Are the Tampa Bay Rays the best team in baseball? Are they better than the Red Sox as their 10-8 regular season record against them suggests? Their ability to overcome a disastrous season in 2007 with the worst record, to leading all of baseball in 2008 in wins has been an incredible turn-around. Is their run nearing an end? Do they have enough left in the tank to win 4 more against their division rivals and go to the World Series?
There is an emotional gauntlet that teams run that begins when they realize they are in the hunt for the post season. The emotions rise and fall with each peak and valley as the season progresses through wins, losses, winning streaks, and losing streaks. There is some relief when a playoff spot is secured but it is temporary relief as a new emotional roller coaster begins with a second season. Inexperienced teams may not handle an early loss and fold, or they may have expended all of their energies getting into the playoffs, getting into the second round. Post season experienced teams generally fare better, relying on players with that playoff experience to help the younger players relax and play to their abilities. Then, there are teams that do not seem to be phased by the emotional hype brought on by all of the accompanying drama.
Can Joe Maddon keep this young team pointed in the right direction?
It takes a well-adjusted and talented manager to keep everything balanced. He must be a disciplinarian, father figure, confessor, psychiatrist, psychologist, referee, peace-maker, and, oh yes, a winner.
The Rays have proven they can play with the best of them...and fight with them, too. Early on, this team didn't have respect. They also didn't have time to earn it either. So, they took it and they did it in a very respectable way. It was the only way they could. It was the only way they knew how.
They quickly became nobody's patsies. They played as a team and they fought as a team. They had fun as well. They won and kept winning. When others waited for them to fold, they toughed it out. When key players went down with injuries, they picked each other up and continued to win. They beat an experienced team in the ALDS, a team that had world championship experience just a short time ago.
The Rays are the best team in baseball. They face another team with recent world championship experience also from just a short time ago, last season. But the Rays took the division from the world champions. They do not seem phased by their accomplishments. They put this Red Sox team in their place, second. They have uncovered kinks in their armor but they do not discount for one second that the Red Sox are a great baseball team. However, they may have shown that the Sox are not quite the team they were last season.
So, after disposing of White Sox, the Rays should put down Red Sox and advance to the World Series. The Rays will not be distracted or detracted. It is their time, it is their season, it is their destiny.
Rays win the ALCS in 6!