From worst to first, Rays looking to top off magical season

By Patrick Murphy

200-1. Those were the odds of the Tampa Bay Rays winning the World Series at the beginning of the season. In 2007, the Rays went 66-96, the worst record in all of Major League Baseball. Fast-forward to 2008, and the Rays go on to win 97 games and finish with the third best record in MLB.When the Tampa Bay Rays, then the Devil Rays, came into the league in 1998, they lost 99 games. From their inaugural season through the 2007 season, the Rays never experienced a winning season. A perennial stomping mat of the powerhouse AL East, (New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays) the Rays finished dead last in their division nine of their first ten seasons. However, things started to turn around for the newly named Rays this spring.

Coming into this season, only the most optimistic of baseball analysts gave the Rays a shot to win half of their games. However, as the season progressed, the young talent of the Rays began to shine. Offensively, the Rays are led by 1B Carlos Peña, 3B Evan Longoria, LF Carl Crawford, CF B.J. Upton, and C Dioner Navarro. The Rays young starting pitching rotation is led by ace Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza. The Rays started the season hot, winning 14 of their first 20, and never let up.

However, throughout the year, baseball analysts were continually waiting for the Rays to choke. They never did. After making the playoffs for the first time in team history, the Rays rolled over the White Sox, then they held off the defending champion Red Sox in the ALCS.

Coming into the World Series, the Rays have lost some of the momentum that they had during the ALDS. It took the Rays seven games to finish off the Red Sox, while the National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies had the luxury of six days rest after demolishing the Los Angeles Mannys, er, Dodgers. The Rays are working on only 2 days rest, but have home field advantage in the World Series.

This series is an interesting matchup between two teams that have overcome the odds to get to the World Series. The Rays have the advantage in starting pitching. While the Phillies have the best starter in the World Series in Cole Hamels, the Rays boast three quality pitchers. Offensively, the Rays have been the better team in the playoffs, but the more experienced Phillies lineup, led by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins will fare as well, if not better than the Rays’ young sluggers.

The most lop-sided comparison between these two teams is their bullpens. The Rays have been using a combination of relief pitchers to close out the game, which failed them miserably in game five against the Red Sox, when they blew a 7-0 lead going into the seventh inning. The Phillies by contrast, have the second best closer in baseball, Brad Lidge, who converted 41 of 41 saves this year. Lidge, along with flame throwing setup man Ryan Madson are a formidable 1-2 punch to close out games for the Fightin’ Phills.

However, their dominant bullpen won’t do the Phillies any good if they aren’t given a lead. The Phillies, who will start 46-year-old Jamie Moyer (13.50 post season ERA) and the very average Joe Blanton, will need near-perfect starts from Cole Hamels and Brett Myers in order to win the series.

Prediction: the magic of the Rays season is going to continue, as they will win the series in dramatic fashion in game seven.