won wild card, WS

2005 Astros 26-38, 9½ GB on June 16 Won wild card, lost WS

2009 Rockies 20-32, 9½ on June 3 Won wild card, lost NLDS

Just sayin' …

The pitching coach on that 2005 Astros team was Jim Hickey. And a reliever on that 2009 Rockies team was Joel Peralta.

A more modest proposal

Before the Rays can start thinking about the playoffs, they have to get back to even. And even that will be a challenge. Over the past 100 years, only two teams have been as many as 18 games under and gotten back to .500 at any point in the season — the 2006 Marlins and Lou Piniella's 2004 Devil Rays.

Those Devil Rays were 10-28 after a May 19 loss, made it back to 35-35 on June 28, and got as far as 40-38 on July 3, but finished 70-91. They also were only the second team in major-league history to have 12-or-more-games winning and losing streaks in the same season.

Fun with numbers

With a 26-42 record and .382 winning percentage through Friday, the Rays will have to play at a tremendous pace to get anywhere:

• Maddon's goal of 50-50 — 24-8, .750

• To finish .500 (81-81) — 55-39, .585

• To win 84 games (matching low as Rays) — 58-36, .617

• To win 90 games — 64-30, .681

• To win 92 games (same as 2013) — 66-28, .702

Rays rumblings

Major League Baseball VP Joe Garagiola Jr. visited last week to speak to the Rays about their slow pace and longest-in-baseball games. … Cool photo package on Don Zimmer and a poignant column by Joe Torre are in the June 16 Sports Illustrated. … RHP Alex Colome continues to impress and position himself to replace Erik Bedard or Jake Odorizzi, going 2-0, 0.44 in three starts at Triple-A Durham, with 13 hits, 21 Ks, 4 walks in 20⅔ innings. … LHP David Price's comments about Boston's David Ortiz acting like he's bigger than the game clearly struck a nerve; in a follow-up interview, Ortiz said to WEEI radio, among other things, "Who is David Price? I don't really care. I'm going to continue with what I do. Like it or not, it is what it is." … 2B/OF Ben Zobrist and wife Julianna will be the guests for the Tampa Bay Times next Lunchtime Live video chat Friday at 12:30. … New RHP Kirby Yates is the younger brother of Tyler Yates, who pitched parts of five seasons with the Mets, Braves and Pirates. … Last week's broadcast auction raised $86,500 for the Rays Baseball Foundation.

Got a minute? Jerry Sands

Best meal you can make?

I didn't get to eat a lot of it, but it was the mac-and-cheese-squared from Yardhouse. I made it the night I proposed to my wife. Haven't made it since. It took way too long.

Must-see TV?

I'm a SportsCenter guy.

Go-to karaoke song?

Friends in Low Places

Hidden talent?

I'm pretty boring. You see what you get, pretty much.

Celebrity crush?

I'm a big Katherine Heigl fan.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com.

Rays of hope for comeback season? 06/13/14 [Last modified: Saturday, June 14, 2014 8:13pm]

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