For the purposes of this article I am just looking at the Tampa Bay Devil Rays short history in MLB and how every year, there is promise at the plate, but there is no pitching that save them.
In the Devil Rays 10 seasons they have never been better than a .500 team. To be completely specific this team has never been better than a .435 club. With only around 40 games remaining it looks as though the Devil rays will have to struggle just to make .400.
This team has been able to do a lot of high drafting in their 10 year history and has had a few bright spots in their lineup. Just take a look at what they were fielding back in their inaugural year.
John Flaherty behind the plate who is now deemed useless he is catching for Tim Wakefield in Boston. Fred McGriff at the age of 34 was their homerun champ at 1st base. The pair up the middle was Miguel Cairo at second and Kevin Stocker at short. The Hot corner was manned by Bobby Smith. From left to right, the outfield looked like this, Quinton McCracken, Randy Winn and Dave Martinez. Then there was also a man by the name of Wade Boggs who got his 3000th hit in a Ray’s uniform. As for their rotation and bullpen, there is just no reason to mention any of them. Not because they were not caliber pitchers, but because… well that is the reason, there was no pitching staff to go along with their C- hitting. The 1998 squad finished with a 63-99 record which is respectable considering it was their inaugural year.
Moving to the 1999 squad the D-Rays improved to a 69-93 record and showed some promise with their closer Roberto Hernandez who reached a career best 43 saves in the 1999 season, but was conceivably on the way down since he was 34 that year.
The 2000 Rays squad was poised to improve on their 69 wins but was only able to match their 69 wins that season but only had 92 losses to give them a better winning percentage of .429 over 1999’s .426. But there is still no stand outs just a mix between unknown youth, and over the hill veteran talent. It is almost like the Toronto Maple Leafs… But there time is coming.
The 2001 Squad took a turn for the worse and went to 62-100 making the first time the franchise has had 100 losses, a feat that will be match 2 more times in the next 5 seasons.
In 2002 the Devil Rays had a much better looking lineup and their pitching depth… was still missing. The Rays went 55-106 that season but saw the emergence of a few talents. The Rays now had a young catcher that would be ready for the everyday job in Toby Hall. They had an outfielder who they could build the outfield around in 20 year old Carl Crawford. There was also Aubrey Huff who broke out and emerged as an offensive threat with a team high 23HR and a .313BA. The Devil Rays were definitely getting better offensively but pitching was still a major concern.
2003 was the start of the new Devil Rays with Lou Pinella at the helm and this was definitely going to be a season to watch. The outfield was helped out with the arrival of LF Rocco Baldelli who didn’t post power numbers but was second on the team with 184 hits trailing RF Aubrey Huff who had 198 hits. For the second straight year their lineup looked good and was only getting better with an average age of 26.5 for their starters.
2004 was the Devil Rays best year in franchise history. They finished with 70 wins and the basement of the AL east finishing ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays for fourth place. The year was an improvement all around even in the pitching. Not a big improvement but there was a 20 year old fire-baller by the name of Scott Kazmir that made his debut. And although heout of hasn’t won 20 games yet, He is only 23 and a 10 perennial 10 game winner also helps out the D-Rays. Also debuting in 2004 was a 23yr old outfielder by the name of Joey Gathright, and 23yr old Jonny Gomes who would be thrusted into a more serious roll in 2005.
The 05 season is probably the best squad to march on to the field in history. They had a legitimate power duo in Aubrey Huff and Jonny Gomes. They had a solid everyday catcher in Toby Hall. Infielders Travis Lee and Alex Gonzalez added veteran presence in the clubhouse, and a slightly better than average outfield featuring young talent that can throw and run down any ball hit past the infield. Their pitching was even a vast improvement. Scott Kazmir led the staff, veteran Mark Hendrickson gave leadership and guidance. Even Casey Fossum, Doug Waetcher and Hideo Nomo was an improvement over any other starting rotation. They also had a closer in Danny Baez who posted 41Sv that season. The Rays finished with a record of 67-95 which is a considered a disappointment and a step backwards from their 70 wins in 04.
This ended the tenure of Lou Pinella who stepped down due to medical conditions. In 8 seasons the Rays did not crack the .500 mark and had almost 3 seasons of 100 losses from 2001-2003 (62-100, 55-106, 63-99).
The Start of the Joe Maddon Regime is about to begin in 2006 and it should be the start of something good with all their players on the rise and a respectable rotation and the buildings of a bullpen.
Check back for the 06 and 07 season recaps as well on thoughts of why the Florida Marlins were able to win 2 world series in their first two years and to why the D-Rays can not make the .450 mark.