Even in the lowest moments of the 2014 season, the moments when the Tampa Bay Rays had the worst record in all of baseball, Joe Maddon remained steadfast that they were not a bad baseball team. The popular manager refused to concede that the Rays were out of the playoff race.
When Maddon made those comments about the Rays as a contending team, one might have reasonably been concerned that he was losing his marbles. Then he brought in a witch doctor to Tropicana Field and there seemed to be legitimate reasons to worry about his well-being. It seemed like maybe this losing season was getting to him even more than we first thought…
It turns out Maddon might not have been totally out of his mind. With the Rays having gone 9-2 on their most recent road trip they are now within 8.5 games of first place in the admittedly mediocre American League East. That stretch really has Maddon feeling his oats, as indicated by this quote after the Rays defeated the Detroit Tigers on Sunday night (from the Tampa Bay Times):
“I think we’re one of the best teams in the American League, period,” manager Joe Maddon proclaimed. “I thought that from Day 1. Our record has not reflected it. We did not play that way. But we are now.”
Even if he is right, the hole they dug for themselves early on could prove to be too much. The 2013 Washington Nationals might be an instructive case: they were the best team in baseball down the stretch but simply ran out of games to make the playoffs.
Will that be a problem for the Rays? Or is there enough season left for them to make a run at a weak division? Here’s betting that teams like the Blue Jays and Orioles are kicking themselves for even letting the Rays think they have a chance with the talent on their roster.