Rays a good story but no playoff contender

Published 6:41 pm Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Can we all agree that the greatest story this year in all of sports is the success of the Tampa Bay Rays?

Matter of fact, since we’re much closer to 2010 than we are to 2000, let’s file this away as one of the best sports stories of the first decade of this millennium.

I’ll be in my late 40s or early 50s, and hopefully I’ll be sitting on a couch with my kids watching a movie about the Rays and telling them I remember when that team was complete and total garbage.

Of course, that’s largely assuming this group has any success beyond the first round of the playoffs. A large assumption considering they haven’t previously been to the playoffs in their 10-year existence. Heaven forbid the Rays should (gasp!) make it to or even win (double gasp!) the World Series.

If Walt Disney were a divine being or if a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream had an entire day’s serving of vital nutrients, the possibility of Tampa Bay wining a championship wouldn’t be such a shock.

But Walt’s been long dead, ice cream rots your teeth and the Rays are good – but not that good.

Yeah, I know I’ve been singing their praises, but reality is reality. They’ve never seen baseball beyond September and won’t see much of it in this dance.

Don’t believe me? Look at the numbers.

You’ve heard it just as much as I have – pitching wins championships. And it’s true. Talent beats experience for the first month of the season. But after six months, only experience teaches you how to ignore the damage a long year does to your body. There are 16 pitchers on Tampa Bay’s staff now because rosters have expanded for September, and they average 2 1/3 innings of playoff experience. Troy Percival closed out a World Series title for the Angels in 2002, but he may not make the Rays’ postseason roster because of a bad back.

The Rays have hitters, of that you can be sure. And they have the most team speed of anyone in the game. But with teams shrinking their starting rotations from five to four for the postseason run, Tampa will get opponents’ best shot every night. Two position players on its current active roster have gone the playoffs: Jason Bartlett (three games) and Cliff Floyd (12 games and a .211 average; four World Series at-bats for the Marlins). Beyond that, zilch.

It’s wishful thinking to believe that this is the Rays’ year. But sometimes, real life is better than a Disney movie.