Let us harken back just over a decade. There was a team who, despite the limitations of an extremely low payroll, managed to find themselves in the playoffs virtually every year. A team whose front office took an unconventional approach that would eventually be emulated by teams around the league. Fronted by a strong, and young, starting rotation, this team defied expectations and became a perennial playoff contender.
Does that approach sound familiar? In fact, it sounds a lot like the Tampa Bay Rays, doesn’t it? However, the team described above was the Oakland A’s, a team that began bringing sabermetrics to the mainstream. Fronted by a rotation of Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito, the A’s rolled along for the first part of the 2000’s, making the playoffs five times from 2000 through 2006.
Like the A’s, the Rays built their team based upon young, controllable starters. Building a rotation centered around David Price and James Shields, the Rays have gone from a doormat to a perennial playoff team, much like the A’s before them. Finding players to build an offense centered around franchise player Evan Longoria, the Rays have become a threat in the American League East, making the playoffs four times in the last six years.
The Rays have also had to deal with the same issues with keeping the core of their team intact. The A’s had to trade Mulder and Hudson following the 2004 season due to salary concerns, while Zito left following 2006. Tampa Bay has already had to trade Shields, and rumors continue to swirl around a possible trade for Price this offseason. Again, like the A’s, Tampa Bay has a collection of young power arms waiting in the wings to take over, with Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer already having had success at the major league level.
Yet, the Rays and the A’s have another similarity. Since making the World Series during their seemingly improbable 2008 season, the Rays have yet to win any of the three playoff series that they have appeared in. Oakland, for all of their success in the regular season, won one playoff series out of the six they appeared in.
Pitching and defense are supposed to go a long way towards winning in baseball, and that has proven to be true for the Rays and the A’s during the regular season. However, that approach has yet to prove to be a winning combination for either team in the postseason. Theoretically, great pitching should be able to beat great hitting, but neither team has seen that strategy come to fruition, aside from the 2008 run. Yet, there is the need for teams to score runs in the postseason, and while the Rays have Longoria and the A’s had players such as Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez, run production has been an issue.
The Tampa Bay Rays may be the same type of squad that the Oakland A’s were at the beginning part of the century. While that has led to opportunities to make the postseason, success has not followed. However, given enough chances, one would think that another run may be able to occur. Both teams are certainly hoping that is going to be the case.