The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Minnesota Twins 7-2 today to clinch their first ever American League playoff berth. Perhaps fittingly the final out was recorded by Evan Longoria, the third baseman who is regarded as the future of the franchise.
Until this season, the Rays had ten consecutive losing seasons most of them in last place. They finished both 2006 and 2007 with the worst record in MLB. Yes, I picked them to win the World Series in 2006. That was the season Joe Maddon became the Rays skipper. Despite their poor showings in '06 and '07 baseball people knew this was a team on the rise. But nobody (and I mean nobody outside of the Rays) thought they would ascend this quickly.
Maddon has done a remarkable job with a young starting rotation, a veteran bullpen and a cast of journeymen players. The Rays have sustained themselves despite injuries to Longoria, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Troy Percival. Many thought they would collapse with those injuries and with so many of their games on the road during the second half. They did hit a rough patch the beginning of this month losing 7 of 8 games but they got back on track never letting setbacks get them down.
Currently, they lead the Boston Red Sox in the AL East by two and a half games. Assuming things remain as they are the Rays will win the AL East and face the winner of the AL Central title which will either be the Twins or the Chicago White Sox. The Chisox currently have a three game lead on the Twins. However, the Chisox face the Twins head to head in Minnesota next week.
Even if the Rays don't get past the ALDS, the 2008 edition of this team have accomplished a great deal. The Rays have also demonstrated the game must be played on the field despite what people might predict during spring training.