ST. PETERSBURG — Do the ongoing results of the playoffs make the Rays, and their fans, feel any better about things?
Does seeing the Rangers advance to the American League Championship Series make the sting of being swept by them any less painful?
Does having the other teams from the supposedly mighty AL East also go down without much of a fight — the Blue Jays knocked out in two by the Twins, the division champ Orioles swept in three by the Rangers — change anything?
Does knowing that the top five teams over the rigorous test of the regular season — the Braves (104 wins), Orioles (101), Dodgers (100), Rays (99), Brewers (92) — went a combined 1-13 in the postseason and were all ousted in their first round of play provide any consolation?
Or do the Rays look at the final four field and think they were better than all of them — the Astros, Diamondbacks, Rangers and Phillies, though they went a combined 7-11 against them during the regular season — and stew even more about their early exit?
With three of the four division champs that received byes — and the five days off that come with them — knocked out, the results have sparked discussion about the fairness of the current format that has the three wild cards and lowest-seeded division champ in best-of-three series, as well as potential tweaks.
Longtime broadcaster Bob Costas had an interesting idea that would save a couple days: The three division champs get byes, the two lowest wild cards have a one-game matchup, the winner then faces the top wild card, and that winner advances to play the top division champ.
Rays officials said a lot of words at Monday’s season wrap-up media session about continuing to work hard to figure out how to get deeper into the postseason, having been knocked out in three straight years in their first round, but admitted they don’t have any real answers.
“I don’t know that there’s one formula that succeeds in the postseason,” general manager Peter Bendix said. “I think you can even look across this year’s postseason, all the wild-card teams that got swept were all very different. It’s two games, right? They’re two really important games. They’re the most important games of the year. It’s still two games.
“And I think that we’ll always continue to evaluate. What can we do better? What can we do different? Our goal is to win the World Series. So those questions are going to exist every year that we don’t win the World Series.”
As much success as the Rays have had during the regular season over the last five years — their 421-287 (.595) record is fourth best, behind the Dodgers, Astros, Braves — they have gotten past the Division Series only once; they advanced to, and lost, in the World Series during the pandemic-impacted 2020 season, with a 15-19 (.441) postseason record.
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Playing for the long term and the short term, they have realized, is different.
“It’s one of the unique things about baseball,” Bendix said. “It’s part of the fun of this and the challenge of this and the frustration of this. ... (Ultimately) we thought we had two of the best pitchers in the American League lined up to start two of our most important games with a really diversified offense that can score in a lot of different ways in an environment in which we’ve been the best team in baseball, at home. And we had been phenomenal at winning series, and what we needed to do was win a series.
“And we got outplayed in that series by a really good team that also scored a lot of runs and also had great pitching — because in the postseason, that’s who you face. You face the best teams, and over a short series, things happen.
“That’s not to excuse it. And of course, we’re going to continue to look at why those things happened in the way that they did. But that’s also the beauty of baseball, at least in my opinion — that baseball is about both the long sample over 162 and then the most important games at the end of the season.”
There are former Rays on each of the four remaining teams. But for longtime fans and team staffers, Arizona infielder Evan Longoria is going to be the sentimental favorite.
This is the closest he has gotten to the World Series since the Rays made their stunning 2008 worst-to-first run there. “I’m incredibly humbled and lucky to have this baseball experience as part of my life!” he posted on Instagram.
Among other ex-Ray major-/minor-leaguers or staff:
Astros: RHP Ryne Stanek
D-backs: RHP Merrill Kelly, OF Tommy Pham, RHP Ryan Thompson, coach Damion Easley
Phillies: LHP Jose Alvarado, LHP Cristopher Sanchez, coach Mike Calitri
Rangers: LHP Brock Burke, RHP Matt Bush, RHP Nate Eovaldi, C Jonah Heim, 1B Nathaniel Lowe, coach Bobby Wilson
After five years in the dugout as the majors’ only process and analytics coach, Jonathan “J-Money” Erlichman is shifting to another role in the organization, seeking to spend more time with his family. If/how he’ll be replaced, and other changes among manager Kevin Cash’s coaches and staff are possible, and to be discussed soon. … Randy Arozarena getting mentioned in Bad Bunny’s new song Nadie Sabe was definitely a big deal. Could it lead to something else, as Bad Bunny recently launched a sports agency focusing on Latin American athletes? Arozarena switched in November 2021 to Scott Boras’ agency. … Wander Franco potentially playing in the Dominican winter league before resolution of the allegations of inappropriate relationships with minors seemed like a bad idea anyway given the potential for distractions/disruptions from fans. … The Angels deciding to not trade two-way star Shohei Ohtani may have saved the Rays from themselves. Not only because he sustained an elbow injury shortly after the Aug. 1 deadline that kept him from pitching (and later an oblique strain that ended his season in early September), but they were willing to give up top prospect Junior Caminero in a package to rent him for a few months. … Relievers Javy Guerra and Erasmo Ramirez, who finished the season at Triple-A Durham, elected free agency. Both had been designated for assignment during the season. … Arozarena is hosting “Randy Fest” on Nov. 24 at the Poliforum Zamna arena in Merida, Mexico, with appearances by several musical acts, headlined by El Micha. … The Rays were among 15 teams with scouts at a workout in the Dominican Republic for top Cuban pitcher Yariel Rodriguez. … WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford suggested Rays senior advisor Jon Daniels, the former Rangers top exec, as a strong candidate to lead Boston’s baseball operations, but reported he is not interested as he doesn’t want to relocate his family. ... Right-hander Yoniel Curet and Caminero were mlb.com’s choices as the Rays’ pitching and hitting prospects of the year; the same two were chosen by the Rays as their top minor-leaguers. … Tampa’s Pete Alonso, heading into his final season with the Mets before free agency, recently switched agents to Boras.
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