(Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrarted) “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”
The titans of every MLB season change frequently. Gone are the days of legacies and dynasties like the Yankees. Which is why when a new team rises to the task, it gets fans and sportscasters alike buzzing with excitement. In the spotlight this year was the Rays.
The Rays exited the pre-season with a fair amount of hype, but what they were about to pull off would come to the surprise of most. Exploding into the season with a 13-0 lead, they were breaking records that teams haven’t since the turn of the 19th century. The Athletic writer Brittany Ghiroli lays it out: “Tampa Bay joins the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers and the 1982 Atlanta Braves as the only teams in the modern era (since 1901) to begin a season on a 13-game win streak.” This was no fluke either, their stats were phenomenal. ESPN senior writer David Schoenfield details: “The national spotlight fell on them after they began the season with 13 consecutive wins and finished April at 23-6 with an incredible plus-103 run differential.”
It wasn’t just the bigwig news sites that were lauding the Rays and their, thus far, incredibly successful season. Bally Sports and its subsidiaries released their streaming numbers for Rays fans, and the difference compared to last season was more than noticeable., aAs Ghiroli explains,: “The Rays’ streaming audience, available through the Bally Sports app and Bally Sports+, is up over 125 percent compared to the average last season. Rays local viewership, on Bally Sports Sun, is up 26 percent compared to the team’s first 12 games last year. Monday and Wednesday’s wins against the Red Sox on Bally Sports Sun were more widely watched than any Rays game all of last season on the network. The audience Wednesday night peaked at a 6.64 rating with more than 205,000 viewers tuned in within the Tampa-St. Pete market at the end of the game, according to Nielsen Media Research data. Wednesday’s game was the most watched on Bally in at least three years, which is as far back as the data goes.”
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and it appears, as of right now, the Rays will not go out with a bang. While breakout players like Yandy Diaz are still appropriately praised for their prowess, the same cannot be said for the team as a whole. First, they have a subpar record compared to their previous achievements in the season, as professional estimates were originally placed around 115 wins per ESPN, now down to about 98 according to Team Rankings. The Tampa Bay Times have recorded the worst of their cold streaks, as evidenced by a weak .210 team batting average and .610 OPS during a streak in June. This same streak saw them go 5-15.
While that may spell unwelcome news for a cold streak, all teams have those. So how can this be characterized as a downfall? Well, the Rays are facing much more permanent problems: their roster. Some of their best players, especially their starting pitchers, have taken a beating. Shane Mclanahan has been on 60-day IL and is regarded as one of the better pitchers on the Rays roster with a 3.29 ERA and 11-2 win-loss record before having to undergo surgery. We’ve seen other injuries, but no physical injury could have prepared the Rays for the loss of Wander Franco.
Wander Franco, once considered a highlight on an already stacked Rays position roster, has since been ousted from playing, although not officially dropped. This is due to serious allegations of intimate relations with a 14-year-old back in his home of the Dominican Republic. The country is still investigating, and no verdict is clear, but that just means Franco will be on the bench all the longer.
While there have been more teams that have followed along the same trend, it would be hard to find a team that soared so high, to breaking records in wins, to bottoming out and gaining records in losses as they fall flat closer to the finish line. Many fans and sportscasters were excited to possibly see the Ray’s first World Series title, and if they can break records before it’s possible they could do it again. Time will tell if those records will be a positive or negative for the team, though.