In 2007, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were in their second season under skipper Joe Maddon. They actually finished with a better record in ‘07 than they did in ‘06 but only marginally, going from 61 victories to 66. They had a slugging first baseman in Carlos Pena who ripped 46 homers and drove in 121 runs while batting .282. They also had an up-and-coming outfielder in B.J Upton who hit 300 while ripping 24 homers and driving in 82 runs.
The Devil Rays had two pitchers who managed to get into double digits in victories in James Shields who went 12-8 with a 3.85 ERA and left Scott Kazmir who racked up a 13-9 mark with a 3.48 earned run average. They also had a closer in Alberto Reyes who saved 26 games.
Otherwise, it was pretty grim. They scored 782 runs but surrendered 944. The team ERA was a horrendous 5.53. Their attendance of 1,387,603 was the worst in the American League. Back-to-back years like ‘06 and ‘07 could have been enough to cost some managers their jobs, but the Rays had a plan and they also had some blue chip prospects on the way.
In 2006, they drafted a highly regarded third baseman in Evan Longoria third overall,. In 2007 they grabbed hard throwing lefty David Price number one. Those were their best two picks since B.J Upton in 2002.
In 2008 Tampa Bay got rid of the Devil and became simply known as the Tampa Bay Rays. The turnaround season was remarkable. They went from 66 victories to 97. They shaved their team ERA from 5.53 to 3.82. The Rays actually scored eight fewer runs in ‘08 than they did in ‘07, but they cut their runs against by 273 to 671.
All five of their starters, James Shields, Edwin Jackson, Andy Sonnanstine, Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir -- all betweenn 24 and 26 years of age -- won in double digits with Shields and Jackson leading the way with 14 apiece. Four of the five pitched at least 183 innings. Shields had a staff high 215 and four of the five starters made at least 30 starts. They also added veteran closer Troy Percival who saved 28 games. He also had a great support staff in J.P Howell. Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour who chipped in with 17 victories. Though Pena's numbers dropped off a bit to a ,247 average with 31 homers and 102 runs batted in, Longoria emerged as a force with 27 homers and 85 RBI's while batting .272. Former Blue Jays rookie of the year Eric Hinskie chipped in with 20 homers and 60 runs batted in off the bench.
The key though was pitching depth. That 2008 staff had eight pitchers who established themselves as manager league starters including Shields, Garza, Jason Hammel, Jackson, Kazmir, Sonnanstine, Jeff Niemann and Price who pitched in relief late that season.
The 2008 Rays went all the way to the World Series where they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in five. Over the last six seasons they have racked up a record of (550-423) and been to the post-season four times.
The only thing that hasn't improved greatly is their attendance. The incredible season of 2008 boosted the turnstyle count by nearly half a million from the year before to 1,811,986. But by last season the numbers had diminished again to 1,510,300 -- the worst in the American League.
The Rays has still never come close to matching the attendance figures of their inaugural season of 1998, when they drew 2,506,293. It's sad really, but at least it is living proof that a well managed, small market club can compete and in fact thrive in the American League East.
The Blue Jays have the star power in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, some possible blue chippers in Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus, a decent bullpen and a couple of solid veteran pitchers in R,A Dickey and Mark Buehrle. They just haven't been able to stay healthy enough or keep grinding out pitching prospects the way the Rays have.
It's still too early to predict how the A.L East is going to unfold in 2014, but in some circles, the Rays are already being called to win the division with the Blue Jays to finish last behind Baltimore.
The Blue Jays are still waiting for some kind of solid return on the Roy Halladay trade.
Back on December 16th of 2009, they shipped "Doc" to the Phillies for Kyle Drabek, Travis D'Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor. They wound up flipping Taylor to Oakland for Brett Wallace and then sent Wallace to Houston for Anthony Gose.
The Astros designated Wallace for assignment this week when they signed veteran right hander Jerome Williams. Wallace never really developed as a hitter and didn't play well enough defensively at first or third.
The Jays are still waiting for Drabek and Gose to arrive as major leaguers and D'Arnaud was used as part of the package to get R.A Dickey from the Mets.
I bring all this up because Halladay's illustrious career is now over.
The Phillies are going to honour him on their alumni weekend this summer during a series against the Mets. On Aug. 8 the Phil's will hold a special ceremony for Roy and will give the fans a special Halladay bobblehead. That same weekend on Aug. 9, the Phillies will induct Charlie Manuel to their wall of fame.