So you’ve decided to bandwagon the Tampa Bay Rays
By Ashley MacLennan
The Tampa Bay Rays are headed to the Wild Card game. For any fans looking to climb onto the Rays bandwagon, we offer a quick overview of who to watch for and why they’re such an exciting team.
The postseason is upon us, and with the Wild Card games looming, baseball fans are looking for a team to root for. For twenty MLB teams, the season ended on Sunday (and for some it ended much earlier). Anyone who wants to keep watching the postseason needs a team to get excited about, which means they’re looking for options.
In a postseason filled with big-budget behemoths like the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, may I humbly suggest you consider hitching your bandwagon to the Tampa Bay Rays?
The Rays are an ideal candidate for any fan who wants to cheer for an underdog, and if you’re looking for a reason to like them, I’ll give you five. For existing Rays fans, feel free to use this as fodder to lure in the non-believers.
The Rays are innovative
In 2018, the team was hamstrung by a series of starting pitcher injuries, many of which sidelined their starters for the bulk of the season — including hot prospect Brent Honeywell. Rather than going out and spending on the free agent market for a stopgap starter, the Rays developed a whole new approach to pitching: the Opener.
By using a traditional relief pitcher to open the game, they were able to create an imbalance against their opponents. Batters couldn’t get a feel for the starter, because he was gone after two innings. While much derided at the time, other teams have since adopted the strategy as well. For the Rays, it also allowed them an opportunity to help turn traditional relievers like Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough into starting pitchers.
It’s a young, exciting team
Sure, it’s fun to see long-time veterans win a World Series ring. A part of me is even willing to admit that Clayton Kershaw finally overcoming his postseason woes to win a World Series would make for a tremendous story arc. But also, there’s something really beautiful about a team of young rookies and those barely out of the farm system going all the way.
Two-way player Brendan McKay is only 23. Breakout hitter Austin Meadows in 24. The oldest player on the team is Charlie Morton, and sure, he’s already won a World Series with the Astros, but wouldn’t it be nice to see him lead a team of relatively young guys to their first ever World Series? I think so.
There are some incredible personalities
So you’re looking for a hero to cheer for? Someone fun and interesting who keeps you riveted to the screen, the kind of guy who you wouldn’t mind buying a jersey of one day?
Can I introduce you to Tommy Pham, perhaps? Outspoken and never quick to smile, but always candid and a true team player. This guy wants everyone around him to succeed. And his stats are nothing to shake a stick at either, with a .273/.369/.450 line and a 122 wRC+. Add to that the fact he spent much of the season playing with a broken hand simply because he refused to be benched in a playoff run. Pham is the kind of old-school player it’s easy to rally behind.
If you want someone a little more joyful, consider Ji-Man Choi, who is quick with a smile, a dance on the basepaths, or a tremendous walkoff roar, Choi is the type of player you can’t help but grin whenever you see him get on base. And he has numbers to back it all up, as well, with a .269/.363/.459 line, 19 home runs, and a 122 wRC+.
Plus both of them were on other contending teams last year: Pham with the Cardinals and Choi with the Brewers. Might be fun to see them claim victory against the teams that parted ways with them.
They keep things interesting
In the 2019 regular season the Rays had a whopping 10 walk-off wins. The only team with more was another playoff contender: the Dodgers. The Rays also had an incredible 39 games come down to a one-run difference (they won 23 of those). They also had the EXACT SAME home and road splits this season, at 48-33 apiece. This is a team that is always going to keep you on your toes. Those walk-off wins often came in extra innings, too (19 extra innings games, 11 of which they won). Who doesn’t want free postseason baseball?
The Rays are never, ever boring, that’s for sure. And as for their wild card game? Well the A’s might have the advantage there, but not by much, their season series was split 3-4. It really could be anyone’s game, and that is genuinely exciting.
Okay, so the Rays haven’t gone 108 years without a ring, but they have also never won a World Series. They appeared in the 2008 Series but were bested by the Phillies. The other nine teams in the mix? The Cardinals have won 11 times, most recently in 2011, the Yankees have won 27 times, most recently in 2009. The Dodgers drought goes back to 1988, but the have six wins as a team. The A’s have nine, The Braves have three, the Twins have three, and the Astros have one. The only teams in competition this postseason with no wins are the Nationals, the Brewers, and the Rays. Let’s let someone new take a victory lap.
So there we go, five very good reasons to make this plucky team from Tampa Bay your pick for the postseason.
The bandwagon is ready for you, jump on.