They’re not going to win the World Series and the Tampa Bay Rays might not even get past the division series, but you just have to have respect for how they operate. They have a cadre of young talent and one of the game’s best managers. And they thrive in an often empty, barren home park.
In the last six years, the Rays have won 550 regular-season games – second in all of baseball to the Yankees’ 564. In that span, the Rays, Cardinals, Yankees and Phillies are the only teams to go to the postseason four times and only the Yankees (38) and Rangers (34) have played more postseason games than Tampa Bay’s 28 through Saturday.
And they do it on a $57 million payroll. While it’s true three of the top five payrolls (Dodgers, Red Sox, Tigers) are in the postseason, my theory that drafting and development are equally important as a big wallet is borne out by the fact four of the bottom nine (Indians, A’s, Pirates, Rays) also qualified.
Manager Joe Maddon raised plenty of eyebrows while in Cleveland for the wild card game and did so again Friday in Fenway Park when he said one reason the low-budget Rays can compete is because baseball has cleaned up PEDs. Let’s just say plenty of people think he was referring to the Yankees, among others.
“I’ve been preaching this since 2006 since I first began here, I was never concerned about money being spent. I was concerned about us being able to play the better team on a nightly basis,” Maddon said. “How do you do that? Philosophically thinking, it’s how you get your guys to play, the methods employed. But if this other group is still able to spend money for the guy that hits 60 home runs, there’s not a lot you can do about that.
“That’s why I thought the drug-testing policy was important for the Rays and the A’s and all these other groups to be successful. And it’s kind of bearing its way out right now.”
A reporter at Fenway correctly followed up with Maddon, asking, “Does that mean that prior to the strict testing that the big payroll teams are heavily laden with PED guys?”
Maddon’s answer: “All I’m saying is they could afford big numbers, so you can draw your own conclusions from that.”
Had the Rays won Friday’s division series opener in Fenway, they would have become the first team in history to win four straight games in four different road parks (Toronto, Texas, Cleveland, Boston).
“I know people make a lot of this money deal and I understand it, but for me it doesn’t matter,” Maddon said in Cleveland. “In order to survive with less money you have to pitch really well. There’s no other way to get around it. You just can’t bludgeon other teams to death. We pitch well, we play defense well.
“I really don’t care what everybody else spends. We’re able to do this with pitchers ... our defense and a great front office and ownership.”
Everyone knows about their starting pitching and the way they keep reinventing their bullpen every year. Even though his epic gaffe in right field Friday turned around Game One of the division series, the acquisition of Wil Myers is a move the Rays will look back on for years. (We’ll forgive them for passing on Buster Posey with the top pick in 2008 and taking shortstop Tim Beckham, who can’t get past Durham).
The Rays made just 59 errors all season, second in the majors to Baltimore’s 54 — and both teams broke the previous all-time record of 65 set by the 2003 Mariners. The Rays’ infield made just 36 errors, second-lowest all time to the 33 of the 1999 Mets that lost in Atlanta in Game Six of the NLCS. They’re built for the long haul and they’re far ahead of the Yankees at this point.
Sox fire Manto
Somebody had to take the fall for the brutal season the White Sox just endured and it wasn’t manager Robin Ventura. It was hitting coach and former Bisons star Jeff Manto, the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Famer. He was fired after two years on the job.
“It was a fantastic run that fell short personally,” Manto told MLB.com. “I learned a ton. … I got better as a hitting coach surrounded by so many good people. I’m very, very sorry it had to end, to be honest.”
“You’re not going to find a harder working guy,” slugger Adam Dunn said of Manto. “You obviously can’t fire all of us for what we did. I mean, the bad part about it is that we as a unit cost a man a job. That’s hard to take.”
Manto joined the White Sox in Nov., 2007 as a minor-league instructor after two years as the hitting coach in Pittsburgh.
Last year, Chicago finished fourth in the AL in runs scored, third in home runs, fifth in OPS and fifth in slugging but the offense faded in September and the Sox missed the playoffs. The struggles continued this season as the White Sox finished last in the AL in runs, and 13th in on-base percentage and OPS.
“Statistically, we had gone down considerably in a few categories, and that speaks volumes obviously,” Manto said. “So I could see it coming. I knew the numbers were definitely not there.”
The White Sox struggled with injuries all year and Dunn was once again all or nothing (.219, 189 strikeouts, 34 home runs).
“Being part of the close clubhouse Robin is running was really satisfying,” Manto said. “It was a good situation, so it does hurt. It was more than a professional relationship, and it was not easy leaving that clubhouse.”
The Sabres’ season opener in Detroit drew a 9.8 television rating in Buffalo while the AL wild card game in Cleveland drew a 5.1 here. The hockey game ended while the baseball game was in about the fifth inning.
I got tons of emails and tweets about the Indians in the playoffs and the ratings show the Bisons’ effect remains strong here. Top 10 national markets on TBS for the game were Cleveland, Tampa, Boston, Columbus, Fort Myers, Dayton, Hartford, Providence, Orlando and … Buffalo. Wow.
• Matt Harvey is making the right decision. Go for the Tommy John surgery right now. The Mets won’t have him in 2014 but he should be good to go by ‘15. Look at Stephen Strasburg. He’s been pretty much fine since he came back. That said, there’s no excuse for the Mets to keep losing next year. It’s incumbent on GM Sandy Alderson to go get another bat and another arm. They’re a New York team and ownership shouldn’t act like they’re in Tampa.
• The Blue Jays outrighted embattled starter Ricky Romero to the Bisons last week, giving them flexibility on their 40-man roster for the winter. Quite a fall for a former all-star. Romero will be available in the Rule 5 draft although it’s unlikely anyone would take him and his bloated salary. Can the Jays really stash him in Triple-A again next season? Bears watching.
• Speaking of the Jays, they have a decision to make regarding Josh Johnson after he had bone spurs removed from his elbow last week. The pending free agent went 2-8, 6.20 and the Jays could offer him a one-year qualifier of $14 million to ensure draft-pick compensation if he signs elsewhere. Agent Matt Sosnick told the Toronto Star Johnson will seek a one-year deal, perhaps with Toronto, to boost his value for the winter of 2014. Might keep him and hope he bounces back.
• RIP to former Bisons outfielder/eccentric Rodney “The Legend” Craig, who was murdered in August in Los Angeles as an LA Times obituary revealed last week. Craig was a favorite of long-time broadcaster Pete Weber, who loves telling the story on one of Craig’s pratfalls on the bases during a 1986 game in Omaha. And Craig, of course, is best remembered for donning the Buster Bison suit during a game that year in War Memorial Stadium after he was ejected.