Will the Devil Rays finish .500 in 2002?
Hal McRae says the Devil Rays are going to finish .500, and I believe him.
Call me gullible, but I see promise in the 2002 version of the Tampa Bay baseball franchise. The team fell just three games short of that feat in the second half of the 2001 season after McRae succeeded Larry Rothschild. Using that kind of momentum, this team has the power to make McRae’s edict fact. Gone are the old faces collecting the million-dollar paychecks, and in their place are a hungry bunch of newcomers looking to establish a reputation all their own.
Second baseman Brent Abernathy is appearing on advertisements for Rays’ ticket sales, proclaiming heart and hustle. And anyone who saw Abernathy and catcher Toby Hall make their debuts a year ago know that the duo embodies those words.
Spice in some veterans with something to prove and the Rays not only got younger, but they have a much better outlook for this year. Paul Wilson wants to prove he’s the pitcher who finished last season, not the guy who was shellacked before the All-Star break. Wilson Alvarez wants to make Rays’ fans forget about the last two years when he collected millions for pitching almost as frequently as I did.
The talent is there. The attitude for success is in place. What the Devil Rays do with it from here is anyone’s guess, but I think that this year will bring the results McRae craves.
Eighty-one wins. God, last season the Devil Rays were happy to get 61 wins.
But the truth is, the Rays have about as much chance of finishing .500 as they do of ever selling out Tropicana Field more than once.
Sure, we’ve all heard the talk. The Rays are loaded with fresh-faced talent who are ready to explode on the scene. That’s an about-face from two years ago when they told us a team chock full of veterans would make its way out of the basement with wily leadership. They’re starting to sound desperate.
Of 12 pitchers on the roster, six have less than a year’s major league experience. Two of those six have never thrown a major league pitch.
But the main problem for the Devil Rays is that the team has become a scrap heap for major league players. Tampa is a place where they come to waste some time until they can get a better deal with a winning team.
Of prime example was former Ray Vinny Castilla. After obviously sandbagging in Tampa last season, he made his way to Houston where he caught fire.
The bottom line is Tampa Bay is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with baseball. Unlike the NFL, there is no profit sharing. So the teams like New York and Atlanta keep getting richer and keep winning all the championships. And teams like Tampa just stay in the cellar.
.500 is already out of reach.