By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Admittedly, I’m conflicted. I suspect you are, too, because as inspiring a story as the Tampa Bay Rays have become, I still do not want the Red Sox to become them.
In case you missed it – and you probably did – the Rays opened the American League Championship Series with a 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros last night in the MLB bubble. Tampa is everything that makes a team easy to root for – underpaid and overachieving – making the Rays the antithesis of a Red Sox club that has badly failed to meet expectations since the start of 2019.
Do I hate the Rays? No. Quite the contrary. But as they become a model for success, I fear that the Red Sox and their fans will use them as a template – and I wonder how truly repeatable the Tampa phenomenon is.
Now, that said, I’m rooting against the Los Angeles Dodgers, too, mostly because I find them to possess the kind of organizational arrogance that turns my stomach, particularly for an organization that has won one world championship (1988) in a non-shortened season since 1965. And that will remain true even if the Dodgers win this year.
But I digress.
Back to the Rays.
What Tampa is doing is hardly new. It’s just newer. Back at the start of this millennium, the Oakland A’s operated similarly and became the flavor of the month – and we called it Moneyball. The A’s are really the template. And yet, as good as the A’s have been in the 2000s – and they are sixth in MLB in both wins and winning percentage during that time – they have won one playoff series during that time. One. They have not won a single game beyond the Division Series. Overall, Oakland is 1-11 in playoff series during the Moneyball era, their lone series victory coming in a three-game sweep over the Minnesota Twins in 2006.
That last detail is extraordinarily important – and here’s why: the Twins, like the A’s, have been the darlings of baseball for much of that time, albeit without the Moneyball hype. But the philosophy has roughly been the same. And at this moment, Minnesota has lost a record 18 straight postseason games, a streak that includes the postseason loss to Oakland in 2006 and began in 2004. In the 2000s, the Twins are 1-9 in playoff series, their only victory coming against – you guessed it – Oakland.
Get the picture? Teams like the A’s and Twins are terrific feel-good stories … but they ultimately lose – even to each other. Combined, the A’s and Twins are 2-20 in postseason series in the 2000s. Oakland’s win came over Minnesota. Minnesota’s win came over Oakland. That’s it.
Now we have the Rays, from whom the Red Sox plucked chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom last offseason. After beating the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round of this year’s expanded playoffs, the Rays just beat the big-market Yankees in the Division Series. Now they’re up 1-0 in the ALCS against the super-talented Houston Astros. And incredibly, people like me would rather the Rays lose to the cheating, dirty-rotten-scoundrel Astros than advance to (and win) the World Series because that’s just not how baseball is supposed to work.
Look, I get it. The Red Sox wouldn’t go into full Tampa mode because they have something the Rays don’t: money. And they always will. The Red Sox wouldn’t be forced to trade David Price, Evan Longoria or any other star player over money, which is good. (Mookie Betts wasn’t really over money.) But I also don’t want them taking themselves out of the running for those players, either, which means making the strategic, big-money free-agent signing when necessary.
So, do I want the Rays to be successful? Sure. Yes. Why not? But I don’t want them to be too good, either, because I think their model is ultimately flawed, just as it has been for Oakland and Minnesota.
And if the Rays do win it all this year, should we really be using 2020 as a model for anything?