Ah, the Citrus Series. Is there anything like Rays-Marlins in July? Well, yes, there is. They don't even hand out a trophy anymore to the season series winner, though they did when they began playing each other in 1998.
It's easy to see why. The Rays and Marlins play in different leagues and have never been good at the same time, though they have been awful together a whole lot.
For the record, entering Tuesday the Rays still led the series 55-53 despite Monday night's 3-2 loss in 10 innings. On the other hand, the Marlins have bought two more world championships and built one more brand-new stadium than the Rays.
On the other other hand, Marlins head cheese and Hall of Fame lock Derek Jeter, former Teflon Yankees god, he of the Tampa-sized Tampa mansion, has personally eroded his legend by personally dismantling the Marlins, including shipping Giancarlo Stanton to Jeter's old team (insider trading?). Jeter has pushed a lot of wrong buttons.
Jeets has decimated the Marlins, who began play Tuesday dead last in the National League East. Monday's crowd was around 6,000. The Marlins have the worst attendance in baseball, even worse than the Rays, whose crowds look like Woodstock next to the Miami gatherings.
The Rays are finding interesting, inventive ways to keep their heads above water and sometimes .500. The Marlins are truly awful.
And to think some of us once dreamed of Jeter saving baseball in Tampa Bay when Rays owner Stu Sternberg's new-stadium itch became too strong and all hope was lost.
The thing is that the Marlins might have the ultimate edge when greater baseball decides that this state isn't big enough for two teams and wheels in the moving vans. The Rays will lose that one. What, commissioner Rob Manfred and the owners are going to mess with Derek Jeter?
That's the long and short of this, even as the Rays and Marlins do righteous battle on the playing fields. That's going to be the ultimate tiebreaker, who stays and who goes.
It doesn't help that Jeter will probably turn the Marlins around. I still won't bet against the guy, despite his early mess, which has included firing long-time Marlins employees. The bad optics just keep on coming, along with bad baseball and vast quiet at the ball yard. It makes you wonder if things would be different if star pitcher Jose Fernandez had not taken his boat out that night. The Marlins are on the bottom again, feeding, building.
But so are the Rays, despite their perky, encouraging season. They're playing kids and the kids are all right. But they will be dumping soon enough, starting with capable veteran catcher Wilson Ramos.
To be capable and veteran is a one-way ticket out of town. That might be true of Rays third baseman Matt Duffy, who has performed admirably in replacing Evan Longoria. The same fate might await Chris Archer, if he's worth anything anymore, and Kevin Kiermaier.
The Rays are playing the long game. Jeter might be taking pages from that playbook. We'll see if he has the stomach for this. Meanwhile, I've already started wondering when the Rays will move Willy Adames.
The Rays and Marlins have more in common than they know. Jeter and Sternberg are brothers is arms, or disarmament. Meanwhile, the Citrus Series rolls. May the best team win, and take home the Golden Moving Van. Sorry, it was just a trophy idea.
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 731-8029