Joe Maddon will try to convince us that this weekend’s series with the Red Sox is no more or less important than any other series. But for Rays fans and more importantly, for the rest of the baseball universe, this series is very important. In fact, we feel a case can be made that this is the most important series that the Rays have ever played.
For the first time in the history of the franchise, big things were expected from the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. Many looked at the stable of young talent and the sudden willingness to infuse veteran leadership and saw a team that was finally ready to step forward. While the playoffs may still be a pipe dream, .500 seemed reasonable and with a few lucky breaks, the Rays sans Devil could be playing meaningful games in August and September.
After starting the season 3-1, the Rays proceeded to be decimated by injuries and dropped 10 of their next 15. All of the sudden the luster of the Spring was gone and people looked and thought “Rays being the Rays”…or should it be “Rays being the Devil Rays”?
And then came the Jays in Orlando and three wins later the Rays now sit 11-11, 3 games behind the Red Sox in the East and only 2.5 games back in the wild card.
If the Rays could win 2 or 3 games in this series, they can establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the 2008 season. All of the sudden people outside of the Bay Area will look in our direction and see a team that is for real. Baseball people and baseball fans will take notice and see the Rays hanging with the giants and they will see a team that has done this without their #1 pitcher. But maybe most importantly, the Red Sox, Yankees, O’s and Jays will take notice, and for the first time they will not see a stepping stone to the playoffs.
On the other hand, if the Rays lose 2, or worse, get swept at home…once again, people will look and see the Tampa Bay Devil Rays of old and will feel justified in having written the Rays off in March.
Papa Joe Maddon will try to be the voice of reason and the face of calm and cool. But make no mistake, this is a very important series for the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays and a huge series for the franchise and their place in the baseball universe.