When the Rays, in the opening weekend of their 20th anniversary celebration season, brought back and honored the inaugural 1998 Devil Rays squad, it got us thinking unexpected thoughts, such as which was a better team:
The first one, or the current one?
And then as we started weighing top starter Wilson Alvarez vs. Chris Archer, 1B Fred McGriff vs. C.J. Cron/Brad Miller, 3B Wade Boggs vs. Matt Duffy and closer Roberto Hernandez vs. Alex Colome, we got to thinking some more. (And we'll get back to that 1998 vs. 2018 question another time.)
Given how these Rays have started — on a pace, even after some recently improved play and Saturday's win to finish 57-105 — and given how the injuries have piled up, how stiff the American League competition looks, how they'll likely trade a half dozen veterans by the July 31 deadline, could this end up among the worst teams in their 21 years? Or even join the ignominious trio that lost 100 games?
Here's a look at what they're up against, with some team leading stats dropped in:
Manager: Hal McRae
C, Toby Hall
1B, Steve Cox;
2B, Brent Abernathy;
SS, Chris Gomez;
3B, Jared Sandberg;
LF, Carl Crawford;
CF, Randy Winn (75 RBI)
RF, Ben Grieve (19 HRs, 64 RBI)
DH: Aubrey Huff (.313, 23 HRs)
Top starters: Tanyon Sturtze (4-18, 5.18); Joe Kennedy (8-11, 4.53), Paul Wilson (6-12, 4.83)
Top reliever: Esteban Yan (19 saves)
Summary: The worst season in Rays history began with the best start, a three-game sweep of Detroit. But not much else went right, including a still-standing team record 15-game overall losing streak, and a separate 13-game road losing streak. These Devil Rays allowed double-digit runs 22 times on the way to an AL-worst 5.29 ERA. Their average of 4.18 runs scored per game was third lowest.
Manager: Joe Maddon
C, Toby Hall/Dioner Navarro;
1B, Travis Lee;
2B, Jorge Cantu;
SS, Julio Lugo (.308 avg.)
3B, Aubrey Huff/B.J. Upton;
LF, Carl Crawford (77 RBI)
CF, Rocco Baldelli (.871 OPS);
RF, Damon Hollins/Russell Branyan;
DH: Johnny Gomes (20 HRs)
Top starters: Casey Fossum (6-6, 5.33), Scott Kazmir (10-8, 3.24), James Shields (6-8. 4.84)
Top reliever: Tyler Walker (10 saves)
Summary: The first year under new management – Stuart Sternberg as owner, Andrew Friedman as VP, Joe Maddon as manager – was kind of a mess, including a staggering 3-32 road record from July 1 on – one win in each of the final three months. But it also was a season of transition as they shipped out a handful of veterans (Toby Hall, Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo) and brought in several pieces of their future success (J.P. Howell, Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist). They also brought up rookie RHP James Shields, who would go on to play a pretty key role.
Managers: Larry Rothschild, Hal McRae
C, John Flaherty;
1B, Fred McGriff (.318 avg, .923 OPS)
2B, Brent Abernathy;
SS, Felix Martinez;
3B, Aubrey Huff;
LF, Greg Vaughn/Ben Grieve;
CF, Gerald Williams;
RF, Grieve (72 RBI)
DH: Vaughn (24 HRs, 82 RBI)
Top starters: Tanyon Sturtze (11-12, 4.42); Ryan Rupe (6-12, 6.59); Bryan Rekar (3-13, 5.89)
Top reliever: Esteban Yan (22 saves)
Summary: Bringing back Rothschild for a fourth season and then firing him after a 4-10 start set them on a bad course. Talent and depth were both lacking, as guys like Jason Tyner and Brent Abernathy got 300-plus at-bats. Losing 28 games by one-run didn't help as their average of 4.15 runs per game was an AL-low. And the 4.94 team ERA wasn't much better.
The chosen one? The Mets keep insisting they won't add a catcher, but when they do, Wilson Ramos sure seems like a good fit. The Rays wouldn't need much back. Hmm … what about a 30-year-old outfielder off to a slow start at Double-A who would send some fans (and a certain sports editor) into a Tebow-ing frenzy?
Fun in the sun: A Wall Street Journal piece on the failures of the Rays and Marlins didn't break any news, using a click-bait headline-grabbing anonymous quote from a "person familiar with the union's thinking" to assert "baseball in Florida has been a disaster." More interesting was Rays president Matt Silverman once again putting the burden of proof on the Tampa Bay market, saying it is "a pivotal point" for the franchise and "this new stadium effort is a fresh opportunity for the community to show that it values a baseball team."
In an ESPN panel ranking of the game's top 100 players, RHP Chris Archer was 51st (down from 40) and injured CF Kevin Kiermaier 96th (down from 82). … Whatever mytopsportsbook.com is, it ranks Baltimore's Buck Showalter a 6-5 favorite as the next manager to get fired, with Kevin Cash second at 9-1. Not gonna happen. … Don't know who they were looking at (Alex Colome?) but the Cardinals had senior special assistant Mike Jorgensen at the Trop last week. Cubs scouts also were around. … There's action to bring a team to Oregon, where Portland Diamond Project backers have made offers to buy land for a downtown stadium, hired architects and attorneys and raised money. … It's one thing for ESPN and other national media to lazily say the Rays play in Tampa, but last week in a tweet from mlb.com's Cut 4 account? … The Tampa Bay 2020 group backing the Ybor City stadium hosts a free showing of Field of Dreams 7 p.m. Monday at the Tampa Theatre. … Though the Rays average of 15,751 (through Friday) tops the A's, Marlins, Pirates and White Sox, there's already been four Trop games with announced attendance (tickets sold) of less than 10,000. … Look for pre- and post-game radio host Neil Solondz to lend a hand to the Fox Sports Sun TV crew next weekend, and Steve Carney to slide into the radio role. … As odd as the Steven Souza Jr. trade to Arizona seemed at the time, INF Nick Solak is hitting .319 with a .443 on-base percentage at Double-A and LHP Anthony Banda had 28 strikeouts to six walks in his first 19 innings at Triple-A Durham, going 2-2, 4.74. Plus, they will soon get two more players to be named as part of the deal.