- No, they weren't:
You can go into the stat zombie tenets of run differential and that the playoffs are a crapshoot if you want to----and any penultimate game is a crapshoot to some degree----but the final analysis after full examination of their roster is that the Rays simply aren't that good. To be more precise, they're flawed; too flawed to be a title contender when they run into teams that have the personnel to beat them and execute to highlight the glaring deficiencies in the Rays' game.
They're streaky at the plate; they had massive black spots in their lineup; their starting pitching turned out to be short; and their bullpen----especially their closer----was unreliable under the spotlight when it counted most.
I'm not going to get into my familiar rant against manager Joe Maddon; this series loss was not the fault of the manager and it's absurd to blame him for starting James Shields in game 2 since Shields didn't pitch badly. You can question his decision to use Rocco Baldelli as the DH in game 1, but it looked like a hunch that didn't work. Baldelli was 3 for 9 in his career vs Cliff Lee, so why not? That was a case of "it looks good if it works" like Jim Leyland starting Alexis Gomez in game 2 of the 2006 ALCS against the Athletics and seeing Gomez hit a homer----it was an instinctive roll of the dice.
I have had my fill of the stories of Maddon's quirkiness. I've discussed and am not a fan of the "theme-oriented" road trips in which the Rays wore hockey jerseys and urban cowboy outfits.*
My feeling is that it's easier to tell the players, "You're wearing a suit and tie and that's it." But none of this is why the Rays lost.
The Rays lost because they have players who are able to produce the desired results over the long season with their hitting and running, stealing and versatility; but when they face an opponent who has the pitching to shut them down, they're helpless. With a Cliff Lee, he's not going to walk anyone; he's not going to get rattled with runners on base; and he's not going to give up many homers.
After that, what's left for the Rays? They have to hope to outpitch the other guy and this is very hard to do against Cliff Lee.
It's fine to have a lineup that gets on base and functions on an amazing amount of clutch hits, but when the Rays were shut down, they were shut down. With Evan Longoria slowed by his thigh injury; Carl Crawford batting .143; the feast-or-famine B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena; and Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez, Willy Aybar and Jason Bartlett in the lineup, precisely who was there for the Rangers to overtly fear?
The strategy the Rangers employed was simple yet deadly----keep the Rays off the bases; neutralize Longoria and Crawford; be aggressive on the bases themselves; and entrust the series to Cliff Lee.
And it worked.
There were no noticeable managerial gaffes by either Ron Washington or Maddon and, of course as predicted, Rafael Soriano's penchant for allowing big homers ended up sealing the deal for the Rays as a 3-1 deficit became 5-1 when Ian Kinsler homered in the top of the ninth inning of game 5.
This was the Rays' personnel. They made it to the playoffs in the same way they ended up getting bounced.
No one should be surprised.
- Viewer Mail 10.13.2010:
While Bobby Cox may not have been the best manager of all time (should have won more championships with those pitching staffs he had), I think the fact that he endured for such a long time deserves some kind of an achievement award!
I'd say it's a choice a manager makes. He can be super-intense and push, push, push to try and win a lot in a short period of time and experience burnout as a Billy Martin repeatedly did; or he can go slow-and-steady and steer the ship like Cox and Joe Torre.
I've always said a team should hire a manager based on the personnel and goals. For a club that needed someone to take their foot off the throttle after an anal retentive-type like Buck Showalter, the empty uniform of Bob Brenly was perfect for the Diamondbacks. If they're a team in it for the long haul, is building for annual competitiveness and wants discipline, they're better off with a younger man who can relate better with the players and forge alliances with the veterans in the clubhouse. Bobby Cox was a master at creating bonds with his veteran players and letting the discipline and code of conduct permeate downward.
Fair or not, his accomplishments are muted by having only won one championship.
Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Bobby Cox and the Braves:
During the 90s I often referred to the Braves as the Buffalo Bills of Major League Baseball.
Then it dawned on me one day that they won the '95 Series. I forgot because I didn't know anyone was watching the World Series that year.
Maybe with Bobby gone the Braves will actually start winning titles.
Then again, probably not.
They'll have the players to win next year under Fredi Gonzalez and I wouldn't be surprised if they did; it'd be a bittersweet bit of irony.
It's funny about the Braves of the 90s; for the most part, they had more talent than most anyone, but kept getting picked off in the playoffs. Nothing is more glaring in this vein than the 1996 World Series loss to the Yankees; I doubt anyone would assert that the Yankees were more talented than those Braves; but the Yankees were a better team. It's a subtle, but unmistakable difference that cost the Braves again and again.
Joe writes RE managers:
With statistics, we can compare one player to the average player at each position. Managers however, don't really have relevant statistics. Therefore, their reputation is based mostly on wins and losses. Making it very, very difficult to tell how much better one manager is then the other. You know, because of those pesky variables like teams having more talent than other teams. :)
I'm beginning to slightly lower my expectations for the "great" manager; there's only so much he can do and, as the aforementioned Billy Martin used to, will shorten the careers of his pitchers to win immediately if he's permitted.
What Martin did in terms of overuse with the early 1980s Athletics young pitching staff will never, ever happen again. Even the Tony La Russa/Bobby Cox/Joe Torre-style "star" manager can't squeeze water out of a rock.
Then you see the likes of Ron Washington, Joe Maddon and Bud Black----not exactly in the pantheon of strategists----either making the playoffs or coming close to it.
Bottom line, there has to be talent and the right man for the job; Joe Torre was the right guy for the Yankees after Showalter; sometimes it's falling into luck. You see managers with solid resumes----Trey Hillman, John Russell----failing miserably. I would tend to think a GM has to be smart about his search for a manager, being in partnership about how to run things and go with his gut when making the hire.
Sample Resumes writes RE Scott Proctor and Joe Torre:
Proctor could make a strong case out of suing Torre for damages towards his ability to earn a living.
It's better than "anonymous" I guess.
I think the Scott Proctor-Joe Torre allegation is overblown. Did Proctor ever tell the manager or pitching coach that he was unable to go when he was called upon to warm up or pitch? He pitched in 83 games each for two straight seasons; his innings appear to have been doled reasonably. He got hurt, which was possible even if he'd been babied.
All due respect to Scott Proctor, Fernando Nieve or any other reliever who's judged to have been overused to the point of injury, there are pitchers whom you protect and pitchers you use until they're wrung out and discarded. It's brutal; it's cold; it's calculating, but that doesn't make it any less true.
If Proctor had any animus toward Torre, then why did he stay with the Dodgers after the 2007 season when Torre took over in Los Angeles? Presumably, the arbitration-eligible Proctor could've gone to the front office and asked to be traded or non-tendered; they likely would've accommodated him.
I think this issue is overblown.
I was a guest with Sal at Sportsfan Buzz nine days ago talking about the post-season; the firings; and Ichiro. I got the Twins-Yankees series wrong, but if you listen now----in retrospect----I drilled the other three series right on the button.
I'll be on again Friday talking about the LCS and the Mets' ongoing GM search among other things.