If you had told me in March that the Tampa Bay Rays would be tied for first place come June 29th, I would have laughed in your face. I also probably would never respect your baseball opinion ever again.
Back in March, I would have told you the AL East Standings would go as follows: Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays.
But it’s been almost the complete opposite.
The Red Sox sit far behind in last, the Jays sit only 1.0 game back, the Yankees sit 0.5 games back and the Orioles and Rays are tied for first.
My preseason predictions were the predictions of many, and how could you argue differently? Vegas had the best team in the American League being the Red Sox, and the Jays had one of the best offensive lineups in all of baseball.
And the Rays? Well, the Rays had the 28th lowest payroll in the Majors ($76 Million). They had lost their highly coveted starter, David Price, at the Trade Deadline of the 2014 season and had lost their super utility man Ben Zobrist. They also lost their proclaimed genius manager, Joe Maddon, to the Chicago Cubs: a team in a much better market with a much higher ceiling.
To replace the star manager, the Rays tabbed career backup catcher Kevin Cash. When the season started, this team had no expectations except to try and build for a much bigger and better run–in the future.
But, to the rest of the baseball worlds surprise, the Rays have done just the opposite by trying to compete now. Somehow, with the players they have, and the injuries they’ve had, they sit tied atop the AL East.
But they haven’t.
To step up in their places, players such as Steven Souza Jr. and Joey Butler have provided some necessary pop in the lineup, along with Evan Longoria. Logan Forsythe, a career .249 hitter, has been batting .297. David DeJesus and Kevin Kiermaier have also been big at the bottom and middle of the Rays lineup.
For the pitching, Chris Archer has been Cy Young-canidate good while the rest of the staff has put together the fourth-best ERA in baseball (3.27).
So the question is, how does a tiny payroll team like the Rays go on to be in first place, while the all-powerful Red Sox, with a $187 Million payroll, sit far out in last place?
The answer’s basis is inexperience.
It feels as though we’re ushering in a new era in baseball for MLB managers. Out go the managers who’ve never played, and in come the ones who have.
For example, the manager of the Red Sox is John Farrell. Farrell manages a Red Sox team with no experience as a player in the MLB. He handles a group of mostly overpaid guys that are there because their contract tells him they should be.
Cash, the manager of the Rays, deals with a group of young, hungry, underrated players that are not paid a ton and play in a tiny market that boasts one of the league’s worst attendance ratings. Cash was also a player.
The difference is the fact that one played and one didn’t. Cash understands and knows what it feels like to be a player in the MLB, especially one who wasn’t a superstar: exactly what most of the Rays’ players are. He can connect with them in a way that Farrell can not.
Farrell can simply tell his players what to do in certain situations, and reiterate on fundamentals. He can’t however, connect and understand what a player is going through.
Farrell knows how to deal with a slump the “baseball” way: sit the guy out and have him watch some film. Sit with the hitting coaches for hours and analyze something they have no clue how to fix. Cash can deal with it the “players” way: really relate to the player and “step into his shoes” since Cash has been in that same situation. From there, he can further evaluate things.
I know this sounds like something a psychologist would say but trust me, this is baseball.
The Rays picked the perfect guy for the job. Someone perfect for let’s say a team like the Red Sox’ managerial position, would be a player who played in a big market that made a good amount of money and produced. Those players are few and far between, yet still exist. Someone like a Chipper Jones or Jason Varitek could be perfect due to those factors and their leadership qualities.
But finding the right manager for a big market team will never be a problem for the Tampa Bay Rays. They are, and probably always will be, a small market team. A team that has a low payroll, bad attendance, and for right now an ugly stadium, that still competes from April until their last pitch has been thrown.
Will the Rays go on to win the World Series? Well, nothing’s proven yet.
But for right now, you can say that the Rays have made the right choice as manager for the right situation.
The Tampa Bay Rays have finally hit the jackpot.