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Tampa Bay Rays' win Monday reminds us what might have been as they miss playoffs

Third baseman Evan Longoria missed a big chunk of the year.

Associated Press

Third baseman Evan Longoria missed a big chunk of the year.

ST. PETERSBURG

It would be easy to pat the Rays on the back today and say, "Nice try, fellas."

You could point out how they missed their best player for three months and weren't eliminated from making the postseason until early this morning, the second day of October and, technically, the next-to-last day of the regular season.

You could admire their fight, how they never gave up, how they won all those games down the stretch to keep their slim playoff hopes alive longer than anyone could have imagined.

You could recognize how they're going to win right around 90 games. You could applaud that they're just one of four teams to have a winning record over each of the past five seasons.

Yes, it would be easy to do all of that.

And it would be wrong, too.

This is not a season that should be celebrated, but one that should be regretted. Teams like this, windows like this, don't come along often and the Rays let a season get away.

So as you look back on the 2012 Rays season, here are a few things to consider.

This is a disappointing season

A team with this much pitching, a team with this good of a manager, a team with this much experience should not be where the Rays are today, wondering why — and how — they missed the playoffs. This was a team picked by many to win it all. This is a season when more teams than ever make the playoffs. And the Rays are out despite having the best pitching in baseball. Not just this year, but in recent memory. They have the most dominant starting rotation in the majors and a shutdown bullpen. Twenty-game winner David Price could win the Cy Young. So might closer Fernando Rodney.

Pitching like that is supposed to playing in World Series in October, not playing golf.

Oh, what could have been

When you watch Alex Cobb scatter two hits over seven innings as he did in Monday's 5-3 victory against the Orioles, you are reminded just how good and deep this starting rotation is.

When you see the relievers hang on and Rodney get his 47th save, you are reminded just how good and deep the bullpen is.

When you see late-inning magic like the Rays put together for the go-ahead runs, you still wanted to believe this team had a little of last season's pixie dust leftover in its pockets.

But if you watched Monday night and saw all of those things, you couldn't help but shake your head and think about how special this season could have been, how special it should have been.

What went wrong

One of the best fielding teams in baseball forgot how to catch and throw for big chunks of the season. An organization so good at finding role players, such as Jeff Keppinger, swung and missed on major parts such as Luke Scott, Carlos Peña and Jose Molina. But, most of all, it was a team that couldn't hit, particularly when Evan Longoria was out of the lineup.

So instead of waxing poetic about the spunk of this pesky small-market club, you can't help but ask "what if?"

What if Longoria hadn't missed three months? What if the Rays had done a better job replacing him while he was out? What if Peña's contract had been written in invisible ink?

You look back and wonder why the Rays didn't deal one of their 47 live arms for just one heavy bat. You wonder what would have happened if they had moved Ben Zobrist to shortstop earlier in the season, started Keppinger more and had any production at all out of the catcher position.

And did I mention Longoria's injury?

Final thought

This is what will drive Rays fans crazy this winter. If the Rays had made the playoffs, they actually might have done some serious damage, like winning-the-whole-thing damage.

Look, we've become spoiled in these parts. If this was 2008 again, this would have been a special season. But a winning record and playing meaningful games late in the season aren't enough anymore. Today, the Rays will relive all the games they let slip away to keep them out of the playoffs. They should be dreaming about all the games they could have won in late October.

What a shame.

tom jones' two cents

Tampa Bay Rays' win Monday reminds us what might have been as they miss playoffs 10/01/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 1:24am]
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